TAMPA – Deshaun Watson did everything he did against Alabama last year, plus one more thing. The Clemson quarterback shredded the Crimson Tide secondary. He skirted around tacklers for bits of yardage on the ground.
And this time, he won the game.
“We were just trying to contain them,” linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “He just made good plays. That’s why they won.”
Watson was the biggest reason Clemson beat the University of Alabama on Monday night. He finished 36 of 56 passing for 420 yards and three touchdowns on his way to MVP honors. He also had 43 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown.
He passed for 405 yards and four touchdowns a year ago and it wasn’t enough. This time, it was Watson who had the final word. He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 68-yard drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second left in the game.
“I never got the sense that he was rattled,” defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said.
Alabama’s pass rush finished with four sacks, and Watson took other big hits throughout the game. He spun in mid-air at the end of a 14-yard scramble at the end of the third quarter, but kept the offense moving.
He delivered a 24-yard pass to wide receiver Mike Williams on the final drive to get the ball moving. Later, he completed a 17-yard pass to tight end Jordan Leggett to move the ball inside the 10 despite heavy pressure on the play.
“He’s spectacular,” UA linebacker Tim Williams said. “I had a blitz stunt and came inside, he made that big play to the tight end on the goal line. He got it off, and I was all in his grill.”
The plan for defending Watson was in place. Last year’s game against Clemson showed Alabama its strengths and weaknesses in defending the star junior.
Evans would occasionally spy Watson from his inside linebacker position. The defense often used its nickel rabbits package, putting its fastest players and best pass rushers on the field. Williams and fellow outside linebacker Ryan Anderson would keep him contained and hope the pass rush could finish off the plays.
“He was still able to make some throws and some plays,” Evans said. “His receivers just made big plays.”
Watson’s final pass on what will likely be the final game of his college career was the biggest. His 2015 season and his explosive performance against Alabama in Glendale, Ariz., a year earlier made him a star. His national championship win is bigger than that.
“This is really what he wanted,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s what he came to Clemson to do.”
The Alabama defense played 99 total plays against Clemson; it hadn’t played more than 84 in a game all season. Evans said fatigue wasn’t a factor in the fourth quarter, though Clemson possessed the ball for 34:44.
The final minutes would be where the game was won and lost. Clemson took the ball with 2:01. Watson carried them down the field.
“He is Clemson,” Williams said. “Everybody falls in behind him. We tried to knock him down a couple times, get in his head for real. A great guy like that, an awesome athlete like that, we just have to take what he gives us.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.