NEW ORLEANS — In the 2016 College Football National Championship Game, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables was given the task of having to stop Heisman Trophy winning running back Derrick Henry.
In last year’s title game, he and the Tigers were faced with the job of slowing down Bo Scarborough. They did neither.
Henry rushed for 158 yards and scored three touchdowns in Bama’s win two years ago, while Scarborough had 16 carries for 93 yards and scored two touchdowns before breaking his leg in the third quarter of last year’s title game.
This time, when the Tigers and Tide meet for a third straight year in the College Football Playoff Semifinals at the Sugar Bowl, Scarborough will again be in the backfield, but this time he is not Alabama’s best runner.
That distinction belongs to Damien Harris, who is averaging 8.2 yards per carry and has 11 rushing touchdowns.
“It’s sickening, it’s not right. It’s not fair,” Venables said jokingly during Thursday’s media press conference at the Marriott Convention Center in New Orleans.
When a reporter responded that Alabama is saying the same thing about the Clemson defensive line. Venables laughed and had another comedic response.
“I’m not buying that,” he said smiling. “I’m not buying that.”
Though Venables knows he has one of the best, if not the best, defensive front in the country, he also knows Alabama has run all over the Tigers the last two seasons and he has to figure out a way to slow them down.
Alabama (11-1) leads the SEC in rushing and ranks 10th nationally at running the football, averaging 265.3 yards per game.
“It’s a huge physical challenge,” Venables said. “They are really good players blocking you and running the ball. So you are not going to get them down with arm tackles and being out of your gap, stepping the wrong way, putting your hands in the wrong spots. They will expose you, where with some teams there is a margin for error.
“You can step wrong. You can okie doke a block. You can be falling down and getting a guy down, but these guys are the best of the best in college football in blocking you and carrying the ball.”
Harris leads the Tide with 906 yards.
“Harris is a home run threat,” Venables said. “He’s scary and has great vision, bound, strength, power, explosiveness, and he can take the smallest crease and divide a defense. He is a real home run threat and an excellent player.”
As a team, Alabama is averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Besides Harris, quarterback Jalen Hurts is second on the team with 768 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns, while Scarborough has 549 yards and 8 scores.
“It starts with the physical challenge and the fundamentals that go along with it, and hopefully that is what you have been able to work on and get back to the basics,” Venables said.