One hundred eighty-eight yards and 2.7 yards per play. That was the total offense Clemson managed against Alabama in Monday night’s Sugar Bowl semifinal.
That kind of defensive performance surprised many fans and college football analysts, who expected more given the way the Tigers moved the ball on the Crimson Tide in the previous two meetings.
But it didn’t shock left tackle Jonah Williams.
“We got to experience that for two weeks in practice and Clemson only got to experience it for like three hours,” Williams said.
The Alabama defense, buoyed by healthy and fresh players, took the action to Clemson, evidenced most by the nine tackles for loss and two forced turnovers. That performance began with the way the team practiced. Despite limiting repetitions to help give players fresh legs, Alabama put forth arguably its best defensive performance, when you consider the quality of the opposition, since the Florida State game.
Players said they felt that performance was coming.
“I feel like we prepared the best we’ve ever prepared since I’ve been here,” senior linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “I think we literally almost overdid everything we could possibly do, and that kind of helped us out, the fact that we were literally prepared from this game.”
Motivation certainly played a role, with UA players remembering the way it felt walking off the field in Tampa after losing to Clemson in the championship game the season before. But the defense looked sharper and played with an edge the team hadn’t showed late in the season.
Whether or not that type of performance is capable of being duplicated against Georgia will likely be determined this week during practice. It all started in practice, they say.
“We had a series of camp-style practices leading up to this, so we had some scrimmage scenarios and stuff like that,” Williams said. “It’s exciting when you see the defense flying around like that against us because you know they can do it to other teams as well. I think in the scrimmage, you could argue with Rashaan about that, but I think we kind of split series or reps or whatever. They’d get the better of us on one series and we’d get the better of them on another series.
“That’s kind of how I get a good feeling of how well we’re doing as a team. You don’t want it to be one-sided either way. I wasn’t surprised the way they played with the way that we practiced.”
Two in a row?
Again, the way the regular season ended with a loss to Auburn served as inspiration, leaving one to question whether UA can play that way in back-to-back games.
“We didn’t finish the season the way we wanted to, but we’re in now, we have this opportunity so we’re not going to squander it,” Williams said. “So, I think when we came out to workouts and practice and everything like that, we played with an edge because we didn’t want to waste a failure, as (UA coach Nick) Saban said, and not really seize the opportunity.
“That’s kind of how it’s been and that’s how it’s been in the limited amount of time — we’ve only been practicing for a day — but I definitely feel that energy.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.