Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander doesn’t talk much, but when he does he sure says a lot.
Alexander hasn’t done many media interviews in his three years with the Tigers. Saturday might explain why. When the redshirt sophomore lets his guard down, you hear the guy as he is on a football field – cocky and combative.
▪ "Everyone expects Alabama to walk all over us. We’re going to do what we do.”
▪ "Everybody’s got their gimmicks and tricks. We just handle our business.”
▪ "If I were an offensive coordinator, I’d (move my best receiver to the other side of the field). If you feel like you can’t win against that guy, you have to move him."
As the above illustrates, Alexander has great faith in his ability. He should. He all but shut down Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma’s star wide receiver, in the national semifinal at the Orange Bowl. He intends to do the same to Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley in Monday night’s national championship game.
A glance at Alexander’s statistics this season – six pass breakups and no interceptions – would suggest he’s just another cornerback. Don’t be fooled. The guy is so good at his job that defensive coordinator Brent Venables can assign Alexander to the opposing team’s best receiver and dare the quarterback to throw in his direction.
Generally, they don’t.
"Having lock-down guys on the outside lets you win the numbers game," said Venables.
Clemson’s biggest concern defensively Monday night will be containing Derrick Henry, Alabama’s huge, physical running back. Henry won the Heisman Trophy this season, averaging 147 rushing yards per game and scoring 25 touchdowns.
By "the numbers game," Venables meant bringing up the safeties to help in run support. That entails trusting Alexander to cover a player of Ridley’s ability (83 catches for 1,031 yards) without any help.
Alexander has earned that sort of faith and he believes that’s rare in college football.
"He sees my ability. He trusts me," Alexander said of Venables. "Most defensive coordinators aren’t going to put a kid out on an island like that. You see anybody else putting their job on the line like that?"
Alexander compares himself to New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who for years was such a shutdown corner he intimidated teams out of attempting a pass in his direction.
Someone asked Alexander if it gets frustrating or boring when opposing offenses don’t test him.
"You can’t get frustrated," Alexander replied. "If you’re a bad cornerback, they come after you. If you’re pretty (darn) good, they stay away from you."
Alexander can get pretty pugnacious on the field. Oklahoma attempted to throw long to Shepard against him and when the pass fell incomplete, Alexander yapped at Shepard the entire jog back to the line of scrimmage.
Venables doesn’t necessarily approve of that approach, but he’s made peace with the idea it’s just how Alexander is wired.
"Confidence, toughness, durability," Venables said of Alexander’s profile. "I’m not a big jaw-jacking type of guy, but he backs it up. He’s just a very confident kind of guy."
It’s an attitude Alexander can’t just turn on and off on command.
"For two years he’s performed at an elite level with the pressure on him," Venables described. "He’s arguably one of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet. He doesn’t want someone catching a ball in a walk-through. He was born that way."
No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 2 Alabama ▪ Monday, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)