Alabama Football: Don’t compare this Clemson team to last season


Alabama football is on the verge of doing something legendary but a much-improved Clemson team blocks the path to another national championship.

Don’t be confused by last season’s Alabama football, easy win over Clemson. The Tigers are much better than last season. They are every bit good enough to win next Monday. Particularly if Alabama football harms itself with mistakes, miscues and lapses in mental discipline.

Clemson easily beat Notre Dame in the other semifinal Saturday. Perennially over-hyped and playing under competition rules unfair to other top Power Five teams, the Irish somewhat deserved a shot because of an undefeated season. Otherwise, it doesn’t take much college football knowledge to understand UND was not a No. 3 or even a No. 4 seed. Saturday’s semi-final matchup should have taken place in early December in an ACC championship game.

Only two, 2018 teams deserved to be in national championship consideration. They will play on Monday and any fanbase whining about another Tide vs. Tigers matchup needs a reality check. Everybody else was simply not good enough. Georgia was close but lost in an elimination game. The B1G, Pac 12 and Big 12 desperately need an expanded Playoff field because their teams are not good enough.

Getting back to last season’s Playoff semifinal against Clemson, the stat more significant than the final score (24-6) was the average Clemson gain of 2.7 yards. The paltry Clemson production was caused by five Tide sacks, net rushing of 64 yards and the limited passing skills of Kelly Bryant.

Dabo corrected those deficiencies almost solely with two players. First was the transformation of a promising young player into a full-grown man. No Clemson player has improved more from 2017 to 2018, than Travis Etienne. Etienne and his coaches realized he had to become stronger. David M. Hale, writing for ESPN described what happened to Travis in 2017.

"By the end of Travis’ freshman season … he’d hit a wall. The season was long, and his body wasn’t ready for it. Now, he admits he ran out of gas, but as Clemson was preparing for its playoff run last December, Etienne was simply holding on for dear life"

The solution was as simple as an offseason of hard work. The result was more body mass and more strength without any loss of speed or quickness. In last season’s semifinal, Etienne was a non-factor, rushing four times for 22 yards, most of which came on one run. He has been a different player and a difference maker in 2018.

The other healing fix for Dabo was simpler. It was the recruitment of the best high school QB in the nation. Almost everyone in CFB knew Trevor Lawrence would beat out Kelly Bryant sometime in Lawrence’s freshman season. The actual transition was rocky and Dabo took some heat for losing Bryant to transfer in the process. Looking back a few months later, it is clear Dabo did the right thing at the right time. Had he waited longer to go with Lawrence the immensely talented freshman might not have progressed to where he is today. Which is playing with an upperclassman’s poise, not far below his exceptional physical tools.

Dabo got lucky as well. His loaded defensive line took the loss to Alabama football so personally, they skipped the NFL Draft for another shot at the Tide. Fortune also came Dabo’s way when he stole gifted wide receiver, Justyn Ross away from Nick Saban. Ross delivered by being the top Clemson receiver in six games as a freshman.

Of course, Clemson is also fortunate in recent years, playing in an ACC weakened by the slide of FSU and Louisville. The ACC has some decent teams but among Clemson opponents, only Syracuse reached a double-digit win plateau.

Can Dabo’s rebuilt Clemson Tigers knock off the Tide? We are not making that prediction. But Alabama football fans thinking a Tide win is assured might want to pay closer attention.

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Alabama football can achieve a milestone not reached in either the 20th or 21st century. The last 15-0, FBS level team was Yale in 1894. There are conflicting records Penn might have done one better, going 16-0 or 15-0 in 1897.