Alabama plays USC in Arlington in just a few hours. Alabama enters the game as the clear favorite. Which positions does USC hold the advantage? Where is Alabama clearly superior? Let’s explore:
When Alabama has the ball
Cooper Bateman/Blake Barnett vs. USC pass defense: USC doesn’t have nearly the same pass-rush threat as Alabama. Outside linebacker Porter Gustin finished tied for first on the team with 5.5 sacks, not even half of Jonathan Allen’s season total (12).
Last season, USC allowed 251.5 passing yards per game, seventh in the Pac-12, while Alabama averaged 227.1 yards per game, which was fifth in the SEC despite having a workhorse Heisman winner in the backfield. Overall, USC was ninth in the Pac-12 in opponent passing efficiency. Bateman likely gets the start because he is more of the game manager at this point. It’s a pretty close matchup, but Alabama seems to have a slight advantage.
Bo Scarbrough/Damien Harris vs. USC run defense: This is difficult because based on last season’s numbers, USC’s run defense was quite good. When Clancy Pendergast was defensive coordinator at USC in 2013, the run defense was also one of the best in the league while the passing defense was also good. Throwing a wrench into the equation, the USC defensive line is probably the team’s biggest weakness. While the team is questionable at rushing the passer, middle linebacker Cameron Smith is a sure tackler, and nose tackle Noah Jefferson is a true space-clogger (6-foot-6, 315 pounds). Meanwhile, Alabama brings plenty of talent but very little experience. This is practically a draw but give USC the benefit of the doubt.
Alabama receivers vs. USC secondary: Few teams have the depth at wide receiver that Alabama enjoys this season. While USC has a solid secondary, Alabama is stronger in numbers. The marquee matchup here is no doubt Adoree’ Jackson vs. Calvin Ridley. Both players have incredible speed. Meanwhile, perhaps a more intriguing but less-talked-about matchup is ArDarius Stewart vs. Iman Marshall. In the end, having a Robert Foster or a Gehrig Dieter gives Alabama a big advantage.
When Alabama is on defense
Max Browne vs. Alabama pass defense: Alabama will likely give Max Browne plenty of pressure with Tim Williams and Jonathan Allen being employed at will.
Admittedly, recent news of USC offensive tackle Chad Wheeler being forced out of the game bodes well for Alabama. Like Alabama’s quarterbacks, Browne is short on experience. Also, Alabama allowed the second-lowest opponent passing efficiency (105.2) in the SEC last season (105.2) and intercepted the most passes (19).
Justin Davis/Ronald Jones vs. Alabama run defense: Davis and Jones are capable running backs, although the team fared poorly against physical defenses last season. Against Utah (116 yards) and Arizona State (76), the rushing attack had its poorest outings of the regular season. The more physical Davis is the better fit against a rugged Alabama defense that led the nation with only 75.7 yards allowed per game in 2015.
USC receivers vs. Alabama secondary: Juju Smith-Schuster is a matchup nightmare for any team because of his blazing speed. While Alabama has great size and speed in the secondary, containing Smith-Schuster will remain a challenge. It is unclear which Alabama defensive back will be charged with the task of trying to cover Smith-Schuster. Certainly look for USC to try to exploit the advantage. Throwing two-way athlete Adoree’ Jackson into the mix really makes for a challenge for Alabama.
USC’s special teams unit is questionable. Adoree’ Jackson is an elite talent, having averaged 23 yards per kickoff and 10.5 yards per punt last season. Still, Alabama is expected to hand the punt return duties over to Calvin Ridley, and Ridley should do quite well. Also, there is the fact that Alabama has two starters returning on special teams, while USC is bringing in two new starters. Matt Boermeester takes over as the team’s kicker. He was shaky in the team’s spring practices and scrimmage, although he has been considerably better this fall. Still, Adam Griffith seems the safer bet at kicker. Plus, JK Scott had a solid 44.2 punting average last season, while USC tests a new punter out, Chris Tilbey being the frontrunner for much of the offseason although not formally named the starter.
Source: Saturday Down South