(Editor's note: Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen, who was an All-ACC standout at Clemson, offers his thoughts on the Tigers' title game matchup against Alabama and his experiences at Clemson in coach Dabo Swinney's first four years as the program's coach, as told to College Football 24/7's Chase Goodbread).
Two things about coach Dabo Swinney are that he's a man of faith, and he's a disciplinarian. You see he has fun with his players on TV and that's all real, but he also wants his guys to be disciplined, and that means being on top of the little things, whether it's being on time to class or being on time to meetings, workouts, treatment -- he's a stickler for the details. He believes if you're obedient with the little things, you'll be on top of the big things. Gene Stallings (who coached Swinney at Alabama) is his man. Coach Stallings visited campus a couple times when I was playing and we had the opportunity to listen to him and talk to him. Coach Swinney has taken a lot from him.
Dabo Swinney, Clemson program have evolved
My first year at Clemson was coach Swinney's first year as coach, so I've seen him evolve in a lot of aspects, but he's also stayed the same in other ways, in terms of demanding integrity and respect from everybody. (Swinney's) dancing started I think my last year (2011). He started to loosen up a little bit around that time.
If you see him on the sideline, he's always been a hang-loose kind of guy. Monday through Friday, he's always been all-business. He'll rip you during the week if you need it, and let you know how it is, but never by cussing. But on Saturday, for him, it's time to cut it loose and have fun. On the sideline, he was our biggest fan. He'd let you know about a mistake, like we saw with Clemson's punter (Andy Teasdall) in the ACC title game. But it's only done with the goal of making you a better player. He genuinely loves the kids who come through, whether you produce on the field or not.
My first year at Clemson, we played Alabama in Atlanta (in 2008) and they put a whooping on us. I was a (redshirting) freshman on that team, so I was just kind of along for the trip, and Alabama just lined up with Mark Ingram and Glen Coffee and ran right over us. They looked like full-grown men out there. But Clemson's program has evolved for the better since then, too. We've always had great athletes, but I think now we have the personnel to stop the run in this game.
When I played, my last year we had Sammy Watkins, who was a freshman and did some great things, and DeAndre Hopkins was on the other side. We had Andre Ellington and me at tight end, so we had plenty of weapons and a quarterback in Tajh Boyd who could really get the ball out. We ran the same read-option stuff when I played at Clemson, but we actually went at a faster pace than what Clemson is doing now. My last year was when Chad Morris came in (as offensive coordinator), and he did everything fast. It was hurry-up, no-huddle all the time. We even ate fast and slept fast.
This year's team has a lot of weapons, too, and Deshaun Watson has done a great job of running the offense. Still, I thought (Alabama running back) Derrick Henry was very deserving of the Heisman Trophy. I think the most electrifying player in the country was (Stanford's) Christian McCaffrey. But (Henry) was such a huge part of Alabama's offense. It was great to see Deshaun in the race and he deserved to be right there for it. He means a lot to Clemson's team and program, but I believe the right man won the trophy.
During the season, I don't miss Clemson games. Every Saturday, I'm glued to the television. We continue to get better and grow season by season, but this year it's been game by game. We had a couple defensive letdowns late in the season and allowed some teams like N.C. State and North Carolina to score some points, but we've matured and found a way to win every week. In 2011 when we had a run (the team started the season 8-0), we got up to No. 4 or No. 5 in the country and didn't know how to handle it. This isn't Dabo's first time getting late into the season undefeated, and they're obviously better prepared for it now.
At my position of tight end, Clemson has a very good one in Jordan Leggett. He's a better receiver than he is a blocker at this point in his career. He needs to keep working and refine his skills, but he's become one of the best tight ends in Clemson history and had a great season this year. He finished second for the Mackey Award. But I still believe he's got some growing to do physically before he's ready for the NFL. This game at this level will eat you up and spit you out. If you're not an every-down player at tight end, you can still have some success. He has the frame to get a little bigger and still retain his speed and agility. I'd love to see him get a little stronger and show more as an in-line blocker.
How Clemson will win title
Here's how I see the game going: Nick Saban is the best coach in college football when it comes to X's and O's, and he will take away what you do best with his defense. In our case, he's going to take away the quick screens to the stack receivers outside and take away the quarterback runs. He'll accomplish that by playing aggressive man defense across the board with one high safety, and he'll bring down a spy on Deshaun Watson, either a safety or his highly touted linebacker Reggie Ragland, to spy Deshaun. Then he'll let his four defensive linemen get upfield and disrupt. For us to combat that, Deshaun will have to beat them with his arm. He'll have to spread them out and be accurate down the field throwing it.
Tempo will be important, too. We will have to go hurry-up a little more, and a little faster, in order to get them tired. If you can do that, you can start running some play-action and making some big plays. I think early on, Clemson will have to take some deep shots and keep Alabama's defense honest. We won't be able to run it all night against that defense, so we've got to be able to stretch the field.
Defensively, we need to play one high safety also. Clemson needs it to be a one-high-safety game on both sides. The defense will need to pack the box for Derrick Henry and make Jake Coker throw the ball. I believe we have the personnel to stop the run, but it's going to take eight guys to do it. The safety we drop in the box will probably be Jayron Kearse, but whoever it is, we want to make it rough on Henry. We've got to play full-court defense and a half-court offense. The special teams will have to help put us in those situations. I'm going to go with a 28-17 score with Clemson winning, especially if we can get a quick score early. I know (former Alabama players) Josh Chapman, who was with the Colts, and Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw. I'm sure if I see those guys in Arizona, I'll say something to them. I don't have any side bets with them to wear a shirt or anything, but I'll definitely be at the game.