Alabama's defense wants to stop, not contain, Deshaun Watson
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Sure, Clemson loves getting another crack at Alabama. No doubt Crimson Tide defenders are also thrilled to get a second shot at quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The two-time Heisman Trophy finalist bedeviled the usually dominant `Bama defense in last year's national championship game, stinging their pride even as the Tide celebrated another title.
''As a defense, we're excited to play against Deshaun, give us a chance for a little bit of closure and give us the ability to redeem ourselves from last year's performance,'' All-America defensive end Jonathan Allen said.
It's more a measure of pride than a grudge match for Allen & Co. The Nagurski Award winner calls Watson ''without a doubt'' the best quarterback he's ever faced.
Watson was certainly electric that night in Glendale, Arizona . He passed for 405 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 73 more, flirting with an almost unthinkable 500 total yards against that formidable defense.
Alabama hopes it's better equipped to deal with Watson this season, having traded some of that brawn for more speed.
That came about with the departure of 300-pound tackles Jarran Reed and A'Shawn Robinson to the NFL, but it also continued a transformation geared toward mastering those pesky spread-you-out, hurry-up offenses - and dual-threat quarterbacks like Watson.
Linebackers Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson and Allen all have at least eight sacks, and middle linebacker Reuben Foster is leaner and swifter than last season. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has racked up five interceptions and two of the Tide's nation-leading 11 defensive touchdowns.
Anderson became the ninth defensive player to score with an interception return in a smothering performance against Washington and quarterback Jake Browning.
The defensive results haven't changed much: Alabama still leads the nation in total, scoring and rushing defense. Opponents are averaging 11.4 points, 244.0 total yards and 62.0 rushing yards per game.
That was about a half's worth of work for Watson and the Tigers in last season's title game.
Foster said it was ''embarrassing'' to have an opposing player put up those kind of numbers. He said Alabama had mental errors and lacked confidence.
The key in the second go around: ''Just have confidence and poise in our play.''
''He's a great player and everything, but all we got to do is just have poise and confidence in our play and just don't beat ourselves and just know the schemes and the schemes they run,'' said Foster, who won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said Watson isn't one of those athletic quarterbacks you just have to worry about running around and keeping plays alive. His skill set goes well beyond that.
''He does that extremely well when he needs to, but that's not his style of play,'' Saban said. ''He reads the defense, he gets the ball out of his hand quickly, he does a really good job of reading what you're playing on defense and tries to take advantage of it relative to where he needs to go with the ball.''
Clemson's offense has even added a huge weapon with the return of 6-foot-3, 225-pound wide receiver Mike Williams , who missed virtually all of last season with a neck injury. Williams has 1,267 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Deon Cain, who has nine TD catches, also missed last year's game after being suspended for breaking team rules.
The Tigers also have 1,000-yard rusher Wayne Gallman and plenty of other productive targets for Watson.
And they'll represent quite a challenge to Alabama's aspirations of being remembered among the program's best defenses, if not the best.
Even to be regarded as the best of the Saban era would mean having to top a 2011 unit that included six eventual first-round NFL draft picks.
To Allen, that's not a conversation that can be held without weighing the final entry into Alabama's defensive resume. And that means contending with Watson.
''We feel like we can stop anybody if we play good football,'' Allen said. ''So, I mean, that's our goal going into the game is just to stop Deshaun Watson. Not contain him, but stop him. So that's kind of what we're thinking of.''
And have been for nearly 365 days.
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