-- TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick says Alabama's No. 1-rated defense has a chip on its shoulder heading into Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T against No. 2 Clemson.
After the Crimson Tide surrendered a season-high 550 yards and watched the Tigers score 40 points last year, Fitzpatrick said the defense is approaching the game as if it wasn't on the winning end of last year's matchup and wants to do more than just win the game next week.
"We're going into it like we almost lost because of how bad we played in that game," Fitzpatrick said after Wednesday's practice. "We're working probably harder than what they are because they are saying, 'Oh, we just want to beat them.' We want to dominate them because of how we played last year."
Fitzpatrick said last year's Alabama defense, which had given up 400 yards in a game only once before meeting Clemson in the national championship, struggled to stop the Tigers mainly because of the play of quarterback Deshaun Watson, who Nick Saban said was "maybe the best college football player in the country" and who beat the Tide with both his arm and his legs last season.
The two-time Davey O'Brien Award winner and two-time Heisman Trophy finalist threw for 405 yard and four touchdowns while rushing for 73 yards in last year's game against Alabama. Two of those touchdowns came against Fitzpatrick, who said he's extra motivated to prove himself against Clemson's quarterback this time around.
Fitzpatrick said having bigger defensive linemen trying to corral Watson was an issue for the Tide. Watson was able to get what Fitzpatrick said was "10 seconds" to throw in the pocket for most of the game, thanks to his ability to scramble away from defenders.
"That's almost impossible, no matter who you are ... to cover for that long," Fitzpatrick said.
Couple that with Clemson's speedy receivers and continuous substitution with the receivers, and Fitzpatrick said Alabama's defense was "getting tired" last year.
This time should be different for Alabama's defense, as far as conditioning. During the offseason, Nick Saban had his defense shed a lot of weight, with some players losing as much as 20-plus pounds, in order to combat the increasing number of uptempo, read-option offenses.
The loss in weight hasn't resulted in a loss in mentality, as Alabama's 2016 defense is being put in the conversation with some of the best the school has ever had. This season, Alabama's defense leads the country in points per drive, yards per game, yards per play, total QBR and just about every other major defensive category. Alabama's defense hasn't allowed a team to register 300 yards in eight straight games and didn't allow a touchdown the entire month of November.
"The whole defense really didn't play that well [against Clemson last year]," Fitzpatrick said. "They didn't really see the real Bama last year. They just saw a little flash of it. I hope this year, we are gonna play right, and they're gonna get a little taste of the real Bama -- the whole taste."