Alabama’s offense was not at full strength in the dying minutes of Monday’s college football playoff championship game.
Receiver DeVonta Smith left the game early in the third quarter with a dislocated finger. Jaylen Waddle, still recovering, was hampered in limited action. Quarterback Mac Jones hobbled one last time after being tackled awkwardly earlier in the game. And center Landon Dickerson, who ripped his ACL in the SEC Championship, played two symbolic pressures in a victory kneeling formation.
This is arguably how the biggest offense in college football history ended its 2020 season: by limping across the finish line.
Victorious, of course.
“A lot of the guys weren’t 100 percent and we were beaten,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said after the game. “They showed a lot of courage and courage in the way they competed and their performances.”
The Alabama No.1 (13-0) beat the Ohio State No.3 (7-1) in Monday’s meeting, 52-24. The Crimson Tide didn’t just win a sixth national championship under Saban: they set a new standard for others to follow with an offensive masterpiece that scored a CFP title playing record of 621 yards in the total.
“It was a fantastic offensive performance from Mac and Smitty,” Saban said. “The whole squad. The offensive line has done a great job throughout the year. So you really can’t say enough or say how proud I am of this squad, this team because they are the ultimate team. “
Where to start? Start with Smith, Heisman Trophy winner and Sporting News 2020 Player of the Year. He finished with 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns in a single half. Smith shredded the Ohio State defense with four catches from 20 yards or more and those three scores, the last from 42 yards just before halftime.
Smith walked away with a hand injury in the first practice of the third quarter and did not return. Saban joked about his star player’s injury: “I said to Smitty after the game, ‘You’re the only player I know to have missed an entire half because of your finger.” Not that it mattered. There’s a reason Smith opened his post-game press conference by saying, “Teamwork makes the dream work.”
When Justin Fields and Ohio State reduced the lead to 38-24 with 6:45 left in the third quarter, Jones responded with a touchdown that reduced the lead to three touchdowns. The tide signalman – award winner Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and Davey O’Brien – completed 36 of 45 passes with a CFP Championship record of 464 yards and five touchdowns. It matched LSU’s Joe Burrow’s performance in last year’s Championship game.
Award-winning Doak Walker Najee Harris added 79 rushing yards, 79 receiving yards and three total touchdowns behind his Joe Moore award-winning offensive line, hosted by Outland Trophy winner Alex Leatherwood. Waddle, who hadn’t played since Oct. 24, converted a key third in Crimson Tide’s first touchdown. The next wave of playmakers including John Metchie III and Slade Bolden put the game aside in the second half.
This was all done with the help of Steve Sarkisian’s continued masterful play appeal. The Broyles Award winner remained focused after accepting the head coach job in Texas. The Buckeyes attempted a 4-4 lineout in defense in the first half, and he’s exploited it several times.
“I think we’re the best team to ever play,” Jones said. “No team is going to play an SEC schedule like this again, but at the same time, we’re so happy to win this game.… There wasn’t a lot of pressure. We just wanted to go play the game. we have been playing since the age of 5. We have done it really well. “
Said Smith: “It was just love for this team. Everyone wants to do what they can. It’s having the kids out there just ready if something happens and their dedication that they have the for each other. That’s the love we have for this team. “
The performance delivered Saban his seventh national title, pushing him to overtake Paul “Bear” Bryant for most of all time. It wasn’t his first undefeated championship, but it was perhaps the most impressive. It wasn’t the methodical ground-and-pound approach that produced the BCS titles against Texas (2009), LSU (2011) or Notre Dame (2012). But it also didn’t sound like the PSC nail-biters vs. Clemson (2015) or Georgia (2017).
It was an arena football-like destruction that surpassed what SEC rival LSU did to Clemson in last year’s championship game. We thought we would never see an attack like the Tigers did with Burrow last season – the one that beat Alabama 46-41 in the last “Game of the Century”.
But Alabama built the offense of the century in a season affected by the pandemic of the century. The Crimson Tide averaged 48.5 points per game, an SEC record. They averaged that against an 11-game SEC schedule, ACC runner-up Notre Dame and Big Ten champion Buckeyes, Rose Bowl winner.
These star players played there one last time. NFL stars interviewed so Waddle should be on the ground in the first place. Smith spent most of the second half in the medical tent and locker room before joining his teammates. Jones came out for a standing ovation with 3:31 to go.
But it’s the image of Dickerson lifting Saban up in the post-game celebration that will leave the image lasting.
Jones revealed after the game that his center-winning Rimington would text him at 7 a.m. every morning, saying he would play in the Championship game.
“Most people can’t even walk with the period he’s in,” Jones said. “He worked his butt to get back on the pitch.”
All of these leaders wanted to be on the ground right now. In doing so, they made a categorical argument as being the best attacking – and the best team – that Saban has ever coached.
“I think,” Saban said, “there’s a lot to write about when it comes to the team’s legacy.”
This is the ultimate team personified.