Clemson heads into Monday night’s CFP National Championship Game in Tampa against the Alabama Crimson Tide looking for revenge. The Tigers put on a tremendous title game performance, but fell 45-40 in last year’s title game in Arizona.
Despite the loss, quarterback Deshaun Watson played arguably his best college game, throwing for 405 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for another 73 yards in the championship. Alabama is looking to cap off of a 15-0 season, but Deshaun Watson is looking for one more big game before he heads to the NFL. Here’s my case as to why the Tigers will win it all this year.
Clemson Defensive Line vs. Alabama Offensive Line
Watching the Fiesta Bowl last week, you could see the Tigers defensive line completely manhandle the Ohio State offensive line. Christian Wilkins and Carlos Watkins each had big moments against the Buckeyes, but it was redshirt freshman Clelin Ferrell who really stood out, finishing with three tackles for loss and essentially living in the backfield with J.T. Barrett.
You also can’t forget about true freshman Dexter Lawrence, who has 74 tackles and 7 sacks this season and is a force to be reckoned with defending the run at 6-5, 340 pounds.
Add all the pieces together and you have one of the few defensive lines that can match up pound-for-pound with Alabama. This will be a difficult challenge for the Tigers, but as defensive coordinator Brent Venables said following the Fiesta Bowl, he feels his defensive line plays “disciplined football”. And with everyone on the line healthy this time around, that can make a huge difference.
Clemson Will Make Jalen Hurts Try And Beat Them
With that strong defensive line, Clemson will look to limit Alabama’s running game. The Tide have a multitude of running backs at their disposal, but I would expect Bo Scarborough to be the featured back after running like a Derrick Henry clone against Washington.
If the Tigers are successful in slowing down the Crimson Tide ground attack, all eyes will turn to the true freshman under center in Jalen Hurts. Hurts has played well this year, but he’s coming off a rough outing against Washington (7-14, 57 yards). He’s also working with a brand new offensive coordinator in Steve Sarkisian after Lane Kiffin was let go by head coach Nick Saban.
The Tigers have shown what they can do when they shut down a strong rushing attack (again, look at the Fiesta Bowl) and if they can make Alabama a one-dimensional team, the Tigers front lines can attack the quarterback and have to like their chances on defense.
Deshaun Watson Has More Help This Time Around
Deshaun Watson put on a show for the ages in last year’s title game and it can’t be stated enough that he has to play big again for the Tigers. This year, Watson will have a couple of targets that he didn’t have in the last matchup with Alabama in Mike Williams and Deon Cain.
Williams is a big, physical receiver that has made the most of his time back after missing virtually all of last year with a neck injury. He gives the Tigers a big play threat that has worked very well this season. In what will most likely be his final college game, Williams (1,267 yards, 10 TD) will be the main target for Watson in this game and he’ll have his chances against an Alabama secondary that has been very good, but can give up big plays at times through the air.
Deon Cain is also back after being suspended from the playoff last year. On the field, Cain has shown to be another valuable weapon for Watson. In fact, the sophomore from Tampa is second on the team in touchdown receptions (9) behind Mike Williams. He only had one catch in the Fiesta Bowl, but you never know when your number is called to step up and the opportunities might be there for Cain this time around.
Is this game going to be another classic? Yes. Are we going to have another 45-40 shootout? I don’t think so.
Clemson is hungry to get revenge on Alabama after what happened last year and have said as much all week leading up to the game. The Tigers have a year’s worth of experience and they have a healthier team this time around. Deshaun Watson will put up another big performance and the defense will make enough plays to give the Tigers their first national title since 1981.
Clemson 28, Alabama 24
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