What does Clemson have to do to beat Alabama? Well, first we must acknowledge that everything written henceforth is mere theory, not fact. Right now, there is no blueprint to beat this Alabama team. They’ve been too fast, too strong, too explosive, too well-coached to experience the same sting of defeat that visited every other Division I squad this season.
But that doesn’t mean the Tide can’t be beaten.
The path to beating Alabama, a path populated by overgrown cactus and alligators and swarms of African killer bees, leading to same holy grail Clemson narrowly missed last season, starts with the quarterbacks. Deshaun Watson must repeat the same effort he posted in last season’s title game, when he hit 30-of-47 passes for 405 yards with four touchdowns against one interception, plus 20 carries for 73 yards. The Tigers can not and will not win without a similar game from their best player.
While Clemson has to have Watson at its best, it also must get Jalen Hurts at his worst. Hurts only threw the ball 14 times against Washington and many, up to and including Nick Saban, thought that was too much. Hurts has shown a penchant for giving the ball away, and Clemson must take advantage of that.
Pursuant to that, to beat Alabama, Clemson must grab an early lead and hold on to it.
We don’t know what Steve Sarkisian will be like as a play-caller on Monday night, and neither does he. If Clemson can secure a touchdown or greater lead beyond the first quarter, Sarkisian may start to feel that glare — the glare of dozens of ESPN cameras, the glare of his new boss. Alabama hasn’t trailed much this season — they haven’t trailed in the second half since a 33-14 win over Texas A&M on Oct. 22 — and forcing the Tide into that uncomfortable position, against a team that has a better quarterback than they do and a defensive line equal to theirs, could pull the full weight of the Tide’s 26-game winning streak on Sarkisian and Hurts’s shoulders.
Because while the path to an Alabama defeat is treacherous and untouched, the path to an Alabama victory is wide open and well-worn. If Watson has a bad game, Alabama will win. If Alabama has a second-half lead, allowing Bo Scarborough to start his oversized-bowling-ball-rolling-downhill routine, Alabama will win.
And there you have it. Either Watson will lead Clemson past the alligators and around the killer bees, or the Tigers will be flattened by a weaponized bowling ball. Sounds simple, right?