Ohio State vs. Alabama national championship key player matchups: by Mike Scharf

We are officially one day away from the 2021 National Championship between Ohio State and Alabama. Both the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide are coming off dominant performances in the CFP semifinals and are prepared for the biggest game of the year.

Both teams are led by star players in key positions, and the outcome will come down to these players and the matchups that present themselves on both sides of the ball.

The four key matchups for Monday night are seen below:

Trey Sermon vs Dylan Moses

Trey Sermon has been rolling and making a name for himself this postseason dominating on the ground in the Big Ten championship and CFP semifinals rushing for a combined 524 yards and 3 touchdowns. The ground game has been near perfect for Sermon and this Buckeye offense but come Monday the biggest threat to the Tide may be Sermon in the pass game. Sermon had 61 receiving yards on 4 catches against Clemson and will look to be more of a factor in this aspect against this Alabama defense.

This is when the matchup with Alabama’s star linebacker Dylan Moses comes into play. Moses has been dominant stopping the run as he has 38 tackles this season but has struggled in pass coverage as of late. 

Look for the Sermon-Moses matchup in open field — with Sermon taking full advantage of it. —

Devonta Smith vs OSU’s Secondary

Coming into the biggest game of the year, everyone knows how dominant Heisman winner Devonta Smith has been all year. Smith can beat you in more ways than one — catching, handoffs, punt returners — He’s the real deal. 

The Buckeyes are known to have highly talented defensive backs. Their best this season is Shaun Wade. Wade flourished in the slot last year, while coming back this season to play on the outside to prove he’s capable of playing both positions. Although Wade has not been as solid on the outside this season, he’s still a Thorpe Award semifinalist and has all the tools to be a factor in this matchup.

The matchup will be an interesting one — I expect to see the Buckeye secondary to show more zone and focus more help containing Smith whereas leaving him on an island could lead to success for the Tides offensive game plan.

Chris Olave vs Patrick Surtain

SEC Defensive Player of the Year Patrick Surtain has been locked down all season, and not many quarterbacks throw his way.

The 6-foot-2 junior recorded 32 tackles, 10 pass breakups and one interception this season.

With that being said, Chris Olave is the real deal. Buckeye Nation saw how valuable Olave is as he missed the Big Ten championship against Northwestern, and the Buckeyes found struggles opening up the pass game in a 22-10 victory.

Olave was available in the CFP semifinal against Clemson and didn’t disappoint as he had 6 receptions for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns.

In a short season for the Buckeyes, Surtain will be Olave’s toughest matchup thus far and the two will be in a battle all game. 

If Justin Fields finds trouble throwing Surtain’s way, look for Garrett Wilson to have a monster game on the other side for the Buckeyes.

Najee Harris vs OSU’s Defensive Line

Along with Devonta Smith, Najee Harris has been a working force for the Crimson Tide offense. Harris has 1,387 yards and 24 touchdowns while averaging 6.1 yards per carry.

With more COVID issues swirling around the Buckeyes program, we are not sure who is suiting up for game time.

But — Zach Harrison, Jonathan Cooper and Haskell Garrett are players we expect to see. Look for these three to control the line of scrimmage against the Tides front and contain Harris from making explosive plays. 

If the Buckeyes defensive line can contain Harris and apply pressure on quarterback Mac Jones, look for this team to find success Monday night.

These are two of the best programs in the past century we’ve seen in College Football.

The stage is set. The matchups will be exciting. A champion will be crowned.

Ohio versus the world.

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