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Three keys for Ohio State football's national championship clash with Alabama

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra

Emotional regroup

Ohio State coach Ryan Day has stressed that his team’s ultimate goal for this season was winning a national championship, not beating Clemson. But it took considerable resolve to get over the hump in defeating the Tigers for the first time in program history and avenging last season’s semifinal loss. Will the Buckeyes be spent by Monday night against Alabama? They can’t afford a letup and will need to replicate the effort from 10 days ago if they are to upset the four-team bracket’s top seed.

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Alabama quarterback Mac Jones typically enjoys maximum protection from his offensive line.

Aerial success

Dealing with a sprained thumb and a hard hit to the right side of his torso, quarterback Justin Fields delivered an epic performance in the semifinals, throwing for career highs of 385 yards and six touchdowns against Clemson. He could similarly exploit Alabama’s secondary, which has been the chink in the armor of its defense throughout this season. The Crimson Tide ranks 79th in the nation in pass defense and has been vulnerable to the deep ball. It’s notable that four of Fields’ 22 completions in the Sugar Bowl were passes of 35 yards or more.

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Trey Sermon streak

Between a record-setting performance in the Big Ten championship game and Sugar Bowl, running back Trey Sermon has mirrored Ezekiel Elliott’s postseason run from six years ago that led the Buckeyes through the College Football Playoff. In bursting onto the scene, Sermon has eased some of the burden on Fields and allowed Ohio State to control the tempo of the game. As its defense prepares to stop a prolific offense, ball control could at times be needed.

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Key matchup

Ohio State defensive line vs. Alabama offensive line

The pocket has been like a cocoon this season for Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, protected by an offensive line that ranks seventh in the nation in sack rate, according to Football Outsiders. Dropping back to pass 379 times, Jones has been brought to the ground only nine times, a reason he has led a dynamic passing attack. While the Crimson Tide’s line is more formidable than Clemson's, the Buckeyes will need to apply similar pressure from their semifinal win in which they sacked Trevor Lawrence twice, causing a pair of fumbles.

Key stat

Mac Jones has a 203.03 quarterback efficiency rating through 12 games, a mark that puts him on pace to break former Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow’s record of 201.96 that was set last season.

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

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