College football playoff: Alabama's defense hungry for rematch with Clemson's Deshaun Watson
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Minkah Fitzpatrick doesn't mince words: The defense Clemson's Deshaun Watson carved up a year ago wasn't "the real 'Bama."
This year, when No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 2 Clemson in Monday's College Football Playoff national championship game in Tampa, the sophomore defensive back is confident Watson will be in for a rude awakening.
"I'm real excited to get another chance because I didn't play real well against them," Fitzpatrick said Wednesday. "The whole defense really didn't play that well ... they didn't see the real 'Bama last year. They just a little flash of it. Hopefully this year if we go play right, they're going to get a little taste of the real 'Bama."
Last season, Watson was Clemson's offense in the title game, throwing for 405 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 73 yards. But he came up short where it mattered most -- the win column in the 45-40 loss to Alabama.
But this year, Watson -- who came in a distant second for the Heisman Trophy a year after finishing third a year ago -- has elevated his game even more. He has thrown for 474 more yards and seven more touchdowns than a year ago.
"He may be arguably the best player in college football," Tide head coach Nick Saban said Tuesday. "The guy is very athletic. He's got a great understanding of their offense. He does a really good job of executing for his team. He can extend plays. He can run. He can run quarterback runs, and he's a terrific passer."
The consensus is Watson, a junior, has grown considerably the past two seasons and has become the true dual-threat talent.
Since losing in last year's championship game, Watson has been on a mission to get back for a second title shot. He even made that a stated goal immediately after last year's defeat in Arizona.
"That's just the type of person I am," Watson said Wednesday. "I have high standards for me and my teammates, and this is where we wanted to be."
Watson ranks sixth nationally with 4,173 passing yards and 38 touchdowns, to go along with 17 interceptions, and is tied for eighth nationally with a 67.3 completion percentage.
Alabama's defensive players have taken notice.
"Deshaun Watson is a prolific player, a game-changer, can do a lot of things to hurt you, do a lot of good things with his team, run the ball and can spread you out," outside linebacker Ryan Anderson said Tuesday. "And he's a very smart player. He understands the situations in the game, and it's going to be tough to stop him."
While Watson's stats remain impressive, the most important stat to his head coach is his winning percentage.
"The guy is 31-3. The only losses he had are a loss in the national championship game where he played great," Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday. "He lost at Georgia Tech his first year in a game that he played about 12 or 14 snaps and had the lead in the first quarter when he exited the game with a torn ACL, and he lost against Pitt this year in a game he threw for 570 yards and scored 42 points and had 72 percent completions."
Saban has praised Watson, describing the 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior as "the best player in college football since (Auburn's) Cam Newton," according to ESPN.
"I mean, he is the complete package of everything that you could ever want or look for in a guy at quarterback," Saban said Tuesday, "and he's been playing for a long time, so he has a tremendous amount of experience. (And) he doesn't make a lot of mistakes."
Those attributes help Watson stand out on the field, it's what he's done to help transform Clemson into a national power that has his coaches and teammates believing Watson can carry the Tigers to the championship.
"We understand without him, we probably wouldn't be where we are right now because of the type of player and person that he is," Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell said. "He's not just a great player, but he makes everybody on the team want to play for him.
"It's something we're very blessed to have him on this team because we know how much of a program-changer that he is."
This article is written by Alex Byington from The Decatur Daily, Ala. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.