Clemson University

‘We weren’t prepared for a fist fight.’ Alabama dealt Clemson a wakeup call last year

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) drops back to pass during the NCAA Cotton Bowl semi-final playoff football game, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/ Jeffrey McWhorter)
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) drops back to pass during the NCAA Cotton Bowl semi-final playoff football game, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/ Jeffrey McWhorter) AP

The Clemson offensive line felt confident entering last year’s Sugar Bowl matchup against Alabama.

The Tigers had upset the Crimson Tide the previous year for the national championship and returned four starters up front from that title squad.

Unfortunately for Clemson, none of that confidence or past success mattered once the ball was kicked off. Alabama owned the line of scrimmage for four quarters, holding Clemson to only 64 rushing yards and sacking Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant five times.

Clemson’s offense managed a pair of field goals in the loss as Alabama went on to win the national title.

“We weren’t prepared for a fist fight,” Clemson guard John Simpson said. “We were ready for football and they were ready to come out there and, you know, win no matter what. But I think this year we have a different perspective on what to do and how to do it.”

That perspective comes from spending an entire offseason trying to get over the College Football Playoff semifinal loss.

Clemson spent the spring, summer and regular season fighting for another shot at Alabama. The Tigers get their shot Monday night in Santa Clara, Calif.

“It was a bit of a wake-up call last year,” Tigers center Justin Falcinelli said. “It’s really kind of driven us to say, ‘All right, last year we did well but still clearly plenty of room to improve.’ We’ve just been focusing on that and focusing on improving.”

This will be the best defensive front Clemson has faced this season.

Alabama is tied for No. 12 nationally with 101 tackles for loss and No. 5 in sacks with 45.

The Crimson Tide is led up front by sophomore Quinnen Williams, who has 17 tackles for loss and was named the winner of the Outland Trophy following the regular season.

“They’re really good,” Simpson said. “They’re a really good defensive line. Compared to other lines I would say that they’re one of the best lines that we’ve seen all year. I would put them first and Notre Dame second.”

But Clemson intends on showing up with the right mindset this time around and holding its own against Williams and the rest of Alabama’s defensive front.

“They showed up with an edge that we just couldn’t match,” Tigers tackle Tremayne Anchrum said. “They had something to prove from the year before losing. They had a little bit of an edge, a fire to them, to make sure that they could erase all doubt. And make sure that they could redeem themselves.

“We feel like we have to atone for it a little bit. We need to get right and show the country that we are one of the best offensive lines in the country and we’re gonna have to prove it this year.”

National championship

Who: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Clemson

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

TV: ESPN

Line: Alabama by 5 1/2

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