SAN JOSE, Calif. — Tua Tagovailoa was asked about Trevor Lawrence on Saturday in San Jose, Calif., and while he was up front about not knowing the Clemson quarterback well on a personal level, he did speak to his game.
"I got the opportunity to see him at the Elite 11 when he was competing with my brother," Tagovailoa said. "I think he has tremendous arm talent and I think he's done a tremendous job as well with the success that he's had. As a true freshman bringing his team to the national championship, that's not easy. So I think he's done a tremendous job with that."
Lawrence, who has only ever watched Clemson-Alabama on television before, was asked about Tagovailoa, too, and what he made of the quarterback on the other side who rose to prominence for his national championship performance a year ago.
"It was crazy just seeing how he handled that mid-game going in and having to kind of play well and giving them a chance to win was just awesome to see," Lawrence said. "It was definitely one of the best games I've seen in a while. Just kind of seeing how he did that and how he handled himself was really something cool to see, and obviously faith is a huge thing to him, as well, and I admire that, and seeing how he's handled everything and just kept being himself has been cool."
On Monday night, the two quarterbacks who have no shortage of glowing things to say about one another, will meet in Santa Clara, Calif., for the ultimate showdown against two of college football's best quarterbacks.
It's Clemson-Alabama Part IV, Lawrence versus Tagovailoa, Dabo Swinney versus Nick Saban and the ACC versus the SEC.
As all parties get ready for that showdown, here are four factors Clemson must address to win this game:
1. Contain Tagovailoa
Having an answer for Tagovailoa has been the hardest task anyone who has played against Alabama this season has had to address, and Monday for Clemson will be no exception. Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide have the No. 6 passing offense in the nation but the No. 34 rushing offense. Don't be mistaken, the Tide are incredibly deep with three running backs — even "disgustingly deep" as Clemson's Brent Venables put it — but with the nation's No. 2 rushing defense, Clemson is poised to stop the Crimson Tide on the ground easier than it will through the air. That is all the more reason why Saban is going to want to beat Clemson with the passing game. Clemson's No. 16 passing defense has had its problems before, most notably against South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley, and Tagovailoa is just the quarterback to expose a vulnerable secondary.
Clemson's safeties have to have their eyes in the right place and their footwork/technique needs to be disciplined at all times. Otherwise, Tagovailoa will burn any defense who slips up for even just a second.
"The reality is (Alabama) offered probably Tre Lamar, maybe both of our corners, A.J. (Terrell) and Trayvon (Mullen) and then Christian Wilkins. (They) didn't offer anybody else. None. Zero," said Venables, who defense could have a chip on its shoulder.
"But it is what it is. They've got great skill and great quarterback play. I think that's a big thing too. Every level of football, the quarterback play, it's critical, and this guy can do it all."
2. Have a day, Lawrence
The good news for Clemson is that while the Tigers' defense has to find an answer for Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide's defense simultaneously has to find an answer for Lawrence, who is a more-than a handful in his own right. As coincidence would have it, the weaker link of Alabama's defense also happens to be its secondary. Lawrence averages 209.5 passing yards per game himself and was on the receiving end of some Saban praise Sunday morning.
"I think Trevor Lawrence in particular has done a phenomenal job for his team this year in his ability to execute and certainly doesn't play like a freshman or look like a freshman," Saban said. "And if anybody ever watched him, they wouldn't think he was a freshman."
3. The trenches
Among the most glaring storylines this time a year ago, when Clemson lost to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl of the semifinal, was the play of Clemson's offensive line. The Tigers were outplayed and outmatched by a physical Alabama defensive line that had its way against poor Clemson pass protection.
Former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant was sacked five times, something that is still not lost on Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott. Elliott brought up Alabama's defensive line as the most challenging aspect he sees on film.
"Blocking No. 92, (Quinnen) Williams, the rest of that defensive line. They're unbelievably long and strong. They got speed off the edge," Elliott said. "The first thing is just handling the line of scrimmage. If you can handle the line of scrimmage, maybe you have a chance to get the ball in the air, make some plays on their secondary guys."
4. Control the moment
All the hype in California is about Saban potentially winning his seventh national championship overall and sixth at Alabama. There has been no shortage of chatter about what another title would mean for his legacy and how it would factor into the history he is creating. But Clemson belongs in this game and is unequivocally one of the two best teams in America, and it must keep that in mind. All of the outside chatter has to be a non-issue for a Clemson team chasing Swinney's second title.
"This is what we all set out to do, 130 teams, and you have two teams that have an opportunity to compete on this stage, and we're thankful and blessed to have this moment," Swinney said.
"Alabama has been an unbelievable champion, and coach Saban and the consistency that they've had is remarkable. Not surprised at all to see them sitting back here. But really proud of our team and how we've performed all year long. Incredible focus."
Kickoff is set for 8:08 p.m.