Last Call: Final Thoughts, Questions and Predictions Before Ohio State Plays Alabama in the National Championship Game

By 11W Staff on January 11, 2021 at 10:10 am
Justin Fields

Ohio State will play in the final game of the college football season tonight as the Buckeyes face Alabama with a national championship on the line.


8 P.M. – MONDAY, JAN. 11


The fight to play a season this fall, the months and months of work to get better and the perseverance to keep battling through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have all been for this opportunity. All year long, the Buckeyes have had dreams of winning the national championship and belief they're capable of doing it, and they'll get their chance to make that dream come true on Monday night at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

As we gear up for a full night of national championship game coverage, we share our final thoughts, questions and predictions going into tonight's game in our final Last Call of the season.

Final thoughts

Appreciate the journey

Amid all the angst of which players will be unavailable tonight and whether Ohio State's defense is actually capable of slowing down Alabama's offense, don't lose sight of how hard it was just for the Buckeyes to get to this point.

If the Buckeyes hadn't beaten Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals, there'd be nothing for Ohio State fans to worry about tonight, just disappointment in having to watch (or choosing not to watch) two other teams play for the title instead. If the Big Ten hadn't reinstated its fall season in September, the Buckeyes could be gearing up to start a meaningless winter or spring season right now, and never would have had the opportunity to chase a championship at all.

So while there's no question that a loss tonight would be as heartbreaking as any other loss in recent Ohio State history, be sure to appreciate the journey regardless of what happens – because knowing everything the Buckeyes had to overcome to get here will make the victory that much sweeter if it happens.

– Dan Hope

This Offense Can Win A Shootout

I’m not sure those outside of the program and its fans are giving Ohio State’s offense its due in comparison to Alabama’s group. Even if in a worst-case scenario where the Buckeye defense can’t slow down the Crimson Tide at all, their offense has shown it’s a force to be reckoned with too.

Yes, Mac Jones is averaging more than 1,000 passing yards per interception. Yes, Najee Harris is a first-round NFL draft pick at running back. Yes, DeVonta Smith won the Heisman Trophy. Yes, this offensive line won the Joe Moore Award. Yes, Steve Sarkisian impressed enough to earn the Texas job. Yes, Jaylen Waddle overcoming his ankle injury to play would add one of college football’s most explosive players to the mix. Yes, John Metchie, Jahleel Billingsley, Miller Forristall and Brian Robinson Jr. are dangerous in their own ways. Yes, all that is true.

But Justin Fields will be the best quarterback on the field. Trey Sermon’s playing like one of college football’s best running backs. The Chris Olave-Garrett Wilson duo is quite possibly the best wide receiver pairing in the country. Jeremy Ruckert and Luke Farrell are under-the-radar weapons. A talented offensive line is hitting its stride. Ryan Day’s running the show.

This Ohio State can score with anybody, and that includes Alabama.

– Colin Hass-Hill

Explosive plays will be there all night

Ryan Day labels the big plays that both his offense and Alabama’s offense have rattled off all season “explosives” instead of “big plays” or “explosive plays.” Common expressions for coaches, maybe, but still love that.

I think there’s a good shot we see a lot of explosives tonight. With Ohio State getting it rolling in the ground game, especially of late, these offenses are both complete and balanced.

DeVonta Smith and John Metchie III (and Jaylen Waddle?) might be no match for the Buckeyes’ secondary. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson might be no match for the Tide’s secondary. That’s kind of awesome and it could lead to some big-time, game-breaking plays on both sides.

– Zack Carpenter

Ohio State actually has the better defense

For as much talk as there's been about how Ohio State is going to slow down this Alabama offense, I think something that's been lost is that the Buckeyes probably have the better defense in this matchup.

This isn't necessarily true based on pure numbers as the Crimson Tide allows fewer points and yards per game on average this season, but the key difference is how each defense has played against elite competition. Both times Alabama faced a top-15 scoring offense – No. 14 Ole Miss and No. 13 Florida – it allowed at least 46 points. Meanwhile, Ohio State just held the No. 5 scoring offense to 28 points.

Both defenses have allowed their fair share of explosive plays, but Ohio State's had an answer for an elite offense this season; Bama has not.

– Kevin Harrish


How will the Buckeyes cover DeVonta Smith?

The smartass answer would be “They won't,” and there's definitely reason to believe it will be a struggle. Almost no one has effectively covered Alabama's Heisman-winning receiver this season – he's gone over 100 receiving yards in eight of the Crimson Tide's last 10 games – and the Buckeyes don't have a true shutdown cornerback this year.

They have to try to find a way to slow him down, though, and I'm interested to see what their strategy will be. The Buckeyes don't typically assign a cornerback to follow a receiver all over the field – and I'm not sure whether the better option would be Sevyn Banks or Shaun Wade anyway – but they could make schematic adjustments to try to limit Smith.

Will they be aggressive and try to press Smith at the line of scrimmage, or will they rely on more zone coverage, knowing how difficult Smith is to cover one-on-one? Will they put an extra defender on Smith's side on the field as often as they can? The challenge, of course, is that Alabama has lots of other weapons, too, especially if Jaylen Waddle is able to play, and they can't afford to take many men out of the box with Najee Harris running the ball behind an elite offensive line.

– Dan Hope

How does Ohio State do against Najee Harris?

All the pregame talk has been about how Ohio State is going to stop this Alabama passing game, but truthfully, I think the far more important matchup is how the Buckeyes are going to stop the run.

I think the Buckeyes are going to have a lot of trouble slowing down DeVonta Smith (and Jaylen Waddle, because I firmly believe he's going to play) and that Alabama is going to have its fair share of explosive plays. But even if that's the case, I think Ohio State can still win if they stop the run.

The Crimson Tide passing game might put up points, but it's the run game that keeps the ball in Alabama's hands and controls the game. If Ohio State can keep the run bottled up, and limit the Tide's scoring to big plays in the passing game – as counterintuitive as that sounds – I think the Buckeyes will have a chance even if Smith and Waddle go off.

Remember, it was just a month ago that Ohio State won a game where a receiver had over 200 yards and three touchdowns because they also held Indiana to negative rushing yards. It can be done.

– Kevin Harrish

How Much Has This Defense Grown?

The common thought right now is Ohio State’s defense, particularly the secondary, is the major weakness for this team. But is that outdated?

Fifty-one days have passed since the Indiana debacle. We’ve seen three games and haven’t seen dozens of practices. One would imagine there've been plenty of opportunities for in-season development. If this defense is being underrated due to recent results, we'll find out on Monday.

– Colin Hass-Hill

What’s the sequel look like?

Last week, I wrote that Justin Fields needed to have a “this is what legends are made of” type of performance. And that’s exactly what he did. He solidified himself as the best quarterback in Ohio State history with an unbelievable (but still kind of believable, really) performance.

Fields has arguably the best receiver tandem in college football, a running game that’s found its momentum and even a tight end duo that’s been putting in work.

And it still feels like Fields put the team on his back and his ribs last week. What he does as an encore is far and away the easiest question to ask here. But isn’t it also the most important?

– Zack Carpenter


Both teams will go over 40 points

Alabama and Ohio State have the nation's two most explosive offenses, and I don't think either defense is capable of consistently stopping the other. I'm not overly confident in picking either team to win – though my prediction is Ohio State by less than a touchdown – but I am confident in both teams scoring a lot of points.

75 points is a high total, but I'm betting the over here. I really like the over for Ohio State's team total of 33.5 points, too.

– Dan Hope

Ohio State Wins The Natty

A 49-38 Buckeye win. Justin Fields throws five touchdowns. Trey Sermon scores twice. Two key turnovers on a Josh Proctor forced fumble and Sevyn Banks interception. 

Lock it in.

– Colin Hass-Hill

Last team with the ball wins…

…And I’m not taking a cop out of “whoever’s kneeling the ball at the end is gonna win.”

I think this game has a great chance of being a heart-stopping thriller, one where we’re talking about the ending for years.

I’m taking Fields to orchestrate that final drive, making up for the heartbreak of last year’s Fiesta Bowl with a Vince Young-type moment to give the Buckeyes their third national championship this millennium.

(And even if that Young-esque moment is setting up a game-winning field goal and not scoring a last-minute touchdown, still counts in my eyes.)

Ohio State 39, Alabama 37. Had to give y’all my Chris Berman score.

– Zack Carpenter

Ohio State wins by double digits

This might be a back and forth game for a while, but I honestly think Ohio State's going to pull away to the point where it won't even be all that stressful at the end.

The Buckeyes can match Alabama's firepower offensively and have what I believe to be the far stronger defense. I think Ohio State limits Najee Harris, makes some key stops and forces a couple of key turnovers to pull away in this one.

– Kevin Harrish

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