While the confetti showered Ohio State after their vanquishing of the Clemson Tigers in the Sugar Bowl, it was easy to forget that the Buckeyes’ mission wasn’t completed. As sweet and satisfying as it was to watch HC Dabo Swinney have to choke on his own words, there is still one more opponent to be conquered. Ohio State football isn’t about settling scores and moral victories, it is about championships and they are one more win from the mountain top. To reach the top they will have to go through the vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide who have looked far and away the best team this season. The Buckeyes find themselves once again a touchdown underdog and the talking heads around the country are giving them little to no chance of knocking off HC Nick Saban and company. There have also been reports out of Columbus that COVID continues to plague the Buckeyes and there is the potential the game could be postponed. Ohio State so far has stated that they plan to play the game as scheduled. Assuming the virus doesn’t affect Ohio State’s roster in any major way, here are three reasons why Ohio State will win the national championship.
1. The Ohio State Offense: After six games and a Big Ten championship it was easy to wonder where the Buckeyes offense had gone. They had struggled throughout the title game against a solid but not overly talented Northwestern defense. Justin Fields had the worst game of his career and it took HC Ryan Day and the Ohio State brain trust too long to realize that they needed to adjust and lean on the run game. Thank God for RB Trey Sermon, who at times this year looked lost running the football. All he did was set the single-game rushing record previously held by RB Eddie George. Sermon’s 331 yards rushing helped the Buckeyes eke by the Wildcats with a 22-10 win and their fourth consecutive Big Ten Title. After the game, it was fair to wonder if the Buckeye’s offense would collapse against the Clemson Tigers defense.
Now it looks as though the Northwestern game was just the wake-up call the offense needed. It was clear that it was more about the play calling and less about the players. Ohio State tends to get caught up in making the big play and that leads to calling too many pass plays with deep routes that can take too long to develop. It is easy to forget that the Buckeyes were the only team in the country to average 250 passing yards and 250 rushing yards during the regular season. They were the most balanced offensive team in the country and the Clemson game showed how dangerous they can be when they lean run and work the passing game off play-action. Also considering that Alabama’s weakness is its defense there is no reason to worry about Ohio State being able to put up forty plus points against Alabama.
2. Justin Fields: In a game where both teams are going to put up points this very well could come down to which quarterback can make the big play. Make no mistake QB Mac Jones is a terrific player and is very deserving of being a Heisman finalist. Fields, who was a pre-season Heisman finalist, has looked pedestrian at times this year. With all of that being said, Justin Fields is the more dynamic player as he can not only beat you with his arm but also his legs. Running is not something that Ohio State will have to worry about with Jones as he is a pure pocket passer. Where Jones is vulnerable is when he faces pressure and the pocket collapses. Jones hasn’t had to face much pressure as the Alabama offensive line is one of if not the best in the country. What is working in Ohio State’s favor is the lack of wheels and athleticism from Jones. Against QB Trevor Lawrence, who is vastly more dangerous than Jones running, Ohio State was able to create pressure and keep him in the pocket. Not having to worry about Jones running, Ohio State should be able to pin their ears back and dial up the pressure.
Alabama will also try to bring the heat on Fields, as during the Indiana game and Northwestern game he struggled with sacks and interceptions when pressured. Part of that was due to Fields wanting to make a play passing instead of running, he looked to have made the adjustment against Clemson and realized that sometimes he just needs to tuck it and run. Even with the rib injury expect Fields to make some plays running which will keep the Alabama defense on its heels.
3. Ohio Against the World: Ohio State once again finds themselves the underdogs in a college football playoff game, reminiscent of 2014 when they were dogs against both Alabama and Oregon. No team in college football has done better as underdogs than the Buckeyes and they relish the opportunity to be underestimated. Make no mistake, Nick Saban isn’t overlooking Ohio State and they will be prepared for talent and abilities, but you also can’t overlook how naysayers can motivate an 18 to a 22-year-old kid. If harnessed correctly that anger and emotion can lead to laser focus and an extra gear on the field. Ryan Day has shown that knows how to hit the right buttons. It is fair to wonder if there could be an emotional letdown after the Clemson game, but if your Alabama… I wouldn’t count on it. Playing for a national championship is motivation enough for any team to get up and play their best game, throw on some shade from the media and the Buckeyes will be just as energetic and focused as in the Clemson game.
This mentality especially helps the defensive side of the ball where players are able to use that to fly around the field and just read and react. Alabama will get their points and Devonta Smith and the offense will make some big plays, but so will the Ohio State offense. This game will ultimately come down to which defense can get one more stop or turnover than the other. The disrespect will have the Buckeyes defense playing at the level they did against Clemson and that should allow their defense to make one more big play than Alabama.