Alabama-Clemson grades: Deshaun Watson stars despite Tigers loss

The top takeaways and highest-graded players from Alabama’s victory over Clemson in the College Football Playoff title game.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

Alabama-Clemson grades: Deshaun Watson stars despite Tigers loss

Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Alabama’s 45-40 victory over Clemson:

Alabama Crimson Tide

— Entering the game many felt that Alabama held the balance of power in the trench battle on both sides, of the ball and while the offensive line didn’t deliver this control, the Tide’s defensive line certainly did. Exhibiting their customary depth of talent, four defensive linemen earned positive overall grades led by DJ Pettway (+4.8) while sub package pass rushers Rashaan Evans (+1.6), Ryan Anderson (+2.4) and Tim Williams (+1.2) were all productive on less than 20 pass rushes each. Even players who didn’t have their best games overall like Jarran Reed (-1.9) still came up with big individual plays, such as Reed chasing down Deshaun Watson on Clemson’s failed two point conversion attempt.

— Ultimately this game for Jake Coker (+0.6) came down to whether he could find and exploit busts in the Clemson secondary and he certainly proved capable of taking exactly what the Tigers defense so charitably gave him. Coker exploited deep busts to find O.J. Howard (+2.2) uncovered down the field for two huge touchdowns and Howard was able to exploit some poor angles by the Clemson secondary to convert a pass to the flat into 63 yard gain on Alabama’s final drive. These big moments shifted the destiny of the game and the title to Tuscaloosa.

— A multi-touchdown performance by Derrick Henry (+1.5) hasn’t been met by as little fanfare as was the case with his 158 yard, three touchdown effort last night. Henry put in another strong showing but was simply overshadowed by Watson’s excellent play on the opposite sideline and a sequence of momentous plays by the rest of the Alabama team around him. That left his 50 yard touchdown run exploiting poor gap discipline by the Clemson defense a somewhat dwindling memory by the end of the game but in terms of down to down running and maximizing what his offensive line got him against a feisty Clemson defensive front this was another strong effort to wrap up a special season for Henry.

Top performers:

DE DJ Pettway (+4.8)
CB Marlon Humphrey (+3.3)
DE Jonathan Allen (+3.2)
OLB Ryan Anderson (+2.4)
TE O.J. Howard (+2.2)

Clemson Tigers

–The star of this game on both sides was without question Deshaun Watson (+5.6), who but for a couple of forced throws — only one of which he was made to pay for — produced an exceptional all-round display as he sought to finish off the Tigers perfect season. Putting his misread of Eddie Jackson’s (-0.9) coverage behind him Watson sliced through the Alabama defense at multiple levels, particularly impressing down the middle of the field completing 24/30 passes aimed between the numbers for 293 yards and four of his touchdowns; earning a +4.5 PFF passing grade on these throws. Watson’s performance would have been deserving of victory but ultimately Alabama came up with more big plays than he could overcome.

–The Clemson’s defense was a mix of highs and lows last night, both in terms of individual performances and isolated plays that allowed the Alabama offense to get away from the Tigers. Up front a defensive line led by Kevin Dodd (+3.0) and D.J. Reader (+3.5) more than held their own against Alabama’s award winning offensive line but busts in the secondary, in run fits and in pursuit angles gifted the Crimson Tide the big plays to render that hard work irrelevant. T.J. Green’s performance epitomized the split personality of Clemson’s defensive effort last night with a strong showing against the run (+3.0) let down by some poor work in coverage (-4.0) to undermine otherwise good play.

–This was the last game for a number of players both for seniors and underclassmen calling time on their careers before their eligibility runs out. One player who could make that jump is CB Mackensie Alexander (+2.0) whose impressive showing was cut short by injury. Prior to his departure Alexander had earned one of his highest grades of the season and stepped up well against the run in particular registering as many stops in his 31 snaps last night (three) as he had in his previous 14 games.

Top performers:

QB Deshaun Watson (+5.6)
DT D.J. Reader (+3.5)
DE Kevin Dodd (+3.0)
CB Mackensie Alexander (+2.0)
DE Shaq Lawson (+1.8)

| Director of Analysis

Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.

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