Tom Sorensen

Could Danny Ford have adjusted his Clemson offense for a talent like Deshaun Watson?

Monday was great for Clemson. Lost in the Tigers’ thrilling 35-31 victory against Alabama Monday night is an honor conferred earlier in the day. Former Clemson football coach Danny Ford was selected to the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame. (Also selected was former South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.)

Like Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, Ford played at Alabama. Like Swinney, he led the Tigers to the national championship. Ford did it in 1981, a feat that wasn’t replicated until Swinney collected his Monday night.

Ford’s Tigers were undefeated and ranked No. 1 when they beat Nebraska 22-15. Ford’s star receiver all season, as well as in the Orange Bowl, was Perry Tuttle, who lives in Charlotte. Tuttle caught a 13-yard touchdown pass against the Sooners and was the game’s leading receiver with five catches for 56 yards.

To put that in perspective, four Clemson receivers amassed larger numbers against Alabama, catching passes for 95, 94, 94 and 92 yards.

Ford coached the Tigers from 1978-89, went to eight bowls and won six of them, and had a record of 96-29-4. His philosophy was simple. His offensive line was better than your defensive line and his defensive line was better than your offensive line.

It was a different time. Ford was scouting Shrine Bowl players at a practice in Charlotte one cold December afternoon and, when his ride left, I offered to give him a lift to the hotel. As we approached my car he said, “I’ve got a little foreign car like that.”

There were two slight differences. I bought mine. Alumni bought his, a gift to the talented new coach. My little foreign car was a Honda. His was a Jaguar.

The last time I saw Ford he was driving a truck his cows had put dents in that had 153,156 miles on the odometer. The cows never would have adjusted to the Jaguar, and Ford didn’t, either.

Would Deshaun Watson, Swinney’s cool, poised and enormously talented quarterback, have fit Ford’s run-first system? Ford’s teams never passed the way Swinney’s Tigers do because they never had to. The game was played differently then.

But Ford was a superior coach. You get talent like Watson, you take advantage of it, and Ford would have.

I prefer the NFL to college football. But for two straight years college football has ended it’s season with spectacular Clemson-Alabama games. I hope the NFL can keep up, and I suspect it will.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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