It’s difficult to second-guess Nick Saban – five national titles will do that for a person – but doesn’t it seem a little, you know, crazy to essentially dismiss an offensive coordinator right before the national championship? Especially when that offensive coordinator has play-called his way to 26 straight victories?
Well, it depends how you look at it.
“Steve Sarkisian is a tremendous football coach,” legendary head coach Mack Brown said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “He’s been away from it for a while. He’s had some issues he’s been dealing with. I like Steve a lot, but he hasn’t called plays in a long time. The thing that might make this work is that he and Lane were kind of raised together with Pete Carroll and have run the same offense. But he’s also coaching against a very talented defense and Brent Venables, who is a master at multiple defenses and bringing blitzes. So he’s going to have to keep the game plan simple for a freshman quarterback anyway, but there’s no question that Steve will be a better play-caller next fall than he is next week.”
Hurts may be a freshman, but he also might be the most mobile quarterback in America outside of Lamar Jackson. Still, Sarkisian can’t ask Hurts to do too much with his arm.
“We always said the play caller has to be in the quarterback’s mind,” Brown said. “And unless you know what he likes and trust what he likes, then you can’t be aggressive with your calls – because they have a great defense. Their kicking game has been unbelievable. In fact, the kicking game was the difference in the national championship game last year. So I know Steve Sarkisian well enough. He’s going to sit down with Jalen Hurts now and say, ‘What do you like? What do you want me to call? Give me your best five runs. What do you need?’ That’s what he’ll do to try to get on the same page in a very short period of time.”
Deshaun Watson, meanwhile, is as experienced as it gets. A two-time Heisman finalist, Watson is the No. 1 reason why Clemson has won 27 of its last 29 games. Heck, Clemson scored 40+ points in both of those losses, including last year’s 45-40 loss to Alabama in the national championship.
What does Watson have to do to get the Tigers over the top Monday night?
“A lot like he did last year,” Brown said, referring to Watson’s 478-total-yard performance. “Deshaun Watson, Clemson and Ole Miss were about the only two people that really ran the ball up and down the field last year against Alabama with Chad Kelly. So you’ve got to have a talented quarterback that can run and throw, and Deshaun can do that as well as anybody in the country.”
Whatever happens, Brown has been thoroughly impressed with Dabo Swinney this season.
“I coached a team after losing a national championship,” Brown said. “It’s not easy to do. It’s hard to get their focus back. We see Florida State a couple of years ago with their issues after winning it. Winning it is tough, but losing it is just as tough. Dabo’s had an offense that’s not quite as good in the offensive line as you’d like playing against this Alabama defensive front. But they’ve got skill at wide receiver, Williams can get deep, those guys can fly, you’ve got Gallman, who can run the ball – they’re very balanced. I think the difference in this ball game, if Clemson wins, is that they take care of the ball and Deshaun does what he did last year with his arm and his feet and he makes plays.”