Clemson University

Five burning questions for Alabama vs. Clemson in the national championship

3 things we’re watching as Clemson faces Alabama in the national championship

The State's Matt Connolly previews Clemson's matchup against Alabama in the national championship game.
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The State's Matt Connolly previews Clemson's matchup against Alabama in the national championship game.

No. 2 Clemson (14-0, 8-0) will face No. 1 Alabama (14-0, 8-0) on Monday at 8 p.m. in the national championship game in Santa Clara, Calif. The matchup will be televised by ESPN.

Here are our top five questions heading into the game:

Can Clemson block Alabama?

The Crimson Tide owned the line of scrimmage last year as Kelly Bryant was sacked five times and the Tigers rushed for only 64 yards. Clemson will have to perform better up front to have a chance Monday night. The Tigers need to establish the run with Travis Etienne, which should open things up for Trevor Lawrence and the passing game. But blocking Quinnen Williams and the rest of Alabama’s defensive front will not be easy.

How much will Clemson miss Dexter Lawrence?

The Tigers played well without Clemson’s suspended star in the Cotton Bowl, but doing so again against Alabama will be no easy task. Alabama offers up a much tougher challenge than the Irish did, and Albert Huggins and Clemson’s other reserves up front will have to step up.

“We miss him. He’s a great player, tremendous, one of the best in the country at doing what he does,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday. “So I’m thankful that we’ve got Albert Huggins and some other guys, Nyles (Pinckney) and Jordan (Williams), that have stepped up, and they’re ready to go perform to the very best of their ability.”

Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa and D-lineman Quinnen Williams weigh in on Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence.

Can Alabama rattle Trevor Lawrence?

Clemson’s freshman quarterback hasn’t let anything bother him this season, but facing Alabama and Nick Saban will be by far the toughest test for Lawrence. Teams have tried to confuse Lawrence with exotic blitzes and different looks throughout the year. While he may have been confused at times early in games, it hasn’t taken him long to figure out what defenses are trying to do. You can bet Saban and Alabama will do all that they can to confuse the young quarterback.

Can Clemson’s secondary step up?

The Tigers struggled stopping the pass against both of the SEC teams they faced this year in Texas A&M and South Carolina. Alabama has a better passing attack than both of those teams, but Clemson’s secondary believes it is just a coincidence that it struggled against SEC teams. The Tigers are proud of the product they put on the field for most of the year. Clemson has one final opportunity to prove that its secondary isn’t a weakness on Monday.

Can Alabama stop Travis Etienne?

The sophomore running back did not play much last year against the Crimson Tide, receiving only four carries after taking a tough hit on the opening kickoff. Etienne is stronger and better now and is fresh entering the matchup as the Tigers have rotated running backs throughout the year. Alabama is No. 19 nationally in rush defense, allowing 120 yards per game entering the showdown against the nation’s fifth-leading rusher.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and Alabama head coach Nick Saban spoke to the media a day before they're set to face off in the College Football National Championship.