Saturday primer: championship edition
Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh
(Today, noon EST, ABC)
What to watch for:
• Can the Pittsburgh defense hold up and make some plays vs. the Cincinnati pass game? The Panthers’ defense has been victimized at times through the air and simply doesn’t have the type of athletes needed to slow down the Bearcats’ talented receiving corps. So the burden will fall squarely on the shoulders of the Pittsburgh defensive line, in particularly defensive ends Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard, to consistently create pressure off the edge and make Cincinnati QB Tony Pike feel uncomfortable in the pocket.
• However, a similar question could also be posed to the Cincinnati defense: Can the Bearcats slow down the power run game of Pittsburgh? Freshman running back Dion Lewis has been absolutely brilliant this season, making defenders miss behind the line of scrimmage, setting up his blocks and generating big plays at the second level. His ability to keep the Panthers in manageable down-and-distance situations has been the main reason QB Bill Stull and the passing offense has had so much success working off the play-action game.
• Speaking of Pittsburgh’s play-action game, everyone knows about WR Jonathan Baldwin and his ability to get down the field. However, it’s tight ends Dorin Dickerson and Nate Byham who really make this offense tough to stop. Dickerson is a gifted athlete who has the ability to create mismatches down the field, while Byham is a gifted blocker who knows how to uncover underneath and pluck the football away from his frame. The two don’t receive the amount of fanfare they deserve, but both could end up playing big roles in this one.
Florida vs. Alabama
(Today, 4 p.m. EST, CBS)
What to watch for:
• The size and power of the Alabama defensive line vs. the size and power of the Florida offensive line. Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody weighs in at a svelte 6-5, 365-pounds and does a great job eating up blocks inside and holding the point of attack. However, the Florida offensive line features a pair of brothers in Mike and Maurkice Pouncey, who weigh in around 320 pounds each and will be responsible with trying to get at least some kind of a push on Cody inside. If you like size vs. size and power vs. power, this is the matchup for you.
• Another key matchup to keep an eye on is Florida CB Joe Haden vs. Alabama WR Julio Jones. Jones is a massive 6-4, 211-pound wideout who is an absolute bear to bring down in the open field. He showcases impressive burst for his size and has the body control to cleanly get out of his breaks. He’ll be opposed by the nation’s top cover corner in Haden, who possesses the type of burst and closing speed to get his hands on almost any throw. Jones is going to need to use his size to consistently make plays vs. Haden, who’s playing at another level right now. And if Alabama QB Greg McElroy isn’t careful and tries to force some throws, Haden definitely has the ability to take one back to the house.
• When looking over these two teams, it’s amazing how equal their talent matches up at nearly every position. However, if there is one clear difference, it’s at QB, where Florida’s Tim Tebow ultimately looks to be the difference maker. Tebow’s power inside and his ability to make plays on the perimeter and in the pass game give the Gators an element on offense that Alabama doesn’t have, which is why I like Florida to win this year’s SEC title.
Texas vs. Nebraska
(Saturday, 8 p.m. EST, ABC)
What to watch for:
• Can the interior of the Texas offensive line handle the talent of the Nebraska defensive tackles? We saw how much Texas QB Colt McCoy struggled with pressure right up the gut against Oklahoma this season, and Nebraska certainly has the talent to do the same. All-American DT Ndamukong Suh will certainly see nothing but double-teams inside; however, fellow DT Jared Crick has done nothing but destroy one-on-one blocks all year, and I expect him to do the same when given the opportunity.
• To be honest, the Texas offensive line looks outmanned vs. the likes of Suh and Crick inside, and I think it’s going to take some creativity in order for the Texas offense to get its pass game going. Expect the Longhorns to consistently move the pocket and roll McCoy away from pressure. McCoy is an accurate passer on the move and gives the Longhorns the run/pass option once he breaks containment. He’ll be much more effective on the move than bottled up inside the pocket.
• They key comes down to the play of Nebraska QB Zac Lee and his ability to handle the pressure of the Texas defense and consistently move the chains. Lee doesn’t need to be brilliant, but he needs to take care of the football and at least pick up enough first downs to give the Nebraska defense sufficient rest between series.
Clemson vs. Georgia Tech
(Saturday, 8 p.m. EST, ESPN)
What to watch for:
• Staying ahead of the chains is key for both teams, as both defenses feature talented pass rushers who make third-and-long situations difficult to convert. Clemson’s Ricky Sapp and Georgia Tech’s Derrick Morgan are both considered two of the best pass rushers in the nation and have the ability to consistently win their individual battles when matched up one-on-one on the edge.
• It will be interesting to see how much faith the Clemson coaching staff has in its cornerbacks and how often it elects to move its talented safeties up near the line of scrimmage to stop the run. We know Georgia Tech is a run-first team, but it does a great job working off the play-action game, sucking opposing safeties up into the box and going over the top to WR Demaryius Thomas. After watching Clemson cornerback Chris Chancellor struggle to hold his own in coverage vs. the bigger South Carolina receivers last week, this is one matchup I would try to avoid if I were Clemson.
• The Clemson coaching staff also needs to do a better job getting the ball into the hands of RB C.J. Spiller, as Spiller was held to only nine rushes for 18 yards last weekend vs. South Carolina. Spiller is a dynamic threat between the tackles and in the open field and is the key to taking pressure off the occasionally stagnant Clemson pass game.
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