If you look at Deshaun Watson’s game-by-game stats, you’ll notice something: the bigger the matchup, the more rushes he has.
Watson, who has thrown for 3,699 yards and 31 touchdowns this season, has been extremely dangerous on the ground over his last three games, rushing 69 times for 390 yards and six touchdowns in wins over South Carolina, North Carolina and Oklahoma.
How well Watson runs – or doesn’t run – against Alabama on Monday will likely decide the national championship.
“I think the key to the game is going to be one thing: Look at Deshaun Watson,” former Clemson head coach and current ACC Network analyst Tommy Bowden said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Every head coach circles a certain amount of teams and says, ‘If we can win this game, we got a chance to go undefeated.’ Clemson circled five games: They circled Notre Dame, Florida State, South Carolina, North Carolina and Oklahoma. In those games, if you watch the number of rushes and how they increased with Deshaun Watson and the yards gained, Deshaun Watson says, ‘Hey, the bigger the game, I’m going to take it over.’ After that seventh or eighth series, watch how productive Deshaun Watson has been on the ground. If he’s not very productive, it’s going to be a long day for Clemson. If he’s getting chunks of yardage, if Alabama treats him like a quarterback as opposed to a tailback, I think it’s going to be a problem for Alabama. That’s what I’ll be looking at.”
Bowden will also be looking at Derrick Henry, who was more or less an afterthought in Alabama’s 38-0 Cotton Bowl win over Michigan State. Henry rushed 20 times for 75 yards against Sparty, his third-lowest output of the season. Then again, his two lowest outputs came against Louisiana Monroe and Charleston Southern. Henry totaled just 22 carries in those games, which Alabama won by a combined 90-6.
Monday should be a different story. Heck, after rushing 90 times against Auburn and Florida, Henry might have 22 carries by halftime against Clemson.
“When you look at Alabama, the way they attacked Michigan State, they took the Heisman Trophy winner and more or less put him on the bench in the first quarter and attacked them in a way that most people, including myself, didn’t think they would,” Bowden said. “I think it’s going to be important how much respect they’re going to have for Clemson’s defense and how they utilize Derrick Henry early in the game.”
Alabama is gunning for its fourth national title in seven years, while Clemson is seeking its first national title since 1981. Still, the Tigers have won four consecutive bowl games, with wins over LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma (twice). In other words, if Clemson isn’t already a blueblood program, it’s definitely becoming one.
Bowden was asked to differentiate between the two, of being a blue blood versus becoming one.
“Well, I think there’s several ingredients, but if you had to pick one, I think it got to do with the administration and their philosophy on the importance of the football program,” said Bowden, who coached at Clemson from 1999 to 2008. “There’s that old saying that a lot of schools want to be in the SEC on Saturday but they want to be in Harvard and Yale Monday through Friday. The administration has got to understand the facilities arms race. Clemson has jumped in that full fledged. In the nine years I was there, we were in preparation of moving to a $50 million facility upgrade, and they’ve improved since then. So I think it’s a commitment from the administration.”