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When asked about playing the same team for the third time in a row in the postseason, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney simply laughed. The Tigers coach said it was no big deal, citing the fact that there are eight teams that his team plays every year.
Alabama has simply become an important rival for the Tigers.
With that said, the matchup this year will be vastly different from those the past two years. In a new situation, with plenty of novel storylines, this matchup is shaping up to be truly unique. Yes, we still have elite defenses, savvy head coaches, and dual-threat quarterbacks, but a lot has changed since last January.
Here’s a look at several reasons why Clemson vs. Alabama part III will be different.
1. Jalen Hurts is playing More Intelligently.
During last year’s championship game, Clemson put the brakes on Jalen Hurts, focusing in on weakness as a passer. Now, it’s not that Hurts has made huge strides as a passer, but he’s playing smarter. This year, he’s only had one pick and has improved his passer rating to 171 compared to last year’s 148.
2. Clemson’s Rushing Attack Is Much More Potent.
In the last two matchups with Alabama, Clemson running back Wayne Gallman averaged measly 2.8 yards per rush. The vast majority of any rush longer than 10 yards also came from Deshaun Watson rather than a member of the backfield. That should be different this year with a much more dangerous rushing combination featuring Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne. And let’s not forget Kelly Bryant as a rushing threat. Yards per rush, yards after contact, and rushing touchdowns are all up for Clemson this year.
3. It’s Alabama With The Chip On their Shoulder.
True, Alabama is favored to win, and theirs no doubt that the Clemson players are hungry, but Alabama is coming off of a loss and a missed shot at the SEC title. If nothing else, the multitude of sports broadcasters saying the Tide doesn’t belong in the playoffs should provide a little motivation for Nick Saban’s bunch. The Tide is talented, for sure, but they haven’t proven they can beat a top-15 team this year. Now’s their chance.
4. Swagger-filled Bryant Not Living in Deshaun Watson’s Shadow
Kelly Bryant isn’t trying to be Deshaun Watson. Despite Watson’s talent and ability to get the job done, that’s a really good thing. Bryant provides a vivid personality and swagger-filled persona. That’s something Clemson has needed all year as they’ve fought to win respect. Bryant believes he can lead the Tigers to the promised land and that builds faith in him from his teammates. It remains to be seen if Bryant can lead a game-winning drive, but a bunch of disciplined, yet confident Tigers is a tough bunch to beat.
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