TAMPA, Fla.– His career at Clemson University featured him being a two-time All-ACC first team selection (2011-12), an ACC champion (2011) and a first-team All-American (2012), but quarterback Tajh Boyd had a primary wide receiver to help him along the way. The former Tiger and emulator for Alabama’s Jalen Hurts put together jaw-dropping career numbers with Sammy Watkins, who was a 1,000-yard target in two of three seasons that Boyd started under center (2011, 2013). After suffering a neck injury in 2015, the trend continues with redshirt junior Mike Williams and Clemson’s two-time Heisman finalist—Deshaun Watson.
Williams is the definition of a game-breaking receiver: the ones that provide Alabama’s defense with the most problems. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, the Vance (S.C.) native has big hands, exceptional strength and breakaway speed once he eludes opposition. A four-star prospect in the Tigers’ 2013 recruiting class, Williams assisted Watson in getting to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation by catching 90 passes for 1,267 yards and 10 touchdowns. He would account for five 100-yard outings through 14 games, including two coming against Southeastern Conference schools. While his 174 receiving yards helped Clemson escape Auburn in its season opener, Williams’ 100 yards and three scores helped dominate rival South Carolina.
Alabama has encountered some issues with physical wide outs all season. Despite shutting down JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC), Malachi Dupre (LSU), Ricky Seals-Jones (Texas A&M) and Fred Ross (Mississippi State), its defensive backfield struggled against Damore’ea Stringfellow (Ole Miss) and Jared Cornelius (Arkansas).
Stringfellow, 6-foot-2 and 219 pounds, grabbed four passes for 87 yards and a touchdown against the Crimson Tide back on Sept. 17, 2016. His longest reception occurred while being defended by sophomore cornerback Marlon Humphrey, 44 yards on a jump ball from quarterback Chad Kelly. Cornelius, 5-foot-11 and 212 pounds, was credited with five catches for 146 yards versus Alabama on Oct. 8, 2016. Fans at D.W.R. Razorback Stadium went nuts, following Cornelius’ 57-yard reception in between Minkah Fitzpatrick and Eddie Jackson.
Due to the performances via sophomore Hunter Renfrow (seven catches, 88 yards, two touchdowns) and senior Jordan Leggett (five catches, 78 yards, touchdown) in last year’s College Football Playoff national title game, both will draw attention from the Tide’s secondary.
If one adds Artavis Scott and Deon Cain into the mix, Nick Saban and company could lose sight of Williams roaming free. Granted, the Tide has forced 16 interceptions and limited quarterbacks to a 53 percent completion rating—but Watson isn’t your average quarterback and Williams is a physical freak. Tigers’ coach Dabo Swinney wants to begin his dynasty, and the only way he can do it is getting Williams loose early.
Alabama must recognize No. 7 at all times on Monday night.