No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama only have one loss between them this season. So asking opposing coaches how to beat the Tigers and Crimson Tide is a difficult question.
There are two things everyone can agree upon about the College Football Playoff national championship on Monday night in Glendale, Arizona:
— Beating Alabama's defense will take a special performance.
— Clemson's Deshaun Watson is capable of such a performance.
Here's a look at some of the key matchups that will help determine which team wins the national championship.
1: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson (below) vs. Alabama OLB/DEs Dillon Lee, Denzel Devall, Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams.
"The more you can spread them out the better opportunity you have of creating a seam in the defense to run the ball," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.
Don't expect a ton of north-south power running by Clemson. The Tigers are more likely to attack at the edges of Alabama's defense.
"You've got to have some imagination and some smoke-and-mirror mentality for sure," said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, whose team handed Alabama its only loss this season.
There are two ways to do that: Before the snap with receivers and backs going in motion and formations that draw defenders away from the ball and toward the sideline. Or, after the snap with option or packaged plays that allow the quarterback to react to a defense and either run, hand off, or pass.
"Anything that maybe can distract a defensive end or one of those linebackers just for a moment, because the reality is double-teams, their down front guys are so good, the double-teams very seldom even get off of them and get to another guy unless there is something that freezes them for a second," Freeze said.
As the games have become more important for Clemson, Watson has been used as a ball carrier more. He has surpassed 20 carries in each of the last three games, including a season-high 24 for a season-best 145 yards in the Orange Bowl victory against Oklahoma.
"Most defenses out there are not designed to stop a guy like Deshaun Watson and what he can do on his own," said Cole Cubelic, former Auburn offensive lineman who now works as an analyst for ESPN and hosts a radio show in Huntsville, Alabama. "(Clemson) cannot be afraid to let that kid get hit. You need him to be dynamic."
Clemson will also need Watson's wheels to escape an Alabama pass rush that has registered 50 sacks.
2: Alabama WR Calvin Ridley (below) vs. Clemson CB Mackensie Alexander.
Alexander doesn't get quite as much publicity as some of the nation's other shutdown corners, but make no mistake: He is as talented as any of them.
"He's good enough to say let's not mess with it on that side," said former Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, who is now the defensive coordinator at Maryland.
That explains why Alexander had no interceptions this season. The other corner, Cordrea Tankersley, led the team with five picks and is no slouch, either. Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables leans on his cover guys.
"You're going to have to win against man coverage," Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said.
Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is excellent at creating advantageous matchups for play-makers. It will be interesting to see if Kiffin attempts to get Ridley away from Alexander.
3: Alabama RB Derrick Henry vs. Clemson LBs Ben Boulware (below) and B.J. Goodson and S Jayron Kearse.
"Ball control. Manage field position. Put your defense in as many good spots as you can," Cubelic said.
The Tigers also have a talented and tough defensive line, led by defensive end Shaq Lawson. Plus, their top-notch corners allow Venables to get safeties, like the 220-pound Kearse, involved in stopping the run.
"The traditional running game against them is very hard," Clawson said. "They give you very few run-friendly boxes."
Clemson has been susceptible to long runs. The Tigers have allowed 22 runs of 20-plus yards, tied for 83rd in FBS. Those are often the result of over pursuing, sloppy tackling and taking bad angles. The Tigers can't let a 5-yard run by Henry turn into a 35-yarder.
4: Clemson TE Jordan Leggett vs. Alabama DBs Eddie Jackson (below) and Geno Mattias-Smith.
Leggett, at 6-foot-5, 255-pounds, is a matchup problem and Clemson likes to send him down the middle on run-pass option plays. He caught 35 passes and led the team with seven touchdown receptions.
This article was written by Ralph D. Russo from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.