MOBILE, Ala. — Clemson’s defensive game plan against Alabama’s offense was simple: make Jalen Hurts a pocket passer.
That was the scouting report Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware gave during media night at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday when discussing how the Tigers knocked off Alabama 35-31 in the College Football Playoff championship game.
“We just knew that if we slowed down their running game and made him sit in the pocket and beat us in the passing game, that it’d be difficult,” Boulware said. “That was kind of our game plan, have it simple. We ran probably one or two calls the whole game, and tried our best to slow down their running game, which we did a pretty solid job besides a couple of plays with missed tackles.”
Hurts threw for just 131 yards and one touchdown while completing 42 percent (13-31) of his passes. Hurts finished with 63 rushing yards and one touchdown, but 30 of those yards came on his late touchdown run.
Hurts missed some reads and was off on some throws, but there also were untimely drops by the Crimson Tide’s receivers and penalties that killed drives.
Still, Boulware believes Hurts will improve as a pocket passer going forward.
“Yeah, he’s a freshman. He’s an 18-year-old kid playing in the national championship against a top-10 defense,” Boulware said. “We knew it would be difficult on him. He obviously has a bright future, and Alabama fans have a lot to look forward to. But we knew we could make it difficult on him.”
Outside of limiting Hurts’ rushing opportunities, two other key factors worked in Clemson’s favor throughout the championship game in Boulware’s eyes.
The first came during the third quarter. Running back Bo Scarbrough was knocked out of the contest with what was later ruled as a fractured fibula. Boulware said Scarbrough going down was “huge” for Clemson’s defense.
Prior to his injury, Scarbrough ran for a game-high 93 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
“I’m obviously not glad he went out or got hurt, but it slowed them down a little bit because everybody could see how good of a player he was,” Boulware said. “He was very difficult to tackle — a big dude that could move very well. So, it helped us that he went out. I’m obviously not happy because of it, but it’s the way that the cards fell out. It sucked for them, but thank God I don’t have to tackle him anymore.”
The second factor was how long Alabama’s defense was on the field.
Alabama’s offense converted 2-of-15 third-down attempts. Meanwhile, Clemson ran a whopping 99 plays against Alabama’s vaunted defense, which eventually wore down over the course of the game.
“It makes it easy on us when we’re not out there grinding, having to face Bo Scarbrough for 99 plays because that would suck,” Boulware said. “I would much rather them be out there for 99 plays than us. I think that was kind of a recipe for our success. When you play 99 plays and you’re kind of keeping one group out there, it’s difficult.
“Our defense faced it in the Louisville game. We played 110 plays. It sucks. It’s not fun at all. When you’re going against an offense like ours, it’s very draining. I’m grateful it was our offense doing it against them and not vice versa.”