GLENDALE, Arizona — Deshaun Watson set the record for most total yards in national championship game history against the nation’s best defense and he didn't want to celebrate it.
Clemson’s star quarterback tallied 478 yards against Alabama — 405 passing, 73 rushing — but the sting of the 45-40 loss in Monday’s College Football National Championship Game made appreciating a personal achievement nearly impossible.
“At the end of the day, I wanted the W,” Watson said after his record-setting night. “All the stats don’t really matter to me. I just wanted to get the win and do something that we hadn’t done in 34 years.”
While Watson wasn’t ready to celebrate his achievement, it was hard to ignore, especially against a vaunted Alabama front that was lauded for its stingy 74 yards per game rushing and 256.8 total yards per game.
Watson’s 478 total yards were more than Alabama had allowed to any team this season. His 405 passing yards were the most the Tide had allowed to any team and his 73 rushing yards were more than Alabama has allowed to seven opponents this year.
“We thought, to be honest with you, that we could do a better job against their quarterback,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said after the game. “He did a fantastic job in the game. We didn’t cover as well as we’re capable of and we weren’t able to handle him up front with our rushers. I think they had 80-some plays and we got tired probably in the second quarter. And once that happened, it was even worse.”
Watson’s stats were even awe-inspiring on a historical scale.
He became the first-ever FBS to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season and he finished the year with 5,209 yards of total offense, a Clemson record. His 35 touchdowns for the year was just one short of the mark set by Tajh Boyd in 2012.
Perhaps most impressively, his 478 yards of total offense were the most ever in a national championship game (first played in 1998). Watson's 24-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds pushed him past Vince Young's mark of 467 yards set in the 2005 title game.
But Watson was quick to find fault in his play. He called out missed throws and a second quarter interception that ultimately led to an Alabama touchdown. He lamented about missed opportunities, though Clemson did score on nearly half of its possessions and Watson completed more than 63 percent of his passes.
“There were a few plays that we didn’t really capitalize on,” Watson said. “I missed some throws, we dropped some balls and just had some miscues. Just some little things like that is going to really force yourself into a hole and it’s hard to beat a team like Alabama if you make those mistakes.”
Watson said he needed the offseason to improve on his game. His plan when he gets back to school is to start watching film and start fixing mistakes for the 2016 season. He also said he talked to Alabama running back Derrick Henry following the game and that the two plan to meet up this summer to work out.
”He’s the Heisman winner, national champion, so I’m trying to do the same thing and just learn from the guys that have been there and done it,” Watson said.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney wasn’t nearly as hard on his signal caller and noted that if it wasn’t for Watson’s play, Clemson wouldn’t have been in the game at all. The Tigers kept pace with the Tide offensively, it was special teams that ultimately doomed their national title hopes. Despite the loss, Swinney had nothing but praise for his quarterback’s effort and said he’s looking forward to another season with Watson under center.
”He’s special, he really is,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of Watson. “Really pleased with how he played. That’s one of the things coach Saban was talking to me about after the game. This guy, he’s special. Again, he’s got great toughness, great heart, a great mind for the game and just made some huge plays all the way to the end.
“I’m glad he’s on our team. Glad he’ll be back next year.”
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