NEW ORLEANS — After Hunter Renfrow had his way with Alabama’s secondary in the first half of the 2016 National Championship Game, the Crimson Tide adjusted and brought down their best player in the secondary: safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The Alabama defender, who can also play corner, slowed the Clemson wide receiver down. However, it opened up things for everyone else.
Now as the Tigers’ leading receiver with 55 receptions, will Alabama do it again in Monday’s Sugar Bowl? Will they bring Fitzpatrick down to take away the one guy who has killed them the last two years and caught the winning touchdown pass in last year’s national championship game?
“I hope they do that again because that means we are going to have more room on the outside for our wide receivers because they will have less safety help over the top so our receivers will have more room in coverage,” Renfrow said.
But as much respect Alabama has for Renfrow, Clemson equally has the same respect for Fitzpatrick, who won the Jim Thrope Award as the nation’s best defensive back this year and is a consensus All-American.
“He is extremely versatile and extremely physical,” Renfrow said. “He is one of the best defensive players in the nation. You definitely have to prepare the right way.
“You can’t go in there thinking he is just another guy. You have to do what you do. You can’t change who you are. But you have to know his tendencies and you know the type of player he is because if you make one mistake, he is going to make you pay for it. You have to be locked in.”
How good is Fitzpatrick? His numbers will not blow you away from a statistical standpoint, which shows the level of respect the opposition has had for him all year.
Few teams have dare to throw the ball to his side of the field.
“He is a great player,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said Friday at the Marriott Convention Center in New Orleans.
Fitzpatrick is fifth on the team with 52 tackles this year. He has six tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks to go along with seven passes defended and one interception.
“Kind of over the last few years we’ve had the opportunity to play a lot of great players and guys that we respect and have a great skill set,” Scott said. “I think he’s probably one of the most complete players that we’ve studied over the last few years.
“He is very technically sound. He doesn’t get out of position very much at all. He uses his hands very well. He has his eyes in the right spot. And not only does he know what they want to do defensively, you can tell he spends a lot of time in the film room. He anticipates things very well. And I definitely would say is one of the best players that we have faced in the past and probably will this year.”