Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is the third player in FBS history to pass for at least 3,500 yards and rush for at least 1,000 yards in the same season. That combination of passing and running ability presents Alabama with an unusual test in Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship.
Watson is the only FBS quarterback to post a Total QBR of at least 70 in every game this season. Total QBR captures everything a quarterback contributes (including running), and is particularly effective in evaluating dual-threat quarterbacks such as Watson.
Alabama has not allowed a Total QBR of 40 or more in 11 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the FBS. The Crimson Tide have kept opponents to a Total QBR of 12.1 this season, the best single-season defensive Total QBR in the past 10 seasons.
Watson impressive on ground lately
Watson has rushed for 646 yards since the start of November, the most by an FBS quarterback. He has reached 100 yards rushing five times in his past six games, tied for second among FBS quarterbacks.
On the other side, Alabama hasn’t allowed a quarterback to rush for more than 29 yards this season (Middle Tennessee’s Brent Stockstill). In nine seasons since Nick Saban became Alabama’s coach, exactly zero quarterbacks have rushed for 100 yards against the Crimson Tide.
Clemson appears to be relying on Watson’s running more down the stretch. He has had at least 18 designed runs in each of his past three games after not having more than 15 in his first 11 games of the season.
Since the start of Week 8, Clemson leads the FBS in rushing yards from its quarterback (115.0 per game). During that time, Watson has 10 rushing touchdowns, four more than Alabama has allowed all season.
Just as Watson’s running has hit a high gear lately, Alabama’s rush defense appears to be peaking.
The Crimson Tide held Michigan State to 29 rushing yards in the Cotton Bowl, a season low for the Spartans. It was the sixth straight opponent the Crimson Tide held to fewer than 100 rush yards, the longest active FBS streak -- by four games.
Can a running quarterback hurt Alabama? The Tide have allowed one 20-yard rush by a quarterback this season.
Long ball, pass protection key factors
Alabama has been susceptible to the deep ball this season, ranking 57th among 65 Power 5 teams in completion percentage allowed on passes thrown 20 yards or more downfield (39.3 percent). Watson has completed 42.6 percent of such passes (Power 5 average for quarterbacks: 36.0 percent) and, perhaps more important, he has 16 touchdowns on such throws this season, most in Power 5.
How the Crimson Tide fares on passes of 20 or more yards seems to have been a litmus test in recent years. In the past four seasons, Alabama is 8-5 when its opponent has a touchdown on a 20-yard throw and 41-1 when the opponent does not.
Alabama’s defense has an FBS-high 50 sacks this season. The Tigers have allowed 1.1 sacks per game, fourth-fewest among Power 5 teams and their lowest in the past 20 seasons.
Clemson quarterbacks have been pressured on 17 percent of their dropbacks this season, the second-lowest percentage among Power 5 teams behind Washington State (15 percent). The Crimson Tide have pressured the opposing quarterback on 33 percent of dropbacks, fifth-most in the Power 5.