There's nothing wrong with a security blanket.
Peanuts' Linus van Pelt has kept his nearby since 1954, so forgive Deshaun Watson if the Clemson quarterback rarely lets Mike Williams out of his sights after losing him for much of last season.
In last Saturday's 31-0 rout of No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal, Watson targeted the 6-foot-3, 225-pound wide receiver a team-high 10 times. It was the 11th time in 14 games Williams has either led or been tied for first among the No. 2 Tigers' pass-catches in that department.
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If there's a player that could be the determining factor in Monday's championship game rematch against No. 1 Alabama, it's the top target who was missing last season after suffering a scary neck injury in the 2015 opener.
On the season, Watson has thrown to the redshirt junior a whopping 127 times -- 32 more than the next closest Clemson player, WR Artavis Scott -- as Williams leads the team in receptions (90), yards (1,267) and touchdowns (10). Those catches are 17 ahead of Scott, the yards and TDs 637 and two more, respectively, than Deon Cain.
|Mike Williams, WR||127||90||1,267||10|
|Artavis Scott, WR||95||73||608||5|
|Deon Cain, WR||65||33||630||9|
|Jordan Leggett, TE||62||39||641||7|
|Hunter Renfrew, WR||54||34||403||4|
Alabama didn't have to deal with Williams in last season's 45-40 win in Arizona -- not did it see Cain, who was suspended for violating team rules -- as Watson threw for 405 yards, four TDs and an interception. He would hit former walk-on Hunter Renfrow for 88 yards and two of those scores.
Cain (33 catches for 630 yards and nine scores) adds depth, but it's the NFL-bound Williams that has provided five 100-yard games on the season -- including 202 on 15 receptions in the lone loss to Pitt and 174 vs. Auburn in the opener -- while the rest of the Tigers pass-catches have combined for three.
If there's an area in which Alabama's top-ranked defense has looked mortal, it's against the pass. Granted, it just limited No. 4 Washington's Jake Browning -- who was sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting -- to 150 yards on 20 of 38 passing and picked him off twice in the Peach Bowl semifinal and his deep threat, John Ross had 28 yards on five grabs.
But the Crimson Tide are 29th in pass efficiency defense (147.3) and have been playing the last six games without the best player in their backfield in safety Eddie Jackson, who fractured his leg Oct. 22 vs. Texas A&M.
They were burned for 400 yards by Arkansas and 138 yards and a TD on nine catches by Ole Miss' Evan Engram -- the top receiver the Tide have seen in terms of yards per game -- and both of those were before Jackson's injury. With him sidelined in the SEC Championship Game, Florida and its 79th-ranked passing attack had 261 yards and two scores.
No player Alabama has faced this season has more receptions or yards than Williams.
"I think we're just better across the board offensively," said Tigers coach Dabo Swinney. " ... We're more experienced at receiver."
And more dangerous. It's a truth Crimson Tide may be faced with with as the Tigers try to exploit a deep threat they didn't have the last time they met. Another weapon, Watson called him, but Williams may be the one that changes Clemson's fortunes in the rematch.
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, 'Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,' and 'The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.' are now available.