Clem­son’s of­fen­sive line has one last chal­lenge: Alabama.

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - The As­so­ci­ated Press By Pete Ia­co­belli

clem­son, s.c.» Clem­son’s of­fen­sive line has con­quered chal­lenges all sea­son. Its fi­nal one — and per­haps big­gest — will come in the na­tional cham­pi­onship game next Mon­day against Alabama’s dom­i­nat­ing de­fense.

“We’ve al­ways been a ques­tion mark around here,” Tigers cen­ter Jay Guillermo said.

There cer­tainly will be more ques­tions about the of­fen­sive line and the top-ranked Tigers (14-0) lead­ing up to their game in Glen­dale, Ariz., against the pow­er­ful Crim­son Tide (13-1), which com­pletely shut down Big Ten cham­pion Michi­gan State 38-0 in the Cot­ton Bowl last week.

No. 2 Alabama held the Spar­tans to a sea­son-low 239 to­tal yards as line­backer Reg­gie Ragland and de­fen­sive end Jonathan Allen had their way with Michi­gan State’s of­fen­sive line, com­bin­ing for four sacks and six tack­les for loss.

The Clem­son of­fen­sive line­men — none of whom were starters be­fore this sea­son — know they have to fare bet­ter, even if there are ques­tions whether they ac­tu­ally can.

“Peo­ple doubt us all the time,” Tigers coach Dabo Swin­ney said. “No­body be­lieves in this team ex­cept th­ese guys.”

Clem­son’s of­fen­sive line is a group that early on didn’t look like it could an­chor a na­tional cham­pi­onship run.

Of the two re­turn­ing starters from last sea­son, cen­ter Ryan Nor­ton was slowed by an in­jury and tackle Isa­iah Bat­tle left the Tigers for the NFL sup­ple­men­tal draft dur­ing the sum­mer.

Clem­son had to rely on Guillermo, a ju­nior who had given up foot­ball last sea­son be­cause of per­sonal is­sues, to snap the ball to quar­ter­back De­shaun Watson and tal­ented but un­proven true fresh­man Mitch Hy­att to pro­tect Watson’s blind side.

They man­aged to pass the test 14 con­sec­u­tive times.

The group, which in­cludes guards Eric Mac Lain and Ty­rone Crow­der and right tackle Joe Gore, grad­u­ally jelled and be­came the en­gine that drives Clem­son’s re­lent­less of­fense.

Watson and sopho­more tail­back Wayne Gall­man both sur­passed 100 yards on the ground in the 37-17 pound­ing of Ok­la­homa in the Or­ange Bowl, help­ing the Tigers fin­ish with 312 yards rush­ing,

The of­fen­sive line helped Watson set a Clem­son record for sea­son to­tal yardage (4,731) and Gall­man gain the most yards rush­ing (1,482) in school history.

All five mem­bers of the of­fen­sive line re­ceived hon­ors on one of the three all-At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence post­sea­son teams.

Watson, who was com­ing off a knee in­jury last off­sea­son, re­mem­bers the bond he saw grow­ing among the line­men.

“It was just really dur­ing sum­mer work­outs, all the stuff they did,” Watson said. “Just hang­ing out. You could see the re­la­tion­ship build­ing.”

Once the sea­son be­gan, things did not come so quickly.

The Clem­son of­fense was held to 20 points, its low­est to­tal all sea­son, against Louisville in Septem­ber, then 296 yards, also a sea­son low, one game later against Notre Dame. But the of­fen­sive line­men knew they were close to putting things to­gether.

Clem­son has had 10 con­sec­u­tive games of 500 to­tal yards or more on of­fense, pow­er­ing to an un­de­feated sea­son, an ACC ti­tle and the chance to try for the pro­gram’s first na­tional ti­tle since 1981.

“We really had a men­tal­ity here of want­ing to prove peo­ple wrong,” Guillermo said.

Clem­son will do that in a big way if it can hold off the Crim­son Tide de­fense, which lim­ited Michi­gan State to 29 yards rush­ing.

“We know we’re only go­ing to go as far as our of­fen­sive line takes us,” Guillermo said. “It starts with us putting the game on our back. That’s what we want to do.”

Sopho­more tail­back Wayne Gall­man gained 150 of his Clem­son-record 1,482 yards rush­ing this sea­son against Ok­la­homa in the Or­ange Bowl. Andy Lyons, Getty Im­ages

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