Preview: Watson, Henry lead Clemson, Alabama into CFB National Championship

Alabama is back in the National Championship game, seeking its 16th title in program history (and third in four seasons). To do so, they must get through the undefeated Clemson Tigers, who have just one national title to their name.


No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide vs. No. 1 Clemson Tigers, Monday, Jan. 11 at 7 pm ET (SiriusXM channel 80)

Last year in the inaugural CFB National Championship, we watched a match-up between the three- and four-seeds, when Ohio State trounced Oregon. This year, Alabama and Clemson left no questions unanswered in the semifinals, as both school demolished their opponents on New Year’s Eve.

Fans should expect a game of contrasting styles to determine which program is king of the collegiate jungle.

Clemson (14-0) arrived in the championship largely on the back of its dynamic offense led by dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson, who holds the school’s single-season record for total offense (4,731 yards). Watson finished third in this year’s Heisman race as a true sophomore after coming off a torn ACL. He carved up Oklahoma’s defense in the Orange Bowl, accounting for 332 yards of total offense.

Joining Watson in the backfield is Wayne Gallman, who flew way under the radar despite rushing for 1,482 yards and 12 touchdowns. (Hey, when you’re lining up next to college football’s brightest star, it’s hard not to get out-shined.)

As a passer, Watson took advantage of his multiple options, as Artavis Scott, Charone Peake, Deon Cain and Jordan Leggett each had five or more touchdown receptions. The problem for the Tigers? They’ll be up against an Alabama defense that allowed an average of 10.6 points over its past 11 games.

The Crimson Tide rank third in total defense and first in both rush defense and sacks per game. This is one of Nick Saban’s best defensive groups, evidenced in the way it completely shut down and shut out Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. Nose guard Jonathan Allen is a load to handle up front and has 12 sacks this year. Linebacker Reggie Ragland led the team with 97 tackles, and fellow linebackers Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams combined for 16.5 sacks.

Another positive difference between this year’s defense and the highly-touted groups of the past? This year’s team doesn’t struggle against dual-threat quarterbacks. Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott (14 yards on 26 carries), L.S.U.’s Brandon Harris (20 yards on five carries) and Florida’s Treon Harris (negative-4 yards on 11 carries) were all forced to win the game with their arms, something they all failed to do. Watson will have to make plays through the air in order to keep ‘Bama’s front-seven on it’s heels, and then open things up for the Clemson rushing attack. Easier said than done, but Watson has made a habit of making defenses pay if they underestimate his arm and his wideouts.

With all that said, Alabama’s best player wasn’t even mentioned. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry ran for an SEC single-season record 2,061 yards to go with a whopping 25 touchdowns. Clemson is no slouch on defense, ranking 13th in the nation, but Henry is a game-changer who can control the game all by his lonesome. Add the fact that the Tigers’ rush defense is its weakest facet, ranking 23rd with opponents averaging 128.8 yards, and Henry might have a field day against the boys in orange.


It seems like this game will come down to one question: Will Clemson score against Alabama’s defense? Clemson’s defense is good, but not good enough to contain Henry, so the Crimson Tide will put up their share of points. It will be up to the Tigers to see if they can keep up. This is a little reminiscent of the 2006 title game, when Vince Young led Texas against Heisman winner Reggie Bush and U.S.C. Young played with a chip on his shoulder, feeling he was slighted in the Heisman voting, and did absolutely everything to prove his doubters wrong. Watson will have to play with that same fire, finding the motivation to do what no one thinks he can do.

The biggest difference between Young and Watson, though? Young wasn’t going up against this Alabama defense, or anything even close to it.

Saban doesn’t lose in championship games. He’s 3-0 heading into Monday, and he’ll be 4-0 when all is said and done.

Prediction: Alabama 28, Clemson 23

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