TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — As the guy chiefly responsible for stopping or at least containing Deshaun Watson, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was asked a lot about the Clemson quarterback at Wednesday’s College Football Playoff championship news conference.
As Georgia’s new head coach, Smart was also asked how hard he would have recruited Watson had he been with the Bulldogs then.
“I think you always go after in-state kids that are that talented,” said Smart, offering the slightest hint of a grin. “He’s certainly a talented player and certainly a difference-maker. He’s made a difference in Clemson’s program for sure.”
Georgia and former head coach Mark Richt were criticized for not coming hard enough or earlier enough after Watson, who played high school football at Gainesville, about 45 minutes away from Athens. It’s a narrative that is somewhat overblown in that the Bulldogs did offer Watson as a junior. But he was already long committed to Clemson by then.
As Smart pointed out Wednesday, Alabama came after Watson hard, too, and wasn’t able to land him.
“We wanted him; we wanted him bad,” Smart said. “I can’t remember who the offensive coordinator was when he came out but I think we were in a changeover somewhat. … But we offered him and thought a lot of him, thought very highly of him.”
Watson certainly has lived up to all the hype. He has emerged as a triple-threat quarterback who has led the Tigers (14-0) to an undefeated season and a championship faceoff against Alabama and its world-renown defense.
“I would definitely say he’s unique,” Smart said. “He’s almost like a mixture of three guys. Nick Marshall was a perimeter runner; Deshaun runs well on the perimeter. Johnny Manziel was a great athlete who made plays in space; so does Deshaun. This guy runs more power run game like you’d say Cameron Newton does. Obviously, he’s not the same stature as Cam, but he runs some of the similar plays that Auburn ran with him.
“So the mixture of those three guys, he takes a little from each one. And he can pass the ball. I watched this guy all through high school, and he is a phenomenal player. … He has the it factor and they believe in him. That’s pretty important at that position.”