Going into Monday’s National Championship, the prevailing thought was that if Clemson were to pull off the upset, it would be because of Alabama’s offense and not its defense.
And while both units share some of the blame, it’s hard to overlook the Crimson Tide defense’s fourth quarter performance, in which it allowed 21 points — a number just two teams scored against Alabama in an entire game all season.
In an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit attributed that defensive breakdown to two factors: fatigue from being on the field and, more surprisingly, a lack of depth beyond Alabama’s starting 11.
“While their starting 11 are outstanding, you go up against that up-tempo offense of Deshaun Watson, if they stay on the field, how will they hold up in the fourth quarter,” Herbstreit said. “And to give up 21 in the fourth quarter has as much to do with the mental and physical fatigue of going against  plays and the style of plays where they’re chasing sideline-to-sideline and running around, chasing down Deshaun Watson and those Clemson Tigers.”
The fatigue aspect makes sense, given that Alabama faced 99 plays, the most ever seen by any Alabama defense. Although it’s a little harder to believe that a team that has consistently put up top-ranked recruiting classes wasn’t deep enough to rotate players in.
Some of that problem can be attributed to a stagnant offense, as Herbstreit points out. With a new offensive coordinator and a true freshman quarterback, Alabama ran a conservative offensive plan that, while putting up 35 points, also resulted in a lot of three-and-outs.
That may have hurt the defense more than anything.
“Sark didn’t really put [Jalen Hurts] in a position necessarily to fail,” Herbstreit said. “They were very conservative with the exception of, they hit O.J. Howard when they got behind coverage but for the most part, it was a high percentage throws, and throwing it away and running the football type of game for Bama. But when you do that against a pretty good defense, as you alluded to, you’re not going to have a lot of success and a lot of consistency and there are going to be three-and-outs. And when you’re going three-and-outs, again, another boxing analogy, it’s like body blows, body blows over three and then four quarters. Clemson got up to 98 plays and that Alabama defense was on the field a lot.”
You can see the full interview with Herbstreit and Dan Patrick below:
— Dan Patrick Show (@dpshow) January 10, 2017