Ohio State will face arguably the nation’s top offense on Monday night when it takes on No. 1 Alabama in the national title game. To win the the game, the Buckeye offense will have to be at its best and show it is every bit as good as the Crimson Tide.
Ohio State will have to do that against a stout, but at times vulnerable Alabama defense. Let’s take a look at how the two units stack up on paper. You can click here to see how we think things could shake out on the other side of the ball.
OHIO STATE SCORING OFFENSE vs. ALABAMA SCORING DEFENSE
Advantage: Ohio State
Ohio State was one of the nation’s most explosive offenses this season, and any questions that arose in the Big Ten title game were answered when the Buckeyes put 49 points, 639 yards and 8.9 yards per play on the Clemson defense.
Now the Buckeyes will take on the other power program from the last five years, and while the Crimson Tide are not quite as good on defense as they have been in past years, they are still formidable.
Ohio State had under 517 yards in just one game this season and it went below 7.1 yards per play just once. The Buckeyes were explosive and powerful on offense this season, and that explosiveness combined with its third-down efficiency helped overcome a below-average red zone offense.
Alabama has had its own brilliant moments on defense, but it hasn’t been nearly as consistent as it has been on offense. The Crimson Tide defense went through a stretch from game five to game ten in which it gave up just 8.8 points per game, 261.3 yards per game and 4.0 yards per play.
That followed a stretch of three games in which it gave up 32 points per game and 503.7 yards per game. During that stretch Ole Miss racked up 48 points and 647 yards. The brilliant stretch late in the season ended when Florida hung 46 points and 462 yards (7.0 YPP) on Alabama in the SEC title game.
Alabama looked good against Notre Dame, but a case could be made that it has as much to do with the Irish being ultra conservative and playing timid on offense as it was about how good Alabama played on defense. Ohio State won’t have a similar game plan and will go after the Tide like it has every other defense it faced this season.
Ohio State’s fifth-ranked third-down offense against Alabama’s 76th-ranked third-down defense is a matchup to watch.
OHIO STATE RUSH OFFENSE vs. ALABAMA RUSH DEFENSE
Advantage: Ohio State
This matchup could be the biggest in the game for a number of reasons. To begin, Ohio State’s offense is built around its physical run game. When the Buckeyes are running the ball effectively its pass game is even more effective. The more Ohio State controls the clock and puts points on the board the more pressure it puts on the Alabama offense.
Ohio State has a strange run game stat line this season. The Buckeyes rank fifth nationally in yards per game and third in yards per carry. Ohio State has racked up at least 203 yards on the ground in even game, which is impressive no matter how few games they played. The ground attack took over the Big Ten title game, and Trey Sermon has been on fire lately, racking up 212 yards per game and 9.1 yards per carry in the last three games.
Alabama was able to manhandle most SEC offensive lines, but Notre Dame’s line pushed the Tide around in the first half. Despite showing zero passing threat in the game, the Irish rushed for over 100 yards in the first half against Alabama.
Ohio State’s line - which averages 312.4 pounds across the board - should be able to lean on Alabama in similar fashion, which should take pressure off the pass game. If Ohio State then hits some balls down the field it would give the run game even more room to work.
The odd part of the stat line is as great as Ohio State has been at running the football, it ranks 84th in tackles for loss allowed per game. Against the seven teams the Buckeyes played this season they could get away with that, but getting off schedule on early downs against Alabama could prove more damaging. The good news for Ohio State is Alabama doesn’t generate a great deal of stops behind the line, ranking just 51st in tackles for loss per game.
OHIO STATE PASS OFFENSE vs. ALABAMA PASS DEFENSE
Advantage: Ohio State
There have been two types of offenses that faced Alabama this season, those that played afraid of All-American cornerback Patrick Surtain II and those that were willing to go after him. Surtain is an outstanding talent and he’s clearly the best cornerback in the country, but teams cannot allow him to shut down half the field without even trying.
Florida wasn’t afraid to go after him, and former Buckeye Trevon Grimes beat him for a 50-yard touchdown in the SEC title game. Ohio State can’t make a living going after Surtain, but it must have a game plan to take their shots against him, and also figure out how to manipulate the Alabama defense in order to get Surtain away from where it wants to attack.
The pass game has been the most inconsistent aspect of the Ohio State offense this season. At times quarterback Justin Fields has looked like the elite quarterback he is, but he’s also proven to be turnover prone at times this season, and he’s forced balls into traffic.
Against Clemson he was at his best despite getting banged up. Fields made quick decisions, he was accurate and the Buckeye signal caller was aggressive. Clemson had no answers for Fields, who shredded the Tigers, passing for 385 yards and six touchdowns while completing 78.6% of his attempts.
If everyone is able to play, Ohio State has the depth at wide receiver to give Alabama problems. Outside of Surtain, the Alabama pass defense has been vulnerable. Alabama’s safeties and linebackers have struggled in coverage this season, and when the pass game has been its most vulnerable is when opponents have been able to find ways to go after those two position groups in the throwing game. If Ohio State can figure out ways to get its wideouts matched up against the safeties, there could be some big play opportunities.
Keep an eye on tight end Jeremy Ruckert and the backs in pass game matchups against the Tide linebackers.
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