Deshaun Watson leads Clemson into its rematch with Alabama for the national championship. If the Tigers want to claim their first title since 1981, their QB has to be at his best.
Clemson didn’t lose to Alabama last season in the College Football Playoff national championship game because of poor play from Deshaun Watson. Rather, the Tigers nearly beat the Crimson Tide because of the dynamic play from the dual-threat quarterback.
And if the Tigers have any chance to claim their first national title since 1981, they will need similar output from their best offensive player on Monday night in Tampa.
Watson shredded the Crimson Tide defense in last year’s contest, throwing for 405 yards and four touchdowns, as he did his best Vince Young impression. He had 478 total yards against a Tide defense that—what else is new?—was one of the best in the country, besting Young’s 467 yards against USC in the epic 2006 Rose Bowl game for the BCS title. However, Young and Texas were able to outlast the Trojans to thwart the ‘SC dynasty. Watson and the Tigers, meanwhile, dropped a 45-40 contest to the Tide, giving Alabama its fourth natty in seven seasons.
Coming into the rematch against the Tide, Watson is playing his best football of the season. And his late-season play ensured another ACC title and second consecutive appearance in the CFP for Dabo Swinney and Co.
In the Fiesta Bowl romp over Ohio State, the junior and Heisman Trophy runner-up passed for 259 yards and ran for 57, complementing a nasty Tigers defense that lived in the Buckeyes’ backfield all night. However, turnovers once again plagued Watson.
While he has been prolific and the offensive catalyst since the team’s lone loss to Pitt, Watson threw two more interceptions against Ohio State, bringing his season total up to 17. He has had only four pick-free games on the year, and he has five games in which he has thrown at least two. His third and final INT against the Panthers led directly to a score, kept Pat Narduzzi’s squad in the game and ultimately doomed the Tigers. Turning the ball over is a recipe for disaster against the Tide. Such mistakes will likely lead to a Clemson loss on Monday night.
“I just snap and clear, think about the next play and the next task at hand,” Watson said at CFP Media Day on Saturday when asked about how he handles on-field miscues. “I can’t focus on the mistakes that I made because that’s going to drag throughout the course of the game and affect not just me but my teammates too.”
Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide entered their Peach Bowl matchup against Washington with 10 defensive scores in the 2016 season, so it was no surprise when the Tide notched their 11th on a Pick 6 from Ryan Anderson against the Huskies. It’s a ferocious defense that will cash in on every mistake an opposing offense makes. Not only will Watson need to have a short memory if he has a miscue or two, but the Clemson defense must limit the Tide offense—no matter how good of field position the unit may have after a Tigers miscue.
In what figures to be Watson’s final college game, protecting the football will be Priority No. 1 for a program looking to cement itself among the nation’s elite.