National Championship Player Matchup : 'BAMA 'O' vs Buckeyes 'D'
Despite Coronavirus hanging over the college football season, we have somehow reached its finale. On Monday evening the Alabama Crimson Tide will face off against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the National Championship. These two true bluebloods of the game have a raft of talent between them and we will take a closer look with our key player matchups. First up: the ‘Bama offense vs the Buckeyes defense.
DeVonta Smith v Shaun Wade
In Devonta Smith and Shaun Wade we have two prospects whose draft stock is moving in opposite directions. Smith topped off an astounding year by adding the Heisman trophy to his resume. The first wideout to do so since Desmond Howard in 1991. Opposite from him on Monday will be Shaun Wade, who returned to Ohio State wanting to prove he could cut it as an outside corner in the NFL.
Wade was ultra productive in the slot for the Buckeyes in 2019 but hasn’t transitioned well to the outside. He lacks quick change of direction and the long speed necessary to hang with elite wideouts. It hasn’t knocked his confidence though, as comments from early in the week show:
‘You already know who I want to go up against at the end of the day’. (Wade when asked who he wanted to cover in the National Championship).
Wade will get an opportunity on the biggest stage against the brightest light of college football in Smith. It’s a chance for him to prove any doubters wrong. Alternatively it will rubber stamp draftniks thoughts that he will only survive as a slot or safety at the next level.
For Smith, he is unlikely to be concerned whoever is tasked with covering him. Averaging just over 136 yards per game, Smith is a well rounded receiving threat. Bags of speed, savvy route running and ability to get yards after the catch. Smith will likely look to stretch Wade vertically and get him turned around, rather than attacking him in the slot, where Wade is comfortable.
That’s not to say there aren’t concerns surrounding Smith. His lean frame and slender build have left some feeling he might not hold up as a pro. Going up against a physical corner like Wade is a good test to prove he can be effective against a range of cornerbacks.
Najee Harris v Pete Werner
In a bygone era, Najee Harris’ season would likely have earned him a Heisman trophy. He had to be content with fifth place, but his eyes will be firmly on the bigger prize of a National Championship. Harris has been a dominant force in college football this year. Recording 1733 yards from scrimmage and an astonishing 27 touchdowns.
Harris returned to school to show he could be a lead back and receiving threat. He has done that and more. Displaying power between the tackles, speed in the open and a high level of athleticism. Epitomised in one of the most iconic moments of all season, his hurdle vs Notre Dame in the CFB Playoff semi-final.
NAJEE HARRIS! This hurdle is RIDICULOUS 🤯 pic.twitter.com/r2HBGmPHYC— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) January 1, 2021
The Ohio State defense had to get to grips with the second best running back in the league last week, Travis Etienne of Clemson. A key part in slowing down the Tigers’ run game was senior linebacker Pete Werner. Werner had a stand-out game, showing good sideline-to-sideline ability and excelling when coming downhill and locating the ball carrier.
Clemson enjoyed early success against the Buckeyes by stretching the game out and running toward the sideline. Alabama are likely to do the same, testing the range of Werner and co. at linebacker. Bama will look to establish Harris early on as their passing game depends so heavily on play action and RPO. This battle could be the early signpost to the way the game may play out.
Alex Leatherwood v Tyreke Smith
Jonathon Cooper is likely to garner most of the attention in the build up to Championship game but it was the edge rusher across from him that caught my attention vs Clemson. Tyreke Smith shows true speed off the edge with violent hands to beat his blocker. Physically built at 6’4, 267lbs when he puts it together he can be a serious threat.
Both he and Cooper made short work of the Clemson offensive line putting Trevor Lawrence under enough pressure to unsettle the future No.1 pick. Mac Jones’ quick hitting offense will be difficult to stop and the key to doing so will be forcing him off his timing. Not only that but Jones’ has the protection of the best offensive line in college football.
Heading up the group is Alex Leatherwood. Coming into the year Leatherwood was considered a day one selection. While he has had a strong season, with a 79.4 PFF grade, he has somewhat dropped down the rankings. Some feel he may be best suited to a role on the interior of the offensive line, facing Smith and Cooper gives him the chance to prove otherwise.
Saban and co. have full trust in the offensive line group they have built and Leatherwood will be left on an island plenty against the Buckeye rushers. How he holds up dealing with the speed and power that Smith possesses will be a good indicator of his potential draft standing.
formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.com