CFP: The Alabama linebackers are key against Clemson

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 02: Mack Wilson /

One of the most discussed topics leading up to the Jan 1, 2018 Sugar Bowl matchup between No. 1 Clemson(12-1) and No. 4 Alabama(11-1) is the health of the Alabama linebackers. 

With more than a month between the Nov. 25. Iron Bowl matchup with Auburn and the Sugar Bowl, Alabama will have time for starter Christian Miller and backups Mack Wilson and Terrell Lewis to get fully healthy. The trio only played together in the Iron Bowl and on Sept 2. against Florida State.

On the College Football Playoffs final selection show, Alabama head coach Nick Saban talked about getting the injured linebackers back for the playoffs.

“Getting some of these players back, the two outside backers and the inside backer, especially Mack Wilson. It’s going to be huge for us, because we were so depleted depth wise.”

Miller tore his bicep and Lewis tore a ligament in his elbow during the Florida State game while Wilson(foot) and senior starter Shaun Dion Hamilton(knee) were both injured in the LSU game. Hamilton will not play in the post season.

The foursome combined for 19 tackles with Hamilton leading the group and the team with eight tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack versus Florida State.

Even though each linebacker played in the game, Florida State managed to be within three points(10-7) of the lead until the 4:22 mark of the third quarter. As they say, “It was all down hill from there.”

  1. Florida State had a punt blocked with 4:22 left in the 3rd quarter.
  2. Fumbled the kickoff return at 1:39 in the 3rd.
  3. Deondre Francois threw an interception with one minute remaining in the 3rd.
  4. Francois was intercepted again by Wilson at 12:22 of the 4th.

The above series of miscues resulted in a field goal, a touchdown plus two-point conversion, a missed field goal and a field goal for the Crimson Tide. Each turnover occurred in Florida State territory and the 14 points off those turnovers pushed Alabama to the victory. Otherwise, the game was close and despite the misleading 24-7 final score, the Seminoles weren’t dominated. The total yards statistics of 269(Bama) to 250(FSU) further suggest that the game was competitive and that the turnovers gave the Crimson Tide the edge.

Alabama also blocked a field goal at the end of the first half.

In Alabama’s 26-14 loss at Auburn, Hamilton was out and Miller and Lewis returned to play in only their second game of the season. Miller and Lewis were not 100 percent, and had one and two tackles, respectively. Wilson had one tackle. Auburn was able to gain 408 yards with 211 of it coming on the ground.

Before facing Auburn, Alabama beat LSU 24-10, Mississippi State 31-24 and Mercer 56-0 in consecutive weeks. Hamilton and Wilson played in the LSU game. In that game, LSU had 152 yards on the ground and outgained Alabama 306 to 299 in total yards. Mercer had 107 rushing yards and Mississippi State had 172 rushing yards and two touchdowns when none of the four linebackers were available.

Normally, Alabama is able to hold opponents under 100 rushing yards and at full strength, they held Florida State to 40 yards on 27 carries. But without Hamilton, they allowed Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham(51) and running back Kerryon Johnson(104) to rush for a combined 155 yards. Clemson football quarterback Kelly Bryant and his offense will also face them without Hamilton and safety Hootie Jones. Jones is fourth on the team in tackles and has two interceptions. He injured his knee against Auburn.

Just in case, anyone lost track of the linebackers and what games they played in or missed. Here is a recap:

Terrell Lewis. Only played against Florida State and Auburn.

Christian Miller. Only played against Florida State and Auburn.

Mack Wilson. Missed Mississippi State and Mercer.

Shaun Dion Hamilton. Missed Mississippi State, Mercer and Auburn.

Both teams have had injuries to key players this season and especially, at the linebacker position, so it’s good for the college football world that each team is expected to be much healthier on New Year’s Day.