By Frank Gogola & Zach Wagner | @FrankGogola & @zachwagner22
Sports Capital Journalism Program
Frank Gogola on Clemson…
Watson’s Hot Start: Will He Fade?
After a punt on the first drive, Clemson scored on back-to-back drives as Deshaun Watson heated up. Watson completed seven of 11 pass attempts for 108 yards and two touchdowns, and he ran 4 times for 23 yards in the first quarter. He threw for 162 yards and ran for 45 in the first half; however, the rest of the Tigers combined for only 12 yards.
Both of Watson’s touchdowns were to walk-on Hunter Renfrow and went for 31 and 11 yards. Watson threw for 55 yards and ran for 17 on the second touchdown drive, including an 11-yard scramble for a first down.
However, Watson may have gotten a little too confident. On the drive after the second touchdown, Watson was picked off by Eddie Jackson as he threw while rolling out to the right. It was Watson’s 13th pick this season. Jackson nearly picked off Watson on the sophomore’s first touchdown pass.
Calvin Ridley Held In Check
Clemson contained Alabama wideout Calvin Ridley to six catches for 14 yards. Clemson has been blanketing Alabama receivers, forcing Coker into some throwaways and errant passes with pressure.
There have been some openings, and Coker hit Richard Mullaney and O.J. Howard for completions of 29 and 25 yards, respectively.
Clemson’s star cornerback, Mackensie Alexander, went to the locker room late in the second half and was not expected to return.
Shaq Lawson is playing with a brace on his left knee because of a sprained MCL. Still, he recorded two sacks of Coker in the first half. Kevin Dodd, Lawson’s bookend, recorded a pair of sacks.
Clemson has protected Watson, not allowing a sack from Alabama’s deep and diverse front seven until there was 1:46 left in the first half. Clemson didn’t allow a tackle for loss until there were under three minutes left in the first half, giving up two.
Clemson Special Teams Holding On … For Now
Clemson came close to allowing a special teams touchdown, but Alabama didn’t completely break through. The Tide had returns of 21, 12 and 39 yards. Andy Teasdall’s last two punts of the first half weren’t returned by Alabama.
Zach Wagner on Alabama…
Watson is Spreading out the Alabama Defense
Alabama’s vaunted defense that came into this game ranked second in the nation in total defense, has struggled at times against Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Tide entered the game with an average of 256.8 yards allowed, and gave up 219 to the Tigers in the first half.
Watson completed 12 of 18 first-half passes for 162 yards. He ran for 45 yards on nine carries. currently sits with 169 passing yards on 18 attempts and has two touchdown passes. He also has 45 rushing yards on nine carries.
Going into the game, Watson was described as being a mix of a lot of the past quarterbacks that have gotten the better of Nick Saban’s defenses. In the first half, Watson was all of that and more, which is spelling trouble for Alabama.
Alabama’s pass defense was the one spot on that side of the ball that most experts pointed to as their weak point. Before today’s game, Alabama’s opponents were still only averaging 186 yards through the air against them. The fact that Clemson already has 162 is concerning and is proving the experts to be true.
Derrick Henry Has Kept Alabama Afloat
At times in Alabama’s one-sided Semifinal victory over Michigan State, Derrick Henry almost appeared to be part of the supporting cast. That was not the case in the first half tonight, when his Heismanesque 128-yard half became a central factor. He was able to break a 50-yard touchdown run on Alabama’s second drive of the game and he also scored on a dive from the 1-yard line. Alabama will look to keep feeding the ball to their Heisman winner as much as possible.
Jake Coker is in Game Manager Mode
Jake Coker has been Jake Coker. He hasn’t turned the ball over and has managed the game effectively, thus far. As always, that’s all Jake Coker needs to do for Alabama to find success. Coker is 9-13 for 82 passing yards.
A Step Backward Up Front
Alabama’s offensive line, which allowed a total of 20 sacks in its first 14 games, gave up four in the first half. That total is one less than the season-high total of five the Tide allowed in its victory over Tennessee.