ESPN analyst likes the way the Tigers handled being the hunted
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit has been impressed with the way Clemson has handled being the hunted and has made its way back to the College Football Playoff.
Though many experts had the Tigers ranked inside the top 10 at the start of the season, no one outside of the Clemson locker room thought the Tigers would make it back to the CFP, especially after losing Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett, Wayne Gallman and Artavis Scott.
But here they are. They’re back in the CFP for a third straight year, and for the second time in those three seasons they come in as the No. 1 overall seed. Clemson advanced to the championship game two years ago, and last year won the national championship as the No. 2 seed.
Clemson (12-1) enters the Sugar Bowl against No. 4 Alabama on a six-game winning streak, a streak that began after a stunning loss at Syracuse on Oct. 13, when quarterback Kelly Bryant was playing on a hurt ankle and then was knocked out of the game with concussion in the second quarter.
During the six-game winning streak, the Tigers have won by an average of 25.8 points, including a 17-point win over Florida State, a 24-point win at rival South Carolina and a 35-point win over then No. 7 Miami in the ACC Championship Game last Saturday.
“They did a heck of a job being able to be a team with a big target on their chest,” Herbstreit said prior to the College Football Awards Show in Atlanta on Thursday. “I think when you are the defending champs, I think physiologically it is a different game then when you are trying to chase Alabama or chase anybody.
“Now you are dealing with everybody giving you their best shot so I think dealing with that from the Auburn game all the way through, that’s tough to deal with and I think they did an incredible job of it.”
Herbstreit has also been impressed with Clemson’s offense. The Tigers have especially been good the last six weeks. In their final six games, they scored 31 or more points five times and averaged 37.6 points per game.
“The offense has changed not just because of Deshaun, but because of the skill set and the strengths of Kelly Bryant,” Herbstreit said. “They became a team that can now run the ball with the quarterback, where it’s not just part of the offense, but it’s a big part of it.”
Like the Tigers have had to do the last two weeks, Herbstreit believes for Clemson to beat the Crimson Tide, Bryant is going to have to win the game with his arm.
In the Tigers’ wins over South Carolina and Miami, who both limited Bryant’s running ability, the junior combined to complete 46-of-63 passes for 524 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Bryant ran for a combined 33 yards on 19 carries in those two games.
“I think if they’re going to be able to continue to win these next two games, I think Kelly Bryant being able to throw the ball down the field to Deon Cain and some of those other receivers are going to be a big ingredient,” Herbstreit said. “If I’m Nick Saban, I’m putting guys at the line of scrimmage. I’m determined to stop that running game, and I’m willing to take my chances against Kelly Bryant throwing the ball. The receivers are going to have to win one-on-ones, and Kelly is going to have to throw the ball accurately.”
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