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Why having Steve Sarkisian gives Alabama a higher chance at defeating Clemson

Steve Sarkisian during pre-game warmups
Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian during last week's Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl vs. Washington: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

Just when you thought Nick Saban was predictable, he shows why college football hails him as its Zen master.

Following a poor offensive performance against Washington, the Crimson Tide’s head coach decided to part ways from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Despite the reported “mutual” feeling between the two, Saban wants to win and Kiffin is no longer interested. According to a report from ESPN, Saban named Steve Sarkisian as the Tide’s play caller effective immediately. While Kiffin packs up for Florida Atlantic, Sarkisian is faced with the daunting task of preparing quarterback Jalen Hurts and company for an underrated Clemson defense.

The California native arrived in Tuscaloosa in September of 2016 as an offensive analyst. During this time, he’s been devising schemes, studying film and assisting with recruiting. A full year has past since Sarkisian’s held a play sheet as an on-field coach, however, he remains one of better offensive minds in the game.

Though his audition at Alabama comes on the biggest stage in college football, Saban never makes a hire that he does not fully trust. He’s thoroughly tracked Sarkisian’s career and understands that he intends to not only develop Hurts, but also keep the offense moving. If what’s stated above does not entice you, listed below are three reasons why the move of Sarkisian to coach the national championship game bodes well for the Tide.

1. Steve Sarkisian has a national championship as an offensive mind

Make no mistake about it: Steve Sarkisian is not a spring chicken.

The 42-year-old was a primary reason as to why the University of Southern California captured a national championship during the 2003 season. He served on Pete Carroll’s staff as a quarterbacks coach, guiding Matt Leinart and the offense to a 12-1 record.

The Trojans would go on to capture a Pac-10 (Pac-12 now) conference championship, and defeated Michigan 28-14 in the 2004 Rose Bowl for a BCS national championship. Even with the NCAA stripping USC of its BCS title (sanctions), the Associated Press still recognizes the Trojans as national champs. In the ’03 season, Sarkisian navigated Leinart to 3,556 passing yards with 38 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He also witnessed running backs LenDale White, Hershel Dennis and Reggie Bush all total 500-plus yards rushing.

2. Steve Sarkisian will run the ball

As he watched Alabama from upstairs all season, Sarkisian got a bird’s eye view of what works and what pisses of Nick Saban. Unlike his counterpart, Lane Kiffin, Sarkisian is very patient in letting the run game develop. In his five years at Washington (2009-13) and one season at USC (2014), he had at least one running back total 1,000 yards. Of those six seasons, five of them produced a back that averaged 100-plus yards rushing a game.

Seeing how dangerous Clemson’s offense has been, Saban would like nothing more than to have quarterback Deshaun Watson on the sideline. The only way this happens is for Alabama to have balance and a firm understanding of what’s disrupting the Tigers on defense.

3. Clemson has no game tape on Sarkisian

Clemson has never faced Steve Sarkisian. Let that marinate for a moment.

The Tigers have no game tape on him, due to the fact that he’s finally able to have more hands-on contact within the Tide’s offense. In facing a fresh offensive coordinator, defensive minds are forced to over prepare.

When a coach and his team over prepares, both parties begin to think too much and mistakes occur.

This plays into Saban’s hands because he can have Sarkisian create mismatches either in the run or pass game to take Clemson out of its element from the start. For the Tigers, it cannot afford to be out of place.

What’s to be expected this week: Intensity and much of it. Saban expects complete focus and in Sarkisian’s journey to return to being a hot commodity, he will be solely committed.

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

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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