The Clemson Tigers’ offensive staff has the arduous task of preparing for one of the nation’s stingiest defenses, the Alabama Crimson Tide on Monday night. Although the defense, as a whole, is a completely different animal compared to past opposing defenses the Tigers have faced, Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott preached consistency while discussing what the game plan holds offensively for the College Football Playoff championship game.
It’s no secret — Alabama coach Nick Saban’s defense he has in 2015 could go down as one of, if not the best defense in college football. Currently, the Tide’s defense, statistically speaking, is nothing short of ridiculous. First in the country in scoring and rushing defense, second in total defense, and fourth in passing efficiency defense. The unit has 50 sacks on the season — first in the country — along with 70 quarterback hurries.
Scott talked a little bit about what the mindset is when you’re going up against a unit like Alabama’s. First and foremost, the goal is to continue to do what got the Tigers to this game in the first place.
“Our big message to our guys offensively is we need to continue to execute like we’ve done all year,” Scott said. “We’re not going to have to be perfect, we’re going to have to execute at a high level. But the biggest thing is: Don’t do anything different.”
One of the things Clemson has done so well all season is being balanced offensively. Not balanced from the standpoint of equal yards running and passing each game, but rather finding the balance on first, second and third down on when to throw and when to run the ball against defenses. In other words, very few defenses that Clemson faced this season made the Tigers’ offense one-dimensional. One, perhaps, was Notre Dame in September, who held Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson to just 84 yards in the air. The Tigers countered that by having 212 yards on the ground, using both Watson and tailback Wayne Gallman.
Alabama’s defense, on the other hand, makes its living off turning usually balanced, efficient offenses completely on their heads. It held then-Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette and LSU to just 34 rushing yards in November, and Florida to a mere 15 yards on the ground in the SEC Championship game last month. Texas A&M managed 32 on the ground, and Arkansas had just 44. In all of these contests, Alabama’s run defense is what stood out, But don’t write off the Tide’s secondary. In five games where Alabama’s defense has held opponents to fewer than 100 yards on the ground, the secondary has registered at least one interception.
“Our wideouts and quarterbacks are going to have to earn everything in the passing game.”Scott said of Alabama’s secondary. “They’re very sound. Coach Saban obviously does a great job with the secondary. Just watching them fundamentally, they’re by far the best group of defensive backs from a fundamental standpoint.”
Gallman, who broke the Clemson single-season rushing record against Oklahoma, added that an opposing defense’s mentality to shut down one aspect of Clemson’s offense, like the run game for instance, actually opens up Watson on the ground. Watson rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown against Oklahoma’s defense in the College Football Playoff semifinal game.
“Sometimes, like Oklahoma, they keyed on me in the first half which allowed Deshaun to pull and get some big runs. When we make a team [defensively] get one-dimensional, that’s when we can really attack from both sides.”
I asked Scott about Alabama’s ability to make even the most balanced offenses look completely obsolete in one aspect of offensive production. His answer exuded confidence in sticking to what the Tigers have been able to do all season — hitting teams in the mouth with both the running and passing game. He even suggested that while Clemson may not have seen anything like Alabama’s defense this year, Saban will have his hands full with the Tigers’ offense.
“Obviously we’re going to have to find ways to run the ball, you can’t go out there and just throw it every down against that kind of group because the same issues in running the ball with their defensive front, you run into the same issues whenever you’re trying to block those guys.” Scott said. “And so, I think one of the keys is going to be us finding that balance. They have the same issues on their side trying to figure out how to stop both the run and the pass, so that’s just kind of the game of football when you’re playing a talented group, the margin for error is a lot smaller.”
Facing Alabama means the margin of error is as thin as it’s ever been for Watson and company. Clemson’s game plan offensively has worked all season, but will it be enough to outsmart a vaunted Alabama defense? Watson and the rest of the Clemson offense welcomes the challenge of facing the best.
“Oh course they’re good, but no one’s perfect.” Watson said. “We’re good too, so it’s good on good. We have a great seven like I said before, and a great front five with me and Wayne and all the other running backs that run the ball are very good too. So our will’s gotta be greater than their will.”
Good on good — it’s exactly how the College Football Playoff championship should be. Monday night’s game will kick off at 8:30 p.m. EST.