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2018 National Championship Betting Preview – Clemson v Alabama

2018 National Championship Betting Preview – Clemson v Alabama

A nice to finish to the Bowl Season winning both of my bigger plays on the last day of Bowls. I don’t have a play on the NCG but I do have alot of thoughts and will provide my write-up as to how I think the game will play out and possibly some interesting props to look out for. 

Conferences

Before even getting into the specific matchup, I’m going to start out talking about the two conferences and then SOS. 

The SEC has 10 teams in my objective top 25. That would probably change slightly if I added a subjective component to that, but I haven’t yet. 

The ACC on the other hand had 1 team in the Top 25 and that is Clemson. When you look at the overall depth of these conferences, The SEC team ranks on average 19th. The ACC team ranks on average 51st. The SEC offense on average ranks 26th. The defense ranks 30th. The ACC on the other hand is 55th and 57th respective. 

Schedules and Strength (or lack there of)

Moving forward, the first thing to look at for me is who did these teams play. 

Clemson played the 43rd ranked SOS overall, while Bama played the 9th. Clemson saw the 40th ranked offensive SOS and Bama saw the 3rd. Clemson played the 48th ranked D SOS and Bama played the 23rd. 

Now, even more importantly, let’s look deeper. 

Clemson played 3 top 25 teams: Notre Dame, A&M and South Carolina. I would argue that the only team that was at the overall rank at the time was Notre Dame. A&M got better and better as the year went on and SC was much better earlier than later. 

Alabama on the other hand played 7 Top 25 teams: Oklahoma, UGA, A&M, Missouri, LSU, Mississippi St., Auburn. 

Unit Ranks

These two teams are extremely similar. Alabama has the 5th ranked OL, 19th ranked rushing attack and 1st overall passing attack. Clemson has the 1st ranked OL, 1st ranked run game and 16th ranked passing game. 

On defense, Bama has the 4th ranked DL, 2nd ranked LB and 32nd ranked secondary. Clemson has the 1st ranked DL, 1st ranked LB and 18th ranked secondary. 

Similar Units

Clemson Defense

Clemson has yet to play a team anywhere near the offensive prowess as Alabama. The best OL they have faced was South Carolina who’s OL ranked 28th. In that game, they held SC to 90 rushing yards, but they gave up 510 passing yards and had 3 sacks in 53 drop backs which was 5.6% of the time. Clemson on average gets a sack on 12.6% of drop backs. Clemson held SC to 90 rush yards but 3.6 yards per rush, which was 1.2 YPR higher than their season average of 2.4 YPR. They had 4 TFL in 21 rush attempts for a TFL 19% of rush attempts. That was also below their season average of 1 TFL every 23% of rushing attempts. 

Clemson did close to their seasonal average against the SC rush offense, but absolutely toasted through the air. Clemson allowed 10.2 yards per pass, which was significantly worse than their seasonal average of 6.2 yards per attempt. That is a extremely large discrepancy and is that something worth looking deeper at. Is that is a theme when they play good passing offense?

NC State and A&M were the other two very good passing attacks that they played this year. In the NC State game, they allowed 5.5 yards per pass (good!), and in the A&M game they allowed 10.8 yards per pass (BAD!). In totality, the A&M and SC offenses are much more similar to Bama’s. 

I think we may have found advantage #1 for Bama offense. 

Bama Offense

How does that compare to the Bama offense? Obviously all of the unit ranks for Bama will be better than South Carolina, but lets look deeper into the numbers. 

Mississippi State is by far the closest and most similar defense that Bama has seen that is compared to the Clemson D. As I said, Clemson’s defensive units come in at 1 in DL, 1 in LB and 18 in Secondary. Mississippi State comes in at 2, 9 and 2 respectively, having played a much tougher offensive SOS as well. 

In the game against Mississippi State, Alabama rushed for 3.16 Yards Per rush which was significantly below their season average of 5.3 YPR. Mississippi State had 4 sacks or a sack per 14.8% of drop backs, which was higher than their average on the year per game which falls around 9%. Mississippi State had a TFL on 18% of rush attempts lower than their season average of 23%. 

Through the air, Alabama didn’t do all that much better. They averaged 6 yards per pass which was significantly lower than their season average of 11.3 yards per pass. It was a bit more than what Mississippi State allowed on average throughout the year of 5.5 yards per pass. 

It seemed as though Bama struggled in this game, and there is nothing in the underlying numbers that suggest to me that they didn’t. The one thing I will mention is that Bama completely shut down the State defense so these numbers may be a bit lower because Bama did not have to use their offense. Also, I would tell you State’s D is better than Clemson’s. But, similar to what SC did to Clemson’s D, they had to continue to throw the ball because Clemson scored 56 points on them. You have to take a look at the game script and see how much that played a part. 

Against other top notch defenses, did Alabama “struggle?”

The LSU defense as a whole is probably the next closest thing to Clemson (better secondary, not as good up front) and Bama still struggled to pass the ball, all relative going for 7 yards per pass. While they struggled to pass compared to their seasonal averages, they ran all over LSU going for 7.59 yards per rush.

Bama Defense

Oklahoma and UGA are clearly the two most offenses similar to Clemson. The Clemson O has the best rush game in the nation, thanks in part to the best OL. Their pass game isn’t far behind with Lawrence. 

Against UGA and Oklahoma respectively, Bama allowed 3.92 and 5.09 yards per rush. Bama allows 3.47 ypr on average throughout the year, while UGA and Oklahoma averaged 5.9 and 6.57 ypr throughout the year. So Bama held them both below their seasonal averages, while still allowing slightly more than their own defensive YPR number. Both of those teams averaged around 240+ rush yards per game and they came in significantly below that against Bama. 

Bama had 5 and 4 TFL vs UGA and Oklahoma which was a TFL in 12.8% and 12.5% of rush yards. That was significantly below their season average of a TFL per 20% of rush attempts. 

They also had 2 and 3 sacks respectively, which was a sack per 5% and 8% of dropbacks. They averaged a sack per 10% of dropbacks throughout the year. 

What is interesting to me is against UGA and Okla, the biggest discrepancy for the UGA and Okla offenses was the completion % that Bama held each team too. They held UGA to 62% completions and Okla to 51%. Those two offenses averaged nearly 68% throughout the year. 

Clemson Offense

Notre Dame is the closest defense to Alabama that Clemson played and really the only D that gets remotely close. Notre Dame comes in at 29th in DL, 25th in LB and 17th in secondary. 

Game script worked pretty in Clemson’s favor against ND but they ran for 5.7 yards per rush and 210 total yards on the ground. Below their seasonal averages, but still very good. They passes for 8 yards per pass and 327 total yards. In short, Clemson did what they wanted to do against the ND defense. 

The Match-up and how the game plays out…

So with all of that, where does it leave us? A few things I think we can deduct about this game for sure:

  1. Clemson should and will lean on their run game. The Bama front 7 is very good, but they aren’t as vaunted as they typically have been in years past. I think that we see Dabo try to establish the run here to take some pressure off of Lawrence. We have to remember that he has really only started 9 games in his career, and while he’s been good, he hasn’t been Tua level good and hasn’t faced nearly that amount of competition. 
  2. I think that Lawrence is going to have some time to pass. Against good offenses, the Bama defense has struggled to get after the passers. With that being said, I do think that we won’t see Lawrence be nearly as efficient as he has been. 
  3. The Bama offense should be able to do what they want to I think. This year, they have been using the run game to set up the pass game and we’re going to see the same thing happen here. 
  4. The key to the Bama defense is to not allow Clemson to break the big play. Through the air, Clemson actually struggles with efficiency inside of 20 yards and I think we’ll see Bama play with safeties over the top early on. The real question will be if Bama can stop Clemson’s run game without moving extra men into the box. Etienne has been the biggest weapon for the Clemson pass game. 
  5. As I mentioned previously, this Clemson D is very similar to Mississippi State. Not only similar to State in the stats and unit rankings, but also similar in the base defense they play. Clemson plays a base 4-3 defense and plays the run game outside-in. Essentially the most important part of the defense is establishing the edge so it forces the opposing teams running back into the teeth of the defense, which is their interior DL. This also allows the back part of the defense to read the play and hit the gaps extremely hard. With that, you’ll usually see the Clemson safeties in the box which is going to be the massive gamble that Venebles will have to make. Typically this strategy of outside in, puts RB on LB/safeties and typically, the Bama RBs have that advantage due to their size and athleticism but each of the Clemson LBs are big (230ish +) so that doesn’t seem to bode well for the Bama run game…
  6. What it does bode well for in my opinion is the Alabama passing game, especially with the TE. Clemson has some really poor depth behind the two starting CB. After Fields who is hurt/hasn’t been able to be relied on, they have to rely on a RS frosh and 2 true frosh. None of them have much experience. Clemson will probably need to go small in the back 7 to attempt to combat the Bama offense and in doing so, they bring liabilities into onto the field. They will use the middle of the field to attack the LB in pass coverage while the safeties will certainly have to help the CBs on the outside.
  7. Because of the size of the Clemson LB, I think we really see Alabama utilize the short passes and the boundaries to ideally neutralize the Clemson DL and put their athletic playmakers against the bigger LBs. Clemson also is okay with this, as long as they allow short passes to stay short and not turn into huge YAC.
  8. While I have the Clemson OL being better than Bama’s, I actually don’t think it is. I don’t think they’ve seen as tough of defensive fronts, and when they have seen good defensive fronts, they’ve failed to get a push. The interior of Clemson OL vs Bama’s interior DL is probably the biggest mismatch in this entire game. Keeping that in mind, and the fact that Lawrence ranks 112th in the NCAA passing when facing a non-blitz pressure, I think the Bama defense may do a better job of keeping the lid on the Clemson D than vice versa.
  9. I can’t help but think about how Lawrence will take the big state. He has thrown all of 4 passes while trailing and 9 while tied. I have a feeling he will be in both those scenarios here. 
  10. In the end, I think we need to see a near perfect game from the Clemson secondary as well as some turnover luck for them to be able to slow the Tide offense. 

Some plays I like

Irv Smith Jr. OVER 2.5 Receptions -140, OVER 24.5 Reception Yards

Against any good defense that the Tide played this year, Irv Smith Jr. had a very nice day. 

A&M: 4 receptions, 74 yards

LSU: 4 receptions, 64 yards

Miss St: 5 receptions, 70 yards

Auburn: 3 receptions, 30 yards

UGA: 3 receptions, 35 yards

As I mentioned above, the interior defense of Clemson already has match-up problems in coverage and Irv Smith Jr. is one of the best receieving TEs that can line up anywhere on the field. Not only do I think he flies over these numbers, I think he is a game changer for the Tide.

Tua Tagovailoa Completions OVER 21.5 -110

I think we see Tua get up to nearly 40 pass attempts in this game as they will utilize the short passes as mentioned above to neutralize that Clemson front. Those are high success rate passes and Tua is about as accurate as they come. I think we’ll see around a 65% completion % for Tua and I think he sails over this number. 

Trevor Lawrence Completions OVER 22.5 -110

Lawrence has one of the fastest releases in the NCAA and he typically gets the ball out in 2.5/3 seconds at a maximum. Similar to Tua, I think he is going to have to be throwing the ball quite a bit in this game in high success passes. Along with that, I think the game script will favor this number getting over as I think Clemson will be in a shootout here. 

Game Total and Spread:

With the game total sitting at Alabama -5.5, I tend to lean towards the Tide in this one. They have more room for error in this one on both sides of the ball. They are facing a true frosh QB who hasn’t been in a game like this. However, Clemson does have the running dog with a better defense theory going for them which is one that typically has a high success rate, but I think we see Clemson struggle to establish the run both because of how the game script plays out as well as how they have performed against any good DL that they have played. The Bama DL has more of an advantage vs. the Clemson OL than vice versa. 

With a total at 58, I like the over. Both teams are going to have to be able to be able to throw the ball successfully. I think we see Bama into the 30s here, and Clemson won’t be too far behind. 

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