B1G vs. SEC: Just like it should be
Ohio State, fresh off its upset of Clemson on Friday night, will meet top-ranked Alabama on Jan. 11 for the national championship. Here are my first thoughts on the matchup:
Big Ten vs. SEC was our destiny
The B1G and SEC clashed months ago on the battle to play this season, so it only makes sense that they’ll now battle it out for the national championship. The SEC won the standoff this fall to even have the season (thank goodness), and now the Big Ten will look to win the battle on the field for its first title since Ohio State in 2014.
This is the first CFP meeting between these leagues since Alabama handled Michigan State in 2015 and the first meeting in the national title game since LSU beat Ohio State in 2007.
The SEC and Big Ten have separated themselves financially from their peers, and Ohio State/Alabama recruit at the highest level in the country (by far), so it was only a matter of time before we got this matchup.
Justin Fields needs to get healthy
Justin Fields was absolutely sensational against the Tigers. How could someone play the way he did in throwing 6 TD passes while nursing (likely) broken ribs? It was a legendary performance.
But here’s the hard part for Fields. Once the adrenaline (and the shot he got in the medical tent) wears off on Saturday morning, he’s going to be in a ton of pain. How will Fields be able to take the field 10 days later? How will Fields even be able to practice over the next week and a half? Heck, if anyone can do this, it’s Fields, but it’s certainly not the ideal circumstance. He could use a month or so to heal, but that’s just not reality. Then again, with the way Fields launched the ball downfield, could you even tell he was hurt?
Can anyone cover DeVonta Smith?
This has to be Ohio State’s biggest concern. Smith is special and every bit as good as some of Alabama’s great receivers over the years — maybe even better. He has multiple TD catches in 6 of the last 7 games, including 3 in the win over Notre Dame on Friday.
Shaun Wade, who has been up-and-down this season on the outside after excelling in the slot last year, will almost surely get the nod. If Wade wants to show he’s a first-round pick, as most projected coming into this season, this is the perfect opportunity to do so.
Ohio State’s defense has rightfully been maligned, but it stepped up against Clemson — especially after letting up 14 points in the first quarter. The Buckeyes allowed 400 passing yards to Trevor Lawrence, though 144 of them came after they led by 4 TDs. It is worth mentioning that Josh Proctor has dropped an interception in back-to-back games, which are opportunities the Buckeyes can’t afford to squander against an Alabama passing attack averaging an FBS-best 11.1 yards per pass attempt with just 4 interceptions.
Najee Harris will be a load, too, but the Buckeyes have been terrific against the run all season and just held Travis Etienne to 32 yards on 10 carries. Clemson finished with only 44 rushing yards on 22 attempts.
Ohio State’s sizzling ground game
Ohio State’s ground game is truly elite, which is not something I thought I would’ve said back in October. Ohio State’s starting running back all season, Master Teague, didn’t play on Friday, and it didn’t matter one bit. Not when Trey Sermon is on fire and not when the the offensive line is mauling people. Even without left guard Harry Miller (and backup LG Matt Jones, who got hurt during the game), the Buckeyes’ ground game didn’t skip a beat against Clemson.
Oh my goodness, Trey Sermon! pic.twitter.com/Dlg4539V4W
— Dustin Schutte (@SchutteCFB) January 2, 2021
Look at the size of this hole pic.twitter.com/B55ENWCTZS
— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 2, 2021
Sermon is doing his best Ezekiel Elliott impression. After a 31-carry, 193-yard performance, he has 524 yards over the last 2 games. Elliott had 696 in Ohio State’s 3-game run to the 2014 national title.
Can Ryan Day out-coach Saban?
It was weird to hear some criticism of Day after the Northwestern game. It had been all sunshine and rainbows for the second-year head coach up until the Big Ten Championship Game, but when he refused to lean on the run game and kept throwing despite the Wildcats failing to stop Sermon, the criticism was fair.
Day redeemed himself against Clemson, calling a beautiful game. He kept feeding Sermon, he got the tight ends involved and he used tempo to keep Clemson’s defense off balance. Day is now 22-1 as a head coach, with the 1 loss being by 6 points to Clemson last season.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 2, 2021
Going against Nick Saban, though, is a different beast. Saban is coaching in his eighth national championship game in 14 years with Alabama. That doesn’t even seem possible. Beating Saban is like the final level of that video game. It’s the ultimate test — one that Day may not pass the first time.