Alabama vs. Ohio State Buckeyes: Keys to Victory


Alabama (12-1) once again returns to New Orleans, LA and the Sugar Bowl to battle the Big 10 champion Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1) in the CFB Playoff Semifinals.

Unlike the other semifinal, which boasts the previous two Heisman winning quarterbacks in Marcus Mariotta (Oregon) and Jameis Winston (FSU), the Sugar Bowl features possibly the most unlikely two starting quarterbacks of any top 10 team.

Alabama’s Blake Sims was all but written off as a possible starter back in the spring before going on to shatter passing records at Alabama.

Ohio State’s Cardale Jones started the season as the third-string QB behind pre-season Heisman candidate Braxton Miller, and then his dazzling replacement JT Barrett. Injuries to both led to Jones starting the Big 10 Championship, in which he threw for almost 300 yards and three scores in Ohio State’s 59-0 thumping of Wisconsin.

Alabama’s 2013 season ended in a disappointing sleepwalk of a game against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. This is also the first matchup between a Nick Saban coached team and an Urban Meyer coached team since the 2010 thumping Saban’s Alabama put on Meyer’s Florida Gators.

Corral Ezekiel Elliot

Buckeye QB Cordale Jones’ best friend in the Big 10 Championship was running back Ezekiel Elliot, who ran all over Wisconsin to the tune of 220 yards and two scores. Elliot has been the Buckeyes most consistent weapon on offense, and will be a key to whether or not Ohio State is able to get their offense running.

Elliot was able to take a lot of pressure off of Jones in the Big 10 Championship and Alabama will need to keep the dynamic tailback in check so that they can turn up the heat on Jones in pass rush situations.

One aspect of the game that Jones doesn’t bring quite as well as Braxton Miller and JT Barrett did is the read option game. Miller was one of the most dynamic running QBs in all of football in 2013, and before his injury Barrett had run for over 900 yards and 11 TDs. Jones is a solid scrambler but he doesn’t have the speed or elusiveness of Barrett or Miller.

Ohio State will certainly still use the read option, an Urban Meyer staple, to keep the Alabama defense honest. Alabama’s defensive linemen and linebackers must stay honest and be disciplined to take that aspect of the Buckeyes offense out of the picture.

The Secondary Must Be Disciplined

Mobile quarterbacks have given Alabama’s secondary fits, and while Jones isn’t a Johnny Manziel or Nick Marshall or Cam Netwon but neither was Maty Mauk, and his scrambles leading to big passes were the only bit of offense that Missouri managed against Alabama. Like Mauk, Jones can scramble and the Tide secondary has got to stay disciplined and stay with their man as well as getting their head around and tracking the football in the air.

Cyrus Jones, Eddie Jackson, and Geno Smith will likely be the trio of corners that see the field the most, while I expect Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams to be the safeties most in coverage with Landon Collins playing close to the line of scrimmage. Jackson had a terrible Iron Bowl but bounced back in the SEC Championship, while Geno Smith had a pretty rough game in the SEC Championship. Cyrus Jones has been the most consistent corner on the team, and even so teams still test him each and every week. In last year’s Sugar Bowl, Jones was toasted by Oklahoma, so he will have an added bit of motivation to put on a better performance.

Feed the Two Headed Monster, Stay Balanced

Meyer loves to go up tempo on offense and will look to do so against Alabama. Part of stopping that will obviously fall to the defense, but the offense can also help out by keeping the OSU offense off the field.

Alabama will have to be patient with the running game as Ohio State boasts a rush defense that allows just 130 yards rushing, but has also given up 21 rush TDs.

TJ Yeldon has been banged up a lot in the past few weeks, so expect to see more of big Derrick Henry going against Ohio State’s quick defensive line. If Yeldon and Henry can get going it will give Alabama more opportunities to get the ball to the best player in the country, Amari Cooper.

Ohio State allows just 188 yards passing per game, good enough for 15th in the country, so the run game will be big in loosening up the coverage some.

Also, Alabama’s offensive line must deal with a defensive line that features All American Joey Bosa, who has 13.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss so far this year. Senior tackle Austin Shepherd will be matched up with Bosa for the majority of the game and it was last year’s Sugar Bowl where Shepherd was beaten regularly against Oklahoma. Alabama has to keep Bosa in check to give Sims any chance at all at making some plays in the passing game, and his mobility could be a huge factor as well.

Alabama plays Ohio State in the AllState Sugar Bowl Thursday night at 7:30 PM (central) on ESPN.