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You could tell by the end of Alabama’s first touchdown-scoring offensive series, Ohio State was in trouble last night.
Alabama is going to lay 50 on these guys, I told my faithful dog Maggie, the WonderBeagle.
Since she had chosen to take Ohio State and the points, she immediately got down from my lap, and as you see in the picture to the right, kneeled down and prayed I was wrong.
Her prayers - and Ohio State’s - were not answered.
Part of it was certainly the tremendous athletes Alabama has, but Ohio State had great athletes too. Yes, the Buckeyes also were missing a key player in injured running back Trey Sermon, but he wasn’t playing defense.
The part that caught my attention, however, was how Ohio State approached playing defense against this powerful offense. It looked pretty predictable, and made Alabama’s drives look relatively easy. ESPN, as it does in national championship games, provides multiple feeds for the game, including a “film room” with coaches, and they did not appear impressed.
Former Auburn coach and UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik noted Ohio State was playing so much one-high safety, Alabama’s offense could pretty much pick what they wanted to do. Liberty Coach Hugh Freeze, who knows a thing or two about offense and has actually beaten Alabama as a head coach, echoed that by saying you could see clearly what Ohio State’s defense was going to do when you came to the line of scrimmage.
Alabama’s hard enough to beat when you DO confuse the quarterback; letting him easily see what he’s facing is just inviting a boat race. It creates a situation where I kind of thought Alabama QB Mac Jones was just having a ho-hum night, making throws that were good, but nothing spectacular. Then you realize he threw for 464 yards and 5 touchdowns while completing 80 percent (36 of 45) of his passes.
Ho hum, indeed.
Nick Saban now has won 7 national championships (1 at LSU, 6 at Alabama) and two conversations will undoubtedly rage on for the next week. One concerns the question of whether Saban is the greatest coach of all time. The other will be the shrill contingent of writers and fans who say it’s just not fair, Alabama wins too much, it’s hurting the game, and things need to be changed.
On the first question, the answer is yes. Not because he has now won more national titles than Bear Bryant, but because he has done a football version of Clint Eastwood in the movie Heartbreak Ridge, learning to improvise, overcome and adapt. Just look at the offenses he ran in winning the first couple of national titles. Then look at what they ran last night. They’re not the same.
Saban has changed with the times, and to do it, he’s changed with his coordinators frequently. Some of that isn’t necessarily his choice, as success has allowed many assistants to be promoted to head coaching jobs elsewhere. But the fact is, he consistently hires the best there is, then allows them to introduce their brand of innovation to the offense. Each new OC teaches something that adds to the Alabama arsenal, and the players and the head coach himself learns from it.
Contrast that to, say, a head coach here in the state of Virginia who might prefer to just hire one of his close friends and never change. Different approaches, different results.
And while we’re on that coach, what’s up with this Hendon Hooker quote from The Athletic’s David Ubben on why he left Virginia Tech and chose Tennessee: “I was looking for a place where I could communicate with my head coach, QB coach and OC and have a path to the next level,” Hooker said.
But back to the second question. Absolutely not. Every good story needs a villain and Nick Saban and the Tide make a great Darth Vader. The success of sports teams is always cyclical, and the media loves to do two things: when a team wins more than one championship, write about a potential dynasty; when they win 3 or more, write about how it’s hurting the game.
Usually the same person saying we have to change the rules because a team is winning too much is young, isn’t aware of a lot of history in sports, then after saying it, goes to watch Lebron James play on his 9th team for his 8th championship. All while insisting James is much better than Michael Jordan.
You can change the rules all you want and allow 27 other teams in the playoffs if you want, but Alabama is going to curb stomp all of them right now in the title game. They have put together that rare instance of stability and consistency to the point that if you want to win a title – and who doesn’t – Alabama is one of the first places you have to look at.
I mean, Alabama has won national titles in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017 and now 2020. That means if you signed as a freshman in 2007, no one in that class or later played for Alabama where it took longer than 3 years to win a title. Work hard, stay eligible, and by your junior year at the latest you’ll have a national championship ring is a tough sell to overcome. Throw in “and you’ll have the same head coach and support system every year,” and I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to come to Alabama.
It used to be that way at another school in Virginia. Same coach for 28 years. Bowl games every year. 10 or more wins every season for a decade and NFL scouts lining up every year because you seem to be producing defensive backs and players ready to play in the league.
That’s what young players want. A chance to shine, a chance to win a title, a chance to learn from the best and a path to the next level. All while feeling comfortable in a stable environment.
So change all the rules you want. Nothing will be different until more schools learn from the example Alabama is displaying, because they are providing what the marketplace of great young athletes are demanding.
Maybe one day that school in Virginia I keep mentioning will learn this.
On point analysis- communication growth and stability critical to success
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