With the regular season wrapped up, we enter into the first round of the playoffs with the SEC three seed in the Alabama Crimson Tide facing Big Ten two seed, USC Trojans. It’s a rematch of week one from the regular season, so let’s break this matchup down once again, because a lot has changed.
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
With the Crimson Tide comes an offense that has been formidable. Built around the powerful tailback of Joe Pantoja they’ve really had an impressive start, especially with the speed of the smaller quarterback Balion Siege. Unfortunately, this offense has been slowed over the last few weeks. It hasn’t been the torrid start they began with, struggling to get above 30 points in the second half of the season. Translation? The Alabama offense has to turn to the arm of Siege more than his legs, especially with wide receivers Tim Cope, Keon Owens, and Tyron Terry manning the boundaries. These are receivers who have made big plays this season, but have seemingly been targeted less over the last few weeks, and tight end Houston Freeman hasn’t been given an opportunity to explode this season, despite being capable. Bottom line, this offense needs to get outside the box that they’ve found themselves caged in.
Defensively, safety Lamar Fant is leading in tackles, and is leading the charge. He’s the “tip of the spear” so to speak. Unfortunately, that’s not great news. It means ballcarriers are reaching the third level with frequency, and that is never a good sign. The defensive line is talented, with ends Richard Bradley and Jackson Adok anchoring the edges and Eric Payne is centered as the defensive tackle. Behind him, a set of linebackers in Mike Rivers, Buddy Wells, and Christopher Dodd. These six players have got to step up and make more plays near the line of scrimmage. As great as Fant as been, he can’t win this game on his own steam.
Kingston Fox and Cain Robinson have been stellar, and for the majority of the season they’ve led the CFSL in runs of 20+ yards. Fox, though, as recently upped his quarterback play, especially with the surge of receiver Mason Winters. What makes that impressive is the cast surrounding Fox, with tight end Monte Jones, and receivers Jace Rosser and Marcus Seals. Winters has become the guy to explode and make the big plays down field. Robinson has been a fantastic tailback, and is as shifty as they come. This offense has hit their stride, and that’s without Fox having to do a lot of legwork, which he’s explosive on once he gets going.
As far as the USC defense is concerned, they haven’t had much in the way of standout performances from individual players. Corner Marcellus Burney has been exceptional, but for the most part this is a team defense that has gelled together really well. From the linebacking corps of Xavier Halle, Benjamin Kaye, Loui DeCastro, and Maine Patterson; to the secondary of corners Burney, Johnathon Greene, and safeties Aiden Berry and Terrence Goldsberry. As a whole this defense just plays really strong, but it will need to double down on the front seven to be able to slow Alabama’s battering ram at tailback.
Houston Freeman vs. Monte Jones
The two tight ends for each team came in as freshmen this season and there was a rivalry between them. That is renewed tonight in a game where the better tight end will likely make the difference in a win or a loss for either team. Both players are big, capable of stretching the field, and they can set the edge. Part of this obviously comes to scheming, but the fact remains, the tight ends will be the difference.
Alabama won the first round between these two, but I’m not sold on that being the case in the rematch. The offense of the Crimson Tide has slowed considerably from their white-hot start while USC’s has only been getting hotter and hotter as the weeks go by. It’s the tale of the teams that have been trending in opposite directions over the past couple of weeks, and I’m going with the hot hand of the Trojans to advance onto the semifinals.
Final: Alabama 35, USC 42