25 August 2008
Getting us ready for the Labor Day version of the Chic-Fil-A Bowl, all this week we will be breaking down the position match-ups for Alabama-Clemson. Let’s analyze, shall we?
Clemson offensive backs/receivers vs. Alabama defensive backs/linebackers
Clemson heads to Atlanta with their guns loaded with the return of senior RB James Davis after his flirtation with the NFL. He will be sharing carries with home run threat CJ Spiller, a junior, to form one of the best backfields in the country. Both runners averaged over five yards per carry and combined to rush for over 1,800 yards and 13 TD’s.
QB Cullen Harper is also back after throwing for nearly 3,000 yards as a junior. Harper posted an impressive TD/INT ratio of 27/6 last season. The Tigers top two wide outs also return (is there a pattern forming here?) in seniors Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham after combining for over 1,700 yards receiving a year ago - Kelly going for over 1,000 himself. Grisham is a native of the Hoover, Alabama area, having attended Spain Park High School.
Alabama heads up I-20 with an intriguing blend of youth and experience in the defensive backfield. Back is former walk-on turned stud free safety Rashad Johnson for his senior campaign after snagging a team high six INT’s last season. Joining him at strong safety will be junior Justin Woodall. Johnson has been through the battles of big time college football while Woodall has seen limited action thus far. Look for touted freshman Mark Barron and junior Ali Sharrief to see significant snaps as well.
At the corner spots, the Tide has super soph Kareem Jackson back after an impressive rookie year. Manning the other corner spot will be dynamic junior Javier Arenas. This will be Javy’s first season on an island after playing some snaps at “star” last season.
Who is playing where at linebacker is anyone’s guess at this point (except maybe Saban’s) with the only sure thing being that sophomore Rolando McClain will run the show from his Mike position.
Brandon Fanney, junior, also appears to have a hold on the top spot at the Jack. In the mix at the Sam and Will positions are junior Cory Reamer, freshman Don’ta Hightower and sophomore Chavis Williams. Charlie Higgenbotham also figures to see significant time, provided he is healthy.
*Prince Hall would also figure in this mix were he not suspended for the first three games.
: Clemson has a lot of firepower on offense and defensively, Bama has a few questions yet to be answered. Good news for the Tide: Johnson, Jackson, and McClain were arguably the Tide’s three best defenders a year ago. Bad news: the rest of the guys mentioned, while talented, are inexperienced and unproven.
While Spiller is the big play threat, Bama must keep Davis from moving the chains and exposing the inexperienced Tide defenders. Jackson will also be asked to blanket Kelly and his 12.3 yard per catch average from a year ago. Another plus for Alabama is that Harper isn’t a threat to beat you with his feet, so Rolo and the rest of the ‘backers can focus on shutting down Davis and Spiller.
Tomorrow, we take a look at the Alabama offensive backfield vs. the Clemson linebackers/defensive backs.