Defense wins championships. It’s a phrase that’s been said millions of times by analysts, coaches, and players alike. However, when Clemson takes on Alabama tonight in the national championship, the Tigers will need their offense to win them the game.
Alabama has one of the most fearsome front sevens that has ever stepped foot onto the college gridiron, and not too many teams can say they’ve had success against them. But there has been a proven weakness that flusters the Crimson Tide defense: a mobile quarterback. With Deshaun Watson at the helm of the offense, Clemson stands as good a shot as anyone in taking down Goliath.
Only one team, Ole Miss, has been able to beat Alabama this season, and Clemson hopes to use their same strategy. Ole Miss used the play-making ability of Chad Kelly, along with an uptempo approach to stifle the effectiveness of the ‘Bama defense. It gave Nick Saban and Kirby Smart headaches all game trying to figure out a way to slow down Kelly and the Rebels, but they just couldn’t do it.
Ole Miss put up 43 points on an Alabama defense that hadn’t given that many points in its last five games. Kelly threw for 341 yards, which is the most any QB has thrown against the Tide this season, also accounting for three scores through the air. But it was the offensive scheme that led to Kelly’s success that day. They spread out players all over the field and were able to hit big passes when needed (seven pass plays of 20+ yards).
In an interview with the New York Post, Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner put it perfectly:
“If you try to line up and play smash mouth, nobody can be successful against them [doing that]. You have to spread them out, use a little trickery. … In crucial situations, when we really need it, we’re going to call a quarterback run, and Clemson has the same philosophy.”
Deshaun Watson is the type of quarterback who Alabama hates to play against because he has so many dimensions to his game. Utilizing the spread scheme on offense puts more pressure on Alabama’s defense to make plays in space while making Watson more effective not only as a passer but also as a runner, as well.
Watson’s abilities make him difficult to defend because he gives any defense a lot to worry about. For example, against Alabama, Watson can use his legs as a diversion. Running play-action fakes and designed draws are both types of plays that give Watson the advantage against the Tide.
Be that as it may, Watson still needs to be successful on early downs. Getting good yardage on first and second down can help avoid third-and-longs, making it easier to keep the play calling varied. If Alabama gets Clemson in a predictable situation, the defensive line will not hesitate to pounce on Watson.
The pace of play can also determine how successful Watson can be as well. Playing fast can work to his advantage because it will deter Alabama from using the talented depth it has across its defensive front. Getting to the line quick and calling audibles, can have a big impact against a defense that leads the nation in sacks (50).
For Clemson to win this game, Watson is going to have to play great. This is not a game where he can just settle for good. If Watson can keep the tempo up, make smart decisions, and have just enough luck, Clemson could beat the almighty Alabama. It won’t be easy, but it’s sure going to be a heck of a fight.