Sugar Bowl Matchup: Alabama's Run Game

Alabama's run offense isn't what it has been in past years, but can Ohio State shut it down on the way to a Sugar Bowl win? BSB takes a look at what the Tide brings to the table.

Football is a game of matchups, so the Sugar Bowl is no different.

With that in mind, BuckeyeSports.com will break down some of the important matchups between Ohio State and Alabama in the weeks leading up to the game in New Orleans.

What will it take to win the College Football Playoff semifinal? We’ll hopefully find out the keys as we go.

In our first one, Alabama’s rush offense takes on Ohio State’s up-and-down.

Ohio State rush defense
34th in college football (139.9 yards per game)
3.87 yards per carry (40th in FBS)
61 runs allowed of 10-plus yards (58th in FBS)
Star: Joshua Perry led the team in tackles with 113 to go with 8.5 TFL. He had some solid games down the stretch including 18 vs. Penn State and 14 against Indiana. He’ll need to have a big game to keep Alabama in check.
Best Performances: Holding Melvin Gordon to 76 yards and Wisconsin’s dominant rush offense to 71 yards as a team; Allowing 16 yards and 0.5 yards per carry vs. Penn State
Worst Performances: 370 yards, 5.9 yards per carry vs. Navy; 178 yards, 5.2 yards per carry vs. Michigan State; 218 yards, 4.95 yards per carry vs. Minnesota; 281 yards, 7.8 yards per carry vs. Indiana.

In Big Games: Ohio State’s biggest challenge was vs. Wisconsin, which entered with one of the best rushing offenses in the nation, and completely shut down the Badgers thanks in part to an eight-man front but mostly because the Buckeyes won most of the individual battles along the line. That came in contrast to the previous weeks when Michigan State, Minnesota and Indiana had varying degrees of success vs. the Buckeyes thanks in part to power schemes and also because of backs who had the ability to break the first tackle and make the most of their runs.

Quotable: “I think the defense is starting to gel at the right time of the year. I think everybody is starting to play less selfishly, I think we really understand what we need to do each play so you start seeing less mental mistakes. You start seeing guys really flying to the ball and giving extra effort and playing Silver Bullet defense the way it should be.” – Michael Bennett

The Skinny: As BSB’s Ryan Ginn, an LSU fan who has watched a lot of SEC football over the years, points out, the last thing you want is to be trailing Alabama in the fourth quarter because the Tide can wear you down in the fourth quarter. So Ohio State has to avoid that, and there are some other factors to keep in mind here. Unlike vs. Wisconsin, when OSU could bring a safety up to the line to provide help, Alabama has enough weapons outside – Amari Cooper, in particular – to keep OSU in its base defense (and any help Cooper might need could open up things for the run game). In addition, the Tide is a good power run team, something that gave Ohio State trouble in games vs. Michigan State, Michigan and Minnesota. Ohio State will need to use the dogged pursuit and excellent gap control used against Wisconsin to be successful.

Alabama rush offense
34th in college football (209.5 yards per game)
5.11 yards per carry (29th in FBS)
82 runs of 10-plus yards (32nd in FBS)
Star: Bama uses a two-pronged rushing attack of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Yeldon is a more complete back and ran for 932 yards with 10 touchdowns, while Henry is a 241-yard bull as a freshman who ran for 895 yards and 10 more scores. Each tops 5.0 yards per carry.
Best Performances: 288 yards, 5.9 yards per carry vs. West Virginia; 298 yards, 6.6 yards per carry vs. Texas A&M; 227 yards, 6.7 yards per carry vs. Auburn
Worst Performances: 106 yards, 3.7 yards per carry vs. LSU; 124 yards, 3.9 yards per carry vs. Mississippi State; 66 yards, 2.1 yards per carry vs. Arkansas

In Big Games: Some of the Tide’s worst performances on offense came in games where the running game couldn’t get untracked, including the LSU and Arkansas contests. The Tide also had 44 carries for 168 yards, a 3.8-yard average, in the loss to Ole Miss; solid but not spectacular numbers. In other words, while Alabama can run it on you when the attack gets momentum, you can also stop them and try to make them one-dimensional.

Quotable: “They're really good and they're well coached. They're well prepared. They've got a lot of talent. They've got playmakers. When you talk about Alabama and talk about what you want with the makeup of your team, they have about everything you'd want.” – Chris Ash

The Skinny: As we said earlier, you don’t want to be down to the Tide going to the final quarter; just ask Auburn, which ceded 11.5 yards per carry on 14 tries and six rushes of more than 10 yards in the fourth quarter vs. the Tide in the Iron Bowl. But if Ohio State can handle the rushing attack early in the game – and with a relatively new offensive line and no Heisman candidate like Trent Richardson or Mark Ingram in the backfield – the ability to take away one part of the attack can help the other. Much of this could depend on how OSU handles Cooper. If Doran Grant can keep him in check and OSU can devote full resources to the run game, Ohio State can do what teams like Ole Miss, LSU and Arkansas did vs. the Tide.


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