Alabama football: The Tide's front seven remains stout despite injuries
NEW ORLEANS -- Alabama's front seven has been ravaged by injuries all season, but Clemson isn't for one second overlooking the remaining strength and depth of what's ahead in Monday's Sugar Bowl.
"We've played a lot of great front sevens," left tackle Mitch Hyatt said. "Alabama's up there and they might be the best we'll play all year. Auburn and North Carolina State have two great front sevens, but Alabama just poses a different threat. It's going to be a different challenge for us."
Alabama has had to juggle its linebacker group all season due to a seemingly endless stream of ailments, including former Spring Valley standout Christian Miller missing most of the year with a torn biceps, but no matter the names on the field, the Crimson Tide promise to be stout. They're actually healthier than expected, with some of the key losses not season-ending as originally forecast.
Miller and sophomore Terrell Lewis (elbow) were both injured in the season-opening win over Florida State and feared lost until next year. The two key components are back and will join Mack Wilson (foot) participating in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Wilson's availability became even more crucial when fellow middle linebacker Dylan Moses was injured during practice earlier this month and will remain sidelined.
Through all the adversity, Alabama enters as the top-ranked scoring defense in the country, allowing only 11.5 points per game, and is second in yards allowed at 257.8 per game. Clemson is second (12.8 points) and sixth (277.9 yards).
"They keep saying there are a lot of injuries, but they just keep rolling guys in there," Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. "I swear they've got about 25 defensive linemen. Every time you watch film, you see a different one. Literally in our staff meetings watching film, we're like who's 24 (Lewis)? Who's 4 (Chris Allen)? But you see their system. They ask those guys to be ready to perform."
Co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott added, "There are a few new faces and new names, but the same results. Schematically, they're very similar to what they've done the last two years. I think the best teams know what they want to do and they do it well. And I think probably the same could be said about us offensively. We're not a whole lot different than maybe who we've been the last two years."
NOTHING TO PROVE: While Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia were seen as three unquestioned teams among four selected for the College Football Playoff, Alabama's inclusion as the last team in was the cause for some controversy. Some felt any team that didn't win its own conference shouldn't get in, while others felt Ohio State had the better resume and would've made a more prudent choice.
Alabama has usually been above reproach in such situations, and on Thursday players shot down the suggestion that negativity regarding their selection would provide added motivation.
"We're not worried about the outside world, what anybody thinks or who they think should've been the fourth seed ahead of us," running back Damien Harris said. "None of that matters. We know at the end of the day a lot of people just don't like us because we're Alabama, but that doesn't really bother us."
Quarterback Jalen Hurts added, "Regardless of what's being said or been said, we're here now and they can't kick us out. It's about us and not anybody but us."
QUOTABLE: "It is fun, but sometimes you don't know the answer to everything, so I just have my phone at my side and do some quick research. For the most part it's been a fun experience for me showing them around." -- Clemson freshman running back and Louisiana native Travis Etienne on playing tour guide for his teammates.