SAN JOSE, Calif. — If Clemson wants to win the national championship on Monday it has to get pressure on Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
When given time, Tagovailoa has ripped apart defenses all season. The Maxwell and Walter Camp Award winner, as college football’s best player, has completed 69.5 percent of his passes this year for 3,671 yards and 41 touchdowns. Even more amazing, he has thrown just four interceptions in 321 attempts.
“It’s a great challenge,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “Ask everybody else that’s played him. We’ve just got to play well collectively and try to limit the explosiveness of what they do and play with discipline and rush lanes and things of that nature. So, it’s a great, great challenge.”
The challenge is creating pressure on the Alabama signal caller, which has not been easy. Tagovailoa has been sacked just 13 times all season, one of the best avoidances in the country.
However, when teams have gotten to Tagovailoa, it has caused the Alabama offense to hiccup. Mississippi State held the Tide to its lowest offensive output of the season as they hit the Orange Bowl MVP just about every time he dropped back to pass.
In the SEC Championship Game, Georgia got after him all day and eventually knocked him out of the game in the fourth quarter, while building a 14-point lead.
Clemson does not necessarily want to knock Tagovailoa out of the game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., but they know they have to get to him and make him uncomfortable in the pocket.
“We have to collapse the pocket and make him stay inside,” defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall said. “He is so good. He is going to be a challenge for us.”
Some wonder if Clemson (14-0) can be the team that solves Tagovailoa and slows him down. The Tigers have one of the best defenses in the country and in fact rank first in defensive efficiency. They also rank second in the nation in total defense (274.6 yds/game), second in rushing defense (92.6 yds/game) and first in scoring defense (12.9 pts/game).
As for pressuring the quarterback. No one does it better. Clemson leads the nation in quarterback sacks (52) and pressures (104).
“It starts up front, man, if you don’t have good trenches, man, you can’t really function as a team and I feel like that’s where it starts up front,” defensive end Clelin Ferrell said. “As far as that being a big factor in the game, you love it as a competitor because you understand that the game is somewhat in your hands and any time you want that, any time that’s the case, you want to go out there and play your best and I feel like that just takes our game to a whole other level for sure.”
The Tigers trying to get to Tagovailoa is the key matchup of the game. And whoever wins it will most likely be hoisting the golden trophy at the end of the game.
“Tua is really good. He’s such a great player,” defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said. “You know, he’s obviously really talented and he definitely makes that offense go. He’s special. It’s fun to watch him on film, just the things he can do not just throwing ball, but keeping plays alive and things like that. He’s really special.
You never know what to expect from a player just watching highlights and things like that, but when you actually break down the film and watch a player and try to learn all you can, you know, and pick up the tendencies, man, this dude is really special. He’s fun to watch, and I’m excited and looking forward to the opportunity to go up against him.”