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2015 Sugar Bowl Preview

College Football Playoff: Playoff Semifinal - Sugar Bowl

#1 Alabama (12-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. #4 Ohio State (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten)

Date: Thursday, January 1, 2015
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Location: New Orleans, LA
Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (72,003)
Television: ESPN
Series Record: Alabama leads 3-0
Last Meeting: 1995: Alabama 24 - Ohio State 17 (Orlando, FL in Florida Citrus Bowl)

These proud programs that have 21 national titles between them will meet for the first time in nearly two decades with a match-up in the inaugural College Football Playoff Semifinals.

Alabama concluded last season with a rare two-game losing streak and the Crimson Tide suffered a 23-17 setback at Ole Miss on the first weekend in October of this year. However, Nick Saban’s club responded like champions by reeling off eight straight wins, capturing the SEC title and claiming the top seed in the playoff.

Bama, which captured titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012, will attempt to win its fourth national title in six seasons and 15th overall. It would be Saban’s fourth title in Tuscaloosa and put him within two of tying Bear Bryant’s mark of six.

Meanwhile, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes seek the program’s eighth national title and first since Ohio State upset Miami in the Fiesta Bowl to take the 2002 crown.

OSU, which suffered the loss of star quarterback Braxton Miller prior to the season, suffered a 35-21 upset loss to Virginia Tech in Columbus in Week Two. After that rough outing against the Hokies and Bud Foster’s defense, freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett (64.6%; 2,834 yards, 34 TD, 10 INT; 938 yards rushing) began to settle in and the Bucks started to sail.

Meyer and the Buckeyes concluded the regular season with a ten-game win streak, but Barrett went down in the finale’ to Michigan.
Thus, Cardale Jones suddenly became the man for OSU—the team’s third starting quarterback this season—and he performed exceptionally well in the Big Ten title game as he helped the Buckeyes to an eye-opening 59-0 blowout of Wisconsin.

The sophomore Jones was the beneficiary of a strong running game, which allowed him to only have to put it in the air 17 times. He finished 12-of-17 for 257 with three touchdowns and no interceptions en route to being the game’s MVP.

The Tide can expect to see a heavy dose of running back Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott rumbled for 1,402 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
Michael Thomas tops the team in receptions (43-680-8) while Devin Smith presents the top big play threat. Smith, who leads the team in receiving yards, touchdowns and yards per receptions (26.6), has accumulated 799 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 30 receptions.

Defensively, OSU has been one of the best in the nation and should present a strong test for Lane Kiffin and the Bama offense. The Buckeyes, who allow 21.2 points and 328 yards per game, have forced 21 interceptions and a Big-Ten best 40 sacks.

Sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa (6’5”, 278) was named the Big Ten Conference Defensive Player of the Year after registering 20 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks.

Vonn Bell and Dorian Grant are tied for the team-lead with five interceptions.

Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide has been very solid on both sides of the ball as well.

Senior signal-caller Blake Sims has flourished in new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s system. He has completed 64.8 percent of his attempts for 3,250 yards and 26 touchdowns while being picked off just seven times.

While a senior, Sims lacked experience so he has benefitted greatly from having a tremendous running game and go-to receiver.
The dynamic duo of T.J. Yeldon (932 yards and 10 TD) and Derrick Henry (895 yards and 10 TD) has combined for more than 1,800 yards to keep defenses honest.

Out wide, Amari Cooper—the winner of this year’s Biletnikoff Award—hauled in 115 receptions for 1,656 yards and 14 scores.

The offensive line has allowed only 13 sacks all season and helped fuel an offense that has converted a stellar 54 percent of its third downs.
On defense, coordinator Kirby Smart and company allow a paltry 16.6 points per game and been the best in the nation at stopping the run (88.7 ypg).

Junior safety Landon Collins leads the team with 91 tackles and has three of his team’s ten interceptions.

Linebackers Reggie Ragland (8.5 TFL) and Xzavier Dickson (10.5 TFL, team-high 8 sacks) have been great at applying pressure and making plays behind the line.

While the performance of OSU’s Jones in his initial start on such a big stage was very impressive, how will he handle the pressure of the Bama defense on an even bigger stage? Saban and Smart will have had nearly a month to prepare for an inexperienced quarterback. The Buckeyes will need to produce at least 150 yards on the ground—almost twice what the Tide typically allows—to take some of the teeth out of the pass rush and give Jones a fighting chance.

Meanwhile, can the vaunted Buckeyes do something that others rarely have—get pressure on Blake Sims? They will need to force the issue for Bama’s first-year quarterback and not allow him to get comfortable.

Alabama will likely also have a bit of a homefield advantage in the Superdome.

The Tide is better at stopping the run and will force Jones to go to the air more than Meyer would like.

Thus, Bama will advance to meet Oregon in Jerry’s World on January 12th in hopes of capturing the program’s fourth title in six years and the inaugural College Football Playoff championship.

Sugar Bowl Prediction: Alabama 34 - Ohio State 20


By Thomas Rosenbaum
DFN Sports Staff Writer

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