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by Kenny Rogers
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When Alabama has the ball:
Nightmares for opposing players, coordinators and coaches ensue. Alabama was third in the nation in points scored at 48.2, and the only reason it wasn’t first was due to how frequently its games were out of reach. The Crimson Tide had one single-possession result all season, a 52-46 åwin over Florida in the SEC Championship game. Of the top five Heisman Trophy vote-getters, three came from this offense: quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris and the winner, wide receiver Devonta Smith. Now, there is the chance Alabama gets back receiver Jaylen Waddle, who broke his right ankle on Oct. 24 and was considered the game’s premier downfield threat before the injury. Also, consider the offensive line won the Joe Moore Award, given to the top offensive front in the nation. Just a frightening assortment of talent that has yet to be slowed down. Jones has said Ohio State will be the best defense it has faced this year, and while that may be true, the Buckeyes’ 116th-ranked passing defense facing Jones, Smith and Harris screams mismatch. Look for Ohio State to use extra defensive backs to force Alabama to run the ball, but that could lead to a monster day for Harris, who led the country with 27 total touchdowns and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back.
When Ohio State has the ball:
There were questions about the Buckeyes offense entering the playoff, doubts about quarterback Justin Fields after subpar performances against quality defenses belonging to Indiana and Northwestern. Those were quieted with his memorable performance against Clemson, 385 passing yards and an Ohio State bowl record six touchdown passes. He has lethal weapons at his disposal, playmaking wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, and Oklahoma transfer running back Trey Sermon, who has hit his stride with 696 total yards over his past three games after a slow start. The big question is Fields’ health, after he played through obvious pain over the final 35 minutes of the Sugar Bowl following the helmet-first hit to his right side by Clemson’s James Skalski. The Buckeyes haven’t revealed much about how Fields is feeling, as is their practice with injuries. If he can’t use his legs, it will help Alabama, giving it one less dimension to worry about. This isn’t a trademark Nick Saban defense. It was gashed by Florida and Ole Miss, allowing a combined 94 points in the two wins. Inside linebacker Dylan Moses had a down year in his return from a torn ACL. The Crimson Tide can get after the quarterback — linebacker Will Anderson Jr. and defensive tackle Christian Barmore each enter the showdown with seven sacks — but it is also susceptible against the pass, ranked 79th in the country, and besides SEC Defensive Player of the Year Patrick Surtain II, lacks talent in the defensive backfield.
Edge: Ohio State
Alabama’s dynamic offense spreads to its kicker. Will Reichard hasn’t missed this year, going a perfect 13-for-13, including 4-for-4 from 40 yards and out, not to mention 77-for-77 on extra points. Neither team does much punting, but the Crimson Tide’s Smith could be a factor in the return game. He took a punt 84 yards for a score against Arkansas.
The coaching matchup is fascinating. Saban is arguably the greatest of all time, looking to win a record seventh national title, coaching in his ninth championship game. Ohio State’s Ryan Day has never coached in this game, but everything we’ve seen from him suggests he won’t be overmatched. His team will be ready. He’s been on the sideline as a head coach for 24 games and won 23. Now he tries to beat the sport’s current king with everything on the line.
Players (non-quarterbacks) who could decide the game
RB Devonta Smith, Alabama
In Alabama’s two biggest games of the season, the SEC Championship game victory over Florida and playoff rout of Notre Dame, Smith was an absolute force, catching 22 passes for 314 yards and five touchdowns. The Heisman Trophy winner — the SEC’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions with 43 — can wreck this game for Ohio State and its middling secondary.
RB Trey Sermon, Ohio State (injured shoulder, out of game)
How do you slow down Alabama’s electric offense? Keep it on the sideline. Nobody’s expecting Ohio State to play college football’s version of the four corners, but an effective Sermon can at least lead to long drives, cutting down the number of opportunities for Jones, Smith and Co.
CB Shaun Wade, Ohio State
Wade said on Wednesday he wanted Smith. He’s going to get him. It is the matchup to watch in this game, two projected first-round picks who will undoubtedly see a lot of one another. Wade returned for his senior year to improve his draft stock, and while he didn’t have a great season, and was shaky in coverage against Clemson, a big performance Monday night will be all anyone will remember about his final year in Columbus.
Defense will be a rumor. Neither team will slow down the other. Holding the opposition to a field goal will be considered a momentum-turning stop. There will be moments Ohio State looks like it can prevail. It will even hold a brief lead in the fourth quarter. But Alabama has the best player on the field. Smith scores three touchdowns and completes what can be argued as the best season ever for a wide receiver in college football.
NY Post selects Alabama (-7 1/2) 48, Ohio State 40 (Over/Under 75 1/2)
Kenny Rogers,expert Las Vegas Handicapper selects
Ohio State 40-38 and (over 75 1/2). Over correct 76 points.
Alabama will win. Ohio State had 13 players injured or out with Virus. Can't win without all these key players.
Alabama 52-Ohio State 24. Over correct 76 points.