Alabama vs. Ohio State: How the two teams match up in Sugar Bowl

How Alabama and Ohio State match up in a college football national semifinal in New Orleans

Staff writer Gary Klein compares Alabama and Ohio State ahead of the College Football Playoff semifinal Thursday in New Orleans:

Alabama run game vs. Ohio State run defense

Alabama is averaging 209.5 yards rushing a game behind a line that features All-American guard Arie Kouandjio. Running back T.J. Yeldon rushed for 932 yards and 10 touchdowns, but he's nursing a hamstring injury. Derrick Henry has rushed for 895 yards and 10 touchdowns. He gained a season-high 141 yards in the Southeastern Conference title game against Missouri. Quarterback Blake Sims also is a running threat. Running back Tyren Jones and fullback Jalston Fowler could have increased roles. Ohio State gives up only 139.8 rushing yards a game, which ranks 35th nationally. Linebacker Joshua Perry has a team-best 113 tackles. Linebacker Darron Lee and safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell are other top tacklers.

Edge: Alabama.

Alabama passing vs. Ohio State secondary

With offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin calling plays, the Crimson Tide averages 281 yards passing a game. Sims, a fifth-year senior, has completed 65% of his passes, 26 for touchdowns, with seven interceptions. Receiver Amari Cooper, a Heisman Trophy finalist, has 115 receptions and 14 touchdowns, both school records. DeAndrew White has 37 catches, four for touchdowns. Ohio State gives up 188.2 yards passing a game. Bell and cornerback Doran Grant each have five interceptions, Powell three. All-American defensive end Joey Bosa has 13 1/2 sacks.

Edge: Alabama.

Ohio State run game vs. Alabama run defense

Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 1,402 yards and 12 touchdowns for an offense that averages 260.8 yards rushing a game. But the absence of injured quarterback J.T. Barrett, the second-leading rusher with 932 yards and 11 touchdowns, is a huge blow. H-back Jalin Marshall could play quarterback at times in place of Cardale Jones, providing a running threat. Curtis Samuel has rushed for six touchdowns and averages nearly seven yards a carry. Alabama is ranked first nationally in rushing defense, giving up only 88.6 yards rushing a game. All-American safety Landon Collins has a team-best 91 tackles. Linebackers Reggie Ragland and Trey DePriest and cornerback Nick Perry are other top tacklers.

Edge: Alabama.

Ohio State passing vs. Alabama secondary

In the only start of his career, Jones completed 12 of 17 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin. Receiver Michael Thomas, who played at Woodland Hills Taft High, has a team-best 43 catches, eight for touchdowns. Devin Smith has 30 catches, 11 for touchdowns, and averages a nation-best 26.6 yards a reception. Marshall has six touchdown catches. Alabama has given up 281 yards passing a game. Collins has three interceptions, Cyrus Jones and Perry two. Linebacker Xzavier Dickson has eight sacks.

Edge: Ohio State.

Special teams

Alabama kicker Adam Griffith has made 12 of 19 field-goal attempts. Christion Jones averages 25 yards on kickoff returns and 8.4 yards on punt returns. JK Scott averages 47 yards a punt. Ohio State's Sean Nuerenberger has made 11 of 18 field-goal attempts, and Cameron Johnson averaged 45 yards a punt. Dontre Wilson averages 24 yards on kickoff returns. Marshall averages 12.7 yards on punt returns, with one touchdown.

Edge: Ohio State.


Alabama's Nick Saban has won four national championships. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart helped him win three at Alabama and oversees a unit ranked 10th nationally. Kiffin helped turn untested Sims into a record-setting passer and Cooper into a Biletnikoff Award winner. Ohio State's Urban Meyer has revitalized the Buckeyes after winning two national titles at Florida. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who will become head coach at Houston, lost quarterback Braxton Miller at the start of the season, J.T. Barrett at the end, and still got the Buckeyes to this point. Luke Fickell, in his 13th season at Ohio State, oversees a defense that ranks 15th in the nation.

Edge: Even.

Final score: Alabama 32, Ohio State 24.

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