Coming off a dominant shutout against the Ohio State Buckeyes in a game that was essentially considered a toss up, there’s no reason why Clemson fans shouldn’t be confident going into Monday’s rematch against Alabama.
However, defeating the Crimson Tide — a program that could possibly win its fifth title in eight seasons — isn’t going to be an easy task. As usual, Nick Saban’s squad has run like a well-oiled machine throughout the season with very few hiccups along the way.
Here are five Alabama players whose names you’ll likely hear called on Monday night.
Jonathan Allen, defensive end
Barring a catastrophic injury in Monday’s game, Jonathan Allen is nearly a lock to be a Top 5 NFL draft pick in April. Alabama is ranked No. 1 in total defense in the FBS, and Allen is perhaps the unit’s best player. That’s quite a distinction for a defense that has been absolutely dominant all season. The senior leads the Crimson Tide defense with 9.5 sacks and has also amassed 15 tackles for loss, good for third on the team.
The 291-pound Allen “has the speed and quickness of a 270-pound defensive end, and the ability to convert speed to power,” writes Sayre Bedinger of FanSided. “He’s simply too much for most offensive linemen to handle on a consistent basis, and he’s one of the best finishers we’ve seen in college football along the defensive line.”
Clemson’s offensive line has been excellent in pass protection this season, but battling against Allen will be a formidable challenge.
Reuben Foster, linebacker
Reuben Foster is another standout on the stellar Alabama defense. CBS Sports ranks him as the top inside linebacker prospect in this year’s NFL Draft, and he’s likely to be a high-to-mid first-round pick. The senior leads the Crimson Tide’s defense with 103 tackles, and he’s fourth on the team in both tackles for loss (12) and sacks (four).
Gordon McGuinness of profootballfocus.com hails Foster as “the best, most complete linebacker in the nation.” He’s disruptive against the run, has superior coverage skills for his position and is effective on quarterback blitzes. Sports Illustrated’s Emily Kaplan writes, “Foster is an explosive, open-field tackling machine.”
Bo Scarbrough, running back
Bo Scarbrough was the Crimson Tide’s third-leading rusher this season, so while the sophomore wasn’t a complete unknown, when he ripped the Washington Huskies for 180 yards on New Year’s Eve, people certainly took notice.
Damien Harris led the Crimson Tide with 1,013 yards on the ground this season but hasn’t seen more than 10 carries in each of the last three games. Don’t be surprised if Saban goes with the hot hand in Scarbrough to carry the team’s rushing attack on Monday night.
“Clemson’s defense gave up 158 yards and three touchdowns to [Derrick] Henry when Alabama won last year’s national championship. Now it has another star running back to account for during Monday’s rematch,” writes ESPN’s Alex Scarborough.
Jalen Hurts, quarterback
Jalen Hurts became the first true freshman quarterback to start for the Crimson Tide in 30 years, and he didn’t disappoint. Hurts was named a Freshman All-American by USA Today and ESPN, and he was named SEC Offensive Player of the year from conference coaches and the Associated Press.
The quarterback has thrown for an efficient 2,649 yards, 22 TDs and 9 INTs this season, and he poses a major threat on the ground with his legs. Hurts is the team’s second-leading rusher on the season with 891 yards and also leads the team in rushing touchdowns (12).
Alabama’s passing game stagnated against Washington, with Hurts only completing seven of 14 passes for a paltry 57 yards. However, that performance was an anomaly for Hurts this season and can be largely pinned on the poor offensive game plan crafted by now-departed offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
O.J. Howard, tight end
This name might still give Clemson fans some nightmares. In last year’s title game, Saban unleashed the junior tight end, who up until that point in the season had no more than 70 receiving yards in a game and zero touchdowns. Howard responded with a five-reception, 208-yard game and two touchdowns, which both came on plays of more than 50 yards.
The 2017 NFL Draft is strong in the tight end position, so it’s worth noting that CBS Sports currently has Howard ranked as their No. 1 tight end prospect. In his senior season, Howard is the Crimson Tide’s third-leading receiver with 489 yards, and he has two touchdown receptions.
He’s underutilized in the Crimson Tide’s passing game (we’ll see if that holds true on Monday, though) and is a solid run blocker. Given Howard’s massive role in last year’s matchup against the Tigers, it’s tough to overlook him as a player that could help swing the outcome of the game yet again.