Matt Connolly

Why Clemson will win: Defense puts QB on the run

Clemson DC Brent Venables explains how Tigers have limited big plays

Clemson was one of the worst teams in the country at allowing big plays last year
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Clemson was one of the worst teams in the country at allowing big plays last year

Entering the playoff, I expected Alabama to win the national title. But the more I’ve been around this Clemson team, the more I feel the Tigers will win. And while it’s just one game, I can’t get the thought of Jalen Hurts looking scared and Clemson looking its best on the big stage in the semifinal out of my head.

Here are four reasons Clemson will win its first national title since 1981:

CONFIDENCE

Clemson celebrated after the Fiesta Bowl, but not for long. In the locker room after the game, the Tigers spoke about expecting to be in this situation and how there’s unfinished business that must be taken care of. Clemson believed all season that it would return to the national title game and face Alabama.

And unlike some teams that face the Crimson Tide, the Tigers won’t be intimidated. Clemson knows after last year it can go toe-to-toe with Alabama, and the Tigers believe they were the better team last year and will prove it on Monday.

DESHAUN WATSON

Clemson’s star quarterback has been at his best in big games throughout his career, and there’s no reason to expect anything different on Monday. He played perhaps the best game of his life last season against Alabama in the title game, passing for more than 400 yards and four touchdowns against the nation’s top defense.

That was without his best receiver Mike Williams, as well as Deon Cain, who’s second on the team with nine TDs.

DEFENSE

All of the focus is on Alabama’s defense, but Clemson’s has been stellar this year as well. The Tigers said the loss to Pitt was a wake-up call, and since then Clemson has allowed an average of less than 14 points per game, with a shutout of Ohio State its last time out.

Clemson has a stout front seven that will try to make Hurts beat the Tigers with his arm. The Alabama quarterback threw for less than 60 yards in the playoff semifinal against Washington.

LEADERSHIP

Yes, Clemson has a young team, as coach Dabo Swinney reminded everyone at a press conference on Sunday, but the Tigers have veterans at key spots. Clemson starts seven upperclassmen on offense and seven on defense.

Jordan Leggett, Wayne Gallman, Carlos Watkins and Cordrea Tankersley considered turning pro after last season, but came back hoping to win a national title. I expect them to do that Monday night.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney participates in the head coaches news conference inside the Tampa Convention Center Sunday.

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