Sugar Bowl 2018: Schedule, Top Storylines to Follow in Alabama vs. Clemson

The most anticipated game of the college football postseason is just days away. 
The No. 1 Clemson Tigers and No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide will renew hostilities in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day with a spot in the National Championship on the line. 
Between now and kickoff in New Orleans, you'll hear plenty about what each team needs to do in order to come out of the Superdome victorious. 
Here's a glance at a few of the top storylines you have to keep your eye on in the Sugar Bowl. 
            
Sugar Bowl Schedule 
Date: January 1, 2018
Time: 8:45 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN 
Live Stream: Watch ESPN 
            
Alabama's Injuries at Linebacker
It feels like every linebacker on the Alabama roster has suffered a significant injury this season. 
The latest hit to the Crimson Tide corps came on Monday, when freshman middle linebacker Dylan Moses was ruled out indefinitely with a foot injury, per Matt Zenitz of AL.com.
Moses will join Shaun Dion Hamilton on the inactive list for the Sugar Bowl, but the good news for the Crimson Tide is they have healthy bodies at outside linebacker again. 
Terrell Lewis and Christian Miller returned to the field in the Iron Bowl, but they haven't seen a ton of game reps this season, which could hurt them in the Sugar Bowl. 
While the outside linebackers are back in action, the biggest question about the Alabama defense comes at middle linebacker, where Rashaan Evans will take over for Moses. 

Evans is a reliable asset, as he has 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks this season; if he goes down or struggles, though, there are few reinforcements behind him, and they don't match the caliber of Hamilton or Moses. 
How Clemson attacks Evans in the first half will be worth watching. If the Tigers can find a weakness in his game and are able to take advantage of the lack of playing time logged by Alabama's outside linebackers, the Crimson Tide defense could be stretched too thin. 
                 
Which Quarterback Delivers Most in the Clutch? 
The quarterback battle in the Sugar Bowl is more even than it was when the two teams met in the National Championship a year ago.
Jalen Hurts, who was the underdog in the battle against Deshaun Watson last season, comes into the Sugar Bowl as the experienced hand despite only being a sophomore. 

The 19-year-old has proved himself in clutch situations throughout his two years at Alabama and there's little doubt in his abilities when it comes down to the fourth quarter. 
Although Hurts has led big drives in 2017, including the one to beat Mississippi State on November 11, neither the Alabama sophomore nor Clemson junior Kelly Bryant have fantastic second-half numbers. 
Hurts has only completed 57.5 percent of his throws in the second half, and that total dips to 46.4 percent in the fourth quarter. 
Only 28.7 percent of Bryant's passing yards have come in the second half, with his fourth-quarter completion percentage at 58.3. 

It's worth noting those numbers are light because both Alabama and Clemson have been in control during a fair share of their games before the fourth quarter, but it is worth watching how each quarterback operates in crunch time if the contest is as close as many are expecting it to be. 
                        
Can Alabama's Offensive Line Control Clemson's Defensive Front? 
You can make a case that Clemson's defensive line is the most ferocious positional unit in all of college football.
Led by Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins, the Tigers front four can get to the opposing quarterback at will and change the field position battle in a moment's notice. 

If Ferrell, Wilkins and the rest of their teammates find a way to get to Hurts early in the game, it could open the door for Clemson's offense to pounce with a short field in front of it. 
Conversely, if the Crimson Tide offensive line led by Bradley Bozeman, Ross Pierschbacher and Jonah Williams can limit the influence of the Clemson defensive line, Nick Saban's bunch could get ahead early. 
Another way to combat the aggressiveness of the Clemson defensive line is to dial up a few draw plays that force the Tigers to overpursue, or have Hurts release the ball early to receivers running seven to 10 yard routes. 
If Alabama is successful enough in those areas, it might force the Tigers to drop back in coverage more and put the onus on Ferrell and Wilkins to get pressure by themselves against Alabama's talented five-man front on offense. 
                 
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
All statistics obtained from ESPN.com. 

Read more: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/27508...

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