Five reasons Clemson will beat Alabama in the national title game
Dabo Swinney may not be a preacher, but he and his Tigers seem to be converting skeptics into believers really quick. And with good reason.
How could you not be impressed with Clemson? The No. 1 Tigers improved to 14-0 and advanced to the national title game for the first time in 34 years after topping No. 4 Oklahoma 37-17 in the College Football Playoff semifinals on Thursday.
The Tigers churned out an Orange Bowl-record 312 rushing yards as quarterback Deshuan Watson scrambled for 145 yards and a score on 24 attempts while running back Wayne Gallman gashed the Sooners for a game-high 150 yards and two touchdowns.
Clemson’s potent ground game is just one reason the Tigers will beat No. 2 Alabama when they meet on Jan. 11 in Glendale, Arizona. However, if that’s not enough, here are four more reasons the Tigers will be crowned the kings of college football.
The Dab side of the Force is strong
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney simply can do no wrong this season. From pizza parties to fake punts, the AP Coach of the Year is pulling all the right strings, and there’s no way to stop him.
Swinney, who presides over the only undefeated team in the FBS, has built a talent factory in South Carolina. All-ACC wideout Mike Williams goes down with a neck injury in Week 1. No problem. Standout freshman wide receiver Deon Cain gets suspended right before the bowl game reportedly due to failed drug test. No problem. ACC Defensive Player of the Year Shaq Lawson sustains a knee injury on the first drive against Oklahoma and doesn’t return. No problem. Next man up. Next opponent down.
Potent ground game
The versatile Clemson offense can attack from all angles, but when the duo of running back Wayne Gallman and QB Deshaun Watson is clicking, watch out. Gallman, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound sophomore and All-ACC first-teamer, is strong enough to not go down on first contact and fast enough to take it to the house if he gets a crease. On the season, Gallman averages 5.5 yards per attempt for 1,332 yards and 10 touchdowns.
While Gallman can thump defenses, Watson is the backbreaker. You can plan to stop a running back, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to halt a running QB. Drop eight into coverage and Watson will destroy you with his feet. Load the box and he will deliver a strike down field to one of his many targets. On top of that, opponents have to watch out for when Clemson calls a designed run, which usually gives the offense a man advantage in the blocking game.
Clemson’s 300-yard run game versus Oklahoma was no fluke. Just ask North Carolina, who allowed Gallman to rush for 187 yards and Watson to erupt for 137 in the ACC title game.
Defense, defense, defense
Led by whiz kid Lincoln Riley, the Sooners’ young offensive coordinator, No. 4 Oklahoma averaged 45.8 points per game heading into the Orange Bowl — third-best in FBS. It didn’t matter. The Sooners scored 17 points against the Tigers and were shut out in the second half. And that was with ACC Defensive Player of the Year Shaq Lawson on the sideline for almost the entire game.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables always seems to have his players in the right place, and it doesn’t hurt that he has some pretty good players.
In the CFP semifinals, the Tigers picked off Baker Mayfield, the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, not once but twice and held the Sooners to 67 rushing yards.
Artavis Scott will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back
Clemson’s rushing attack has taken center stage the past two games, but Artavis Scott may change that come Jan. 11. If Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart dedicates his game plan to stopping the tandem of Gallman and Watson, it will enable Scott to blow the top off the defense.
The 5-10, 190-pound sophomore speedster leads Clemson with 84 receptions for 805 yards and five TDs and was an All-ACC first-teamer this year. He’ll be a big reason why the Tigers hoist the national title trophy on Jan. 11.
The Tigers are a team of destiny
Every once in a while a team has that “it” factor, and the Tigers just seem to have “it” this season. They always find a way to win and can beat teams in so many different ways: Defense, offense, passing, running, special teams, etc. They have it all.
Fourth-and-four against the Sooners and Swinney opts for a fake-punt pass to a defensive lineman who has never caught a pass — and it works. That’s just the kind of year it’s been.
Pizza parties, trips to amusement parks, Dabo doing the dab. All of it has built a loose but confident team that has found its way past five 10-win teams this season and is looking to make it six before the season comes to an end.