Deshaun Watson

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Clemson’s championship team leads to multiple ESPY nominations

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The ESPYS are coming. ESPN’s annual summer tradition of showering star athletes with Hollywood praise is coming in July, and fans now have a chance to vote for their picks in multiple categories. As is typically the case, the reigning national champions tend to be well-represented.

The Clemson Tigers appear multiple times among the finalists for various ESPY awards. Former quarterback Deshaun Watson, now with the NFL’s Houston Texans, is one of four finalists for the Best Championship Performance award. Despite passing for 420 yards and three touchdowns without an interception and running for 43 yards and a score against Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game last January, Watson is up against some stiff competition in the category. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant, and Los Angeles Sparks player Candace Parker are the other finalists. Topping Brady or Durant may prove difficult for Watson considering the pedigree each of those two have. A player competing in the NBA Finals has won the award each of the past four seasons (three of them won by LeBron James). The only college football player to win the award was former Texas quarterback Vince Young in 2006 following his performance in the Rose Bowl against USC. Watson’s performance against Alabama was about as close to Young’s Rose Bowl as you can get, so maybe there is a chance.

Watson may stand a better chance of being named the Best Male College Athlete. He is the only college football player in the running and may have the most well-known name recognition across the nation compared to the others in contention, although Kansas basketball player Frank Mason could stand a chance.

Clemson’s victory over Alabama is also one of three finalists for Best Upset. The only other finalists for the award are the Mississippi State women’s basketball team upsetting the UConn women in the women’s Final Four and Denis Istomin toppling Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open. Clemson has a chance here, although the UConn women losing was a stunner. No college football game is up for Best Game despite a thrilling national championship game and a Rose Bowl for the ages. But then again, it’s hard to argue against Game 7 of the World Series and the Super Bowl, with a Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal Australian Open Final coming out as the three finalists.

Clemson is also up for Best Team, but against the Chicago Cubs, Warriors, Pittsburgh Penguins, Patriots, South Carolina women’s basketball and the United States women’s gymnastics team. It’s a loaded field.

Louisville quarterback and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson is in the hunt for an ESPY though. His hurdle of a defender is in a tournament-style bracket of 16 plays for the Best Play ESPY. Given the No. 14 seed, Jackson is up against a pass by Aaron Rogers to Jared Cook that led to a playoff victory against the Dallas Cowboys, so once again it looks like a tough draw. Here’s the Jackson hurdle against Syracuse…

The ESPYS will air on Wednesday, July 12.

VIDEO: Watch Clemson light offensive spark in three plays

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Down 14-0 in the second quarter and stuck starting an offensive series from their own 13-yard line, Clemson needed to make some big plays happen. They did just that. Three plays highlighted the much-needed seven-play drive that ended in the end zone with Deshaun Watson finding a path for a touchdown to cut into the Alabama lead in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

It began with a 44-yard catch-and-run  from Watson to Deon Cain

A few plays later, Watson connected over the middle of the field with Jordan Leggett for a 26-yard gain to move into the red zone for the first time in the game…

Watson would finish the drove off with an eight-yard touchdown run a couple of plays later…

Clemson really needed that score, and it helped to give the defense a little bit of a rest after having Bo Scarbrough break off a pair of long touchdown runs on them in the first half.

VIDEO: Another questionable missed targeting on Alabama knocks Mike Williams out (briefly)

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Clemson had a bit of an injury scare in the firsts quarter when wide receiver Mike Williams was knocked out of the game following a helmet-to-helmet hit, but a sideline report from ESPN’s broadcast says he has been cleared to return to the game.

Williams was on the receiving end of a helmet-to-helmet hit with Alabama’s Tony Brown, who came in late on a tackle effort. There was no foul called on the play for the hit, which was arguably a missed targeting call.

The hit occurred in the first quarter of the game, and was the second questionable targeting incident of the quarter by Alabama. Reuben Foster was flagged for a late hit on Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson on an earlier Tigers possession, but was not called for targeting. No review was called from the booth for targeting either.

VIDEO: Should Reuben Foster have been flagged for targeting on Deshaun Watson?

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The College Football Playoff national championship game is just underway, and already there may have been a slightly controversial non-call on the field.

Alabama’s Reuben Foster was flagged for a personal foul for his late hit on Clemson quarterback on Deshaun Watson, allowing the Tigers to pick up an easy and automatic first down as a result of the 15-yard penalty on a 2nd and 14 (that should drive Nick Saban nuts), but should he have been called (and ejected) for targeting?

You make the call.

The replays make that look like a pretty good deliberate shot to the head of Watson. No targeting foul was called on the field and no call came in for a review from the replay booth. For reference, tonight’s officials come from the Big 12.

Clemson was unable to capitalize on the penalty and free first down putting the ball at midfield, as the Tigers turned the ball over on a fourth and short from the Alabama 41-yard line. Three plays later, Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell was called for a roughing the passer penalty on Jalen Hurts with hands to the face.

Alabama’s keys to national championship game include trying to solve Deshaun Watson (good luck!)

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The rematch is on in the College Football Playoff national championship game with Alabama and Clemson set to battle for the national championship for a second straight season. Both teams will have the benefit of having gone through this experience against each other last year, so there is a certain familiarity with what the other team is capable of doing. For Alabama, knowing just how dangerous Deshaun Watson can be leading the Tigers offense going in will lead Alabama to look for new ways to scheme against him.

In last year’s championship game, Watson put on a performance that drew comparisons to Vince Young in the Rose Bowl against USC, although Watson came up on the short end of the winning tally. In the epic 45-40 loss to the Tide, Watson scorched Alabama for 405 passing yards and four touchdowns and added 73 rushing yards. It was Watson’s best performance of the year, and it came against the best defense in the country. Guess what. Alabama once again has the best defense in the country, and Watson is fully capable of going off for a big game once again. You can make him make a mistake, as evidenced at times this season. Watson has been picked off 17 times this year, including twice last week by Ohio State. The key for Alabama will be converting points off turnovers. Ohio State, obviously, was unable to do that, but the only team to beat them this year managed to do that. Watson was intercepted three times against Pittsburgh in Clemson’s only loss of the season. The Panthers took advantage of two of those picks by scoring touchdowns on the ensuing possession (Pitt was forced to punt on the first, scored two touchdowns on the next two).

Disrupting Clemson’s momentum on offense will not be easy, even for a talented and stacked defense like Alabama’s, because Clemson does like to move the ball quickly. It’s not just the no-huddle style either. It is also how quickly Clemson releases the ball and gets it in movement. Take a look at how quickly Watson gets the play rolling after taking the snap. Unless he is looking to go downfield and has to wait for a man to get open, he is pulling a quick trigger on a screen pass or tossing to the running back and then Clemson is on the go. That caught up to Ohio State and wore down the defense. Wearing down Alabama’s defense should not be as easy, and if the Tide can get in the backfield on the snap to cause chaos before Clemson can get things rolling consistently, then it will apply pressure on Watson and Clemson to do something else.

When Watson does get rid of the ball, Alabama will have to find ways to cover wide receiver Mike Williams (1,297 receiving yards, 10 TDs) and tight end Jordan Leggett, who could be a wild card factor in this matchup. But Alabama’s biggest concern in this game (other than Watson) will be Clemson’s defensive line. The Tigers just pitched a shutout against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, allowing just 215 yards of offense to the Buckeyes and forcing three turnovers (including two interceptions of J.T. Barrett). Clemson’s defensive effort put everybody on notice that they are on a mission and primed to give Alabama all they can handle. The good news for Alabama is their offensive line is much better than Ohio State’s, so fending off the pressure should be more successful to the point where Jalen Hurts will get some time to think more often than not.

The biggest mystery for Alabama is what happens on offense. Giving the bizarre circumstances this week of showing Lane Kiffin on the door on his way to FAU and promoting Steve Sarkisian to offensive coordinator, where he will call plays for the first time in years, there is a bit of a question as to how much of Alabama’s offense may look different compared to under Kiffin. Will Sarkisian stick to what has been working or will he throw in some new wrinkles? That could be good or bad for Alabama, could catch Clemson off guard or completely blow up in Alabama’s face. Sarkisian is taking on a huge role in this championship game, and it will responsibility to find whatever cracks he can in Clemson’s defense and open them up.