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CFB Playoffs 2015

Five Alabama players for Michigan State to watch

Marvin Gentry- USA TODAY Sports

Much pressure is on Alabama as it tries to avoid postseason sorrow for a third straight year. The Crimson Tide returns to the College Football Playoff as the No. 2 seed.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has taken a delicate approach in preparation, focusing more so on the fundamentals before getting into study on Michigan State.

Saban put off issuing scout team jerseys until the final two days of practice, prior to sending the team home for Christmas. He told the media during a press conference at the College Football Awards (Dec. 10) that the team would practice for seven days.

Spartans’ head coach Mark Dantonio is getting his bunch set for Alabama. Michigan State suffered a tough 38-39 loss to Nebraska on Nov. 7, but it won four straight games since then. Two of its four victories came down to the wire against Ohio State and Iowa. A 27-23 miracle win against Michigan positioned Michigan State at No. 4.

Yours truly of TDAM recently put five Michigan State players on the clock for Alabama to watch for. Now, it is time to go in-depth on Alabama’s top five players.

5. Marlon Humphrey, CB- Redshirt Freshman

Marlon Humphrey was one of few freshmen that emerged on Alabama’s defense.

His technique in press coverage must improve, but Humphrey has put together some solid games. The Hoover, Alabama native has 40 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, five pass breakups, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Cornerbacks Cyrus Jones and Minkah Fitzpatrick draw much praise, but look for Humphrey to have a huge impact.

4. Jonathan Allen, DE- Junior

Jonathan Allen is the best on Alabama’s front line when it comes to winning one-on-one battles. He leads the team in tackles for loss (12.5) and sacks with 10.

Allen became the Crimson Tide’s first defender under Saban since Wallace Gilberry (2007) to record 10 sacks in a season. He chimes in with four pass breakups, six quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. Linebackers Reggie Ragland and Tim Williams along with defensive tackles A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed join Allen in anchoring a dominant group, but the tone of physicality starts with Allen.

3. Calvin Ridley, WR- Freshman

Calvin Ridley has been a difference maker for Alabama, in the same way that Aaron Burbridge has been for Michigan State. Ridley filled in admirably for the departed Amari Cooper, totaling 75 receptions for 893 yards and five touchdowns this season.

He recorded three 100-yard outings against Georgia, Arkansas and Florida, but put in   solid efforts against Tennessee, Mississippi State and Auburn. Ridley, 6-foot, 188 pounds, possesses acceleration, reliable hands and smooth route running capabilities.

The Spartans lack a true “shutdown” cornerback, but sophomore Montae Nicholson will have a daunting task defending Ridley.  Redshirt sophomore ArDarius Stewart has emerged as the Tide’s second vertical target. Michigan State’s back five will be tested. 

2. Derrick Henry, RB- Junior

Derrick Henry at No. 2 may throw some people off, yet everyone knows what to expect from Henry. Multiple Spartan players including junior linebacker and captain Riley Bullough have been confident in their approach to limit Henry. The 6-foot-3, 243-pound back leads the nation in rushing with 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns.

He averages 152.7 yards a game and has scored a touchdown in 18 straight match-ups. Henry has accounted for nine 100-yard games, four 200-yard outings and delivered Alabama its second Heisman winner in school history. Meeting Henry at the point of attack and creating negative plays on first down will be imperative for Michigan State.

1. Jacob Coker, QB- Senior 

Spartans’ quarterback Connor Cook has more experience than Coker, but the key to Alabama winning is for Coker to hold his own. He has done a better job of protecting the football since losing to Ole Miss 37-43 back on Sept. 19. The Mobile, Alabama native has tossed for 2,489 yards with 17 touchdowns to eight interceptions.

He stands as the Tide’s fourth-best rusher with 94 yards and two scores.

Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will live with Coker taking calculated risks over ill-advised throws. The senior has built chemistry with Richard Mullaney, Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart. Targeting a single coverage match-up will be crucial. A mixture of accurate passes and tough runs should keep Michigan State’s defense off balance

Stephen M. Smith is a senior analyst and columnist for Touchdown Alabama MagazineYou can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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