football

Saban Adapted and Bama Found a New Way to Roll

ROBBINS NEST

By Lenn Robbins

Nick Saban failed as an NFL coach. He’s not the first great college coach who wasn’t able to translate his micro-management style to pro players. He’s just the best college coach of all-time who wasn’t able to do it.

What Saban has been able to do, again, better than any coach in the history of college football, is adapt.

When he began building this dynasty of dynasties in Tuscaloosa, Saban did it with defense. Consider his 2011 national championship team, which strangled LSU 21-0 in the national championship game. That team had one of the most dominant defenses in history, allowing 8.2 points per game and 183.6 yards in total offense.

But times were changing, and Saban saw it. The passing game became the weapon of choice – Air Raid and RPO offenses. Officials were schooled to throw pass interference flags like New Year’s Eve revelers tossing confetti.

“I do think the days of playing great defense and winning [championships] are probably behind us,” Saban acknowledged earlier this season.

Before winning his sixth title at Alabama (seventh overall) on Monday night with a 52-24 blitz over courageous, albeit, overmatched Ohio State team, Saban had begun tweaking his recruiting priorities.

He signed wide receiver Julio Jones in 2008, who became the Pied Piper of Crimson Tide receivers. Jones was followed by Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.

Saban’s pursuit of talent at the skill positions was in overdrive. Running back Mark Ingram became the Tide’s first Heisman Trophy winner in 2009, which in retrospect seems preposterous. He was followed by Bama’s second Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry. Smith is the third.

Instead of lining up with efficient but unspectacular quarterbacks such as Jake Coker, Greg McElroy or John Parker Wilson, Bama has had Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa under center and has Bryce Young, the top-rated dual-threat QB prospect in 2020 waiting in the wings.

This was the season Saban unleashed his most potent offense. Quarterback Mac Jones, who is a possible first round draft choice, threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns. Smith set championship game records with 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns – in one half. And running back Najee Harris had 79 yards rushing, 79 yards receiving and scored three touchdowns.

This Tide team was an offensive tsunami, becoming the first SEC team to boast a 4,500-yard passer in Jones, a 26-touchdown runner in Harris and an 1,800-yard receiver (with 21 touchdowns) in Smith.

“Our offense was really the key to the success of this team,” said Saban. “We’re an OK defensive team, not a great defensive team. We played well enough, got enough stops. But the offense was dynamic. That’s what made the difference.”

How’s this for a difference. This Tide defense allowed 19 points and 352.2 yards per game. That 2011 team (8.2 points; 183.6 yards) must look at Saban on the sidelines and wonder if a doppelganger has replaced the defense-oriented taskmaster they played for.

Alabama (13-0) compensated for its pedestrian defense by averaging 45.7 points per game, scoring more than 50 in four of its last five games. Of course, none of that happens without one of best offensive lines in the history of the game, a fact not lost on Harris.

“For us three, it’s hard for this offensive team to just say us three,” Harris said. “There were so many people that played a role in this season and like what y’all saying, the O-line, what they have done for us, it’s hard to just say three people brought us here.”

He’s correct. Ultimately, the willing-to-adapt Saban brought them here.

By Lenn Robbins

Nick Saban failed as an NFL coach. He’s not the first great college coach who wasn’t able to translate his micro-management style to pro players. He’s just the best college coach of all-time who wasn’t able to do it.

What Saban has been able to do, again, better than any coach in the history of college football, is adapt.

When he began building this dynasty of dynasties in Tuscaloosa, Saban did it with defense. Consider his 2011 national championship team, which strangled LSU 21-0 in the national championship game. That team had one of the most dominant defenses in history, allowing 8.2 points per game and 183.6 yards in total offense.

But times were changing, and Saban saw it. The passing game became the weapon of choice – Air Raid and RPO offenses. Officials were schooled to throw pass interference flags like New Year’s Eve revelers tossing confetti.

“I do think the days of playing great defense and winning [championships] are probably behind us,” Saban acknowledged earlier this season.

Before winning his sixth title at Alabama (seventh overall) on Monday night with a 52-24 blitz over courageous, albeit, overmatched Ohio State team, Saban had begun tweaking his recruiting priorities.

He signed wide receiver Julio Jones in 2008, who became the Pied Piper of Crimson Tide receivers. Jones was followed by Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.

Saban’s pursuit of talent at the skill positions was in overdrive. Running back Mark Ingram became the Tide’s first Heisman Trophy winner in 2009, which in retrospect seems preposterous. He was followed by Bama’s second Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry. Smith is the third.

Instead of lining up with efficient but unspectacular quarterbacks such as Jake Coker, Greg McElroy or John Parker Wilson, Bama has had Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa under center and has Bryce Young, the top-rated dual-threat QB prospect in 2020 waiting in the wings.

This was the season Saban unleashed his most potent offense. Quarterback Mac Jones, who is a possible first round draft choice, threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns. Smith set championship game records with 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns – in one half. And running back Najee Harris had 79 yards rushing, 79 yards receiving and scored three touchdowns.

This Tide team was an offensive tsunami, becoming the first SEC team to boast a 4,500-yard passer in Jones, a 26-touchdown runner in Harris and an 1,800-yard receiver (with 21 touchdowns) in Smith.

“Our offense was really the key to the success of this team,” said Saban. “We’re an OK defensive team, not a great defensive team. We played well enough, got enough stops. But the offense was dynamic. That’s what made the difference.”

How’s this for a difference. This Tide defense allowed 19 points and 352.2 yards per game. That 2011 team (8.2 points; 183.6 yards) must look at Saban on the sidelines and wonder if a doppelganger has replaced the defense-oriented taskmaster they played for.

Alabama (13-0) compensated for its pedestrian defense by averaging 45.7 points per game, scoring more than 50 in four of its last five games. Of course, none of that happens without one of best offensive lines in the history of the game, a fact not lost on Harris.

“For us three, it’s hard for this offensive team to just say us three,” Harris said. “There were so many people that played a role in this season and like what y’all saying, the O-line, what they have done for us, it’s hard to just say three people brought us here.”

He’s correct. Ultimately, the willing-to-adapt Saban brought them here.

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