This Alabama team, it’s been said, is the best of all of Nick Saban‘s Alabama teams. Thanks to Tua Tagovailoa and the development of the offense, this Crimson Tide team has truly no weaknesses. It’s an impenetrable fortress, a castle surrounded by 20-foot walls, a super weapon with no weakness.
But not exactly.
This Crimson Tide Death Star does have one weakness, and in Clemson they may find the one opponent to strong enough to exploit it.
While Alabama ranks 13th nationally in total defense (307.9 yards per game) and yards per play (4.70) and fifth in scoring (16.2 points per game), the Tide defense has shown one true vulnerability — in the deep passing game. To wit, opponents have completed 104 passes of 10-or-more yards, 52nd nationally. Furthermore, Alabama has surrendered 43 completions of at least 20 yards — 73rd nationally. That isn’t just bad by Alabama standards, it’s bad by anyone’s standards.
Those who have watched this team all season will recall moments where the Alabama back end has been exploited. Ole Miss opened its game with the Tide with a 75-yard touchdown pass. Tennessee put together a pair of drives that saw its quarterbacks go 6-of-8 for 149 yards and two touchdowns — an efficiency rating of 313.95. Oklahoma connected on a 49-yard touchdown pass and averaged 16.2 yards on its 19 completions.
Problem was, those moments were just that — moments. Ole Miss got outscored 62-0 after that opening punch. Tennessee was down 28-0 when it put those drives together. OU’s long touchdown pass pulled the Sooners to within 31-20.
While those teams may have had matchup advantages against an Alabama secondary that had to replace its entire starting group from last year, the rest of the game was such a mismatch it didn’t matter.
Clemson will be different. The Tigers won’t be blitzed in every other aspect of the game, perhaps allowing Trevor Lawrence, Tee Higgins, Amari Rodgers, Justyn Ross, Hunter Renfrow and company — a group that’s completed 32 passes of 30 yards or more, sixth nationally — the chance to strike down field.
The best parallel to Clemson is Georgia, and Jake Fromm didn’t exactly struggle through the air. The Bulldogs quarterback hit 25-of-39 passes for 301 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
If Clemson manages to play Alabama to a draw elsewhere — no easy task, obviously — the Tigers may be able to exploit the rarest of things in college football: a matchup advantage against Alabama.