You can split Nick Saban’s six National Championships with Alabama Into two. The best acting of the first act is Dos Notre Dame Tide in the 2012 title game. Until then, Alabama didn’t hit you much as you sat on your chest until time ran out.
The game plan was simple: use stifling defense and a punishing running game to flatten the opponent, and the tides were the best and greatest at that. But Saban recognized the beginning of a shift in the sport. Fast Rhythm started giving bouts to his team, and the coach wondered, “Is this [up-tempo style] What do we want football to be? ”
However, he realized that his program had to be centered. Having been in the title conversation for two years but not winning the crown, Saban Tide returned to the top after the 2015 season. He was equipped with an offensive force that began to master the pace and momentum of the passing option that captured the rest of the sport, with Lane Kevin as offensive coordinator and QB Jalen Hurts. He took charge of Blake Barnett in the ’16 opener.
The height of Saban’s second quarter came in ’20, when the tide broke the school’s yardage-per-game record by 20 yards for 541.6, and Mac Jones became the second SEC quarterback at the time to throw for 4,500 yards (one season after Joe Burrow first reached to the LSU mark). Does the 70-year-old Saban have other gear? Does he even need one?
This is the whole point of Saban’s identity – not allowing success to breed complacency, his archenemy. Consider the 2021 season at Tide. On the surface it was the same old Alabama. Quarterback Bryce Young won the Heisman Cup, and the team reached the National Championship match. Alabama was driving for a possible tie with Georgia in the late stages before the final minute of Game Six, but this team was far from the juggernaut who won in the year 20. Lost a regular season game and won multiple times unconvincingly, even entering two games as an underdog, in a row 92 consecutive matches from the start as the favorite.
The offensive line struggled almost the entirety of the regular season, while the defense had no killer instinct. Does this raise the level of the Crimson Tide? yes. But Alabama is the norm, so where do you go next? One answer may come out of the field. Saban’s recent feud with Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fischer was fueled by what many viewed as a threat. In front of business leaders in neighboring Birmingham, Saban lamented that A&M had “bought every player,” referring to the rumored role of recruiting incentives beyond natural name and image and example compensation to boost the program to the top employment category in 2022 (Alabama ranked second).
Saban’s comments were taken as a kick in the legs to do more to ensure Tide’s NIL infrastructure can compete with the sport’s biggest spenders going forward. Alabama’s ’22 enlistment class is currently in the top three, but that doesn’t mean Saban is forever satisfied. So, The Tide plunged back into the gate to grab some of its best players – mostly from SEC – to help Young.
Offensive coach Eric Wolford comes from Kentucky, where he spent a year building on the wildcat’s recent trend as one of the best units in the country. He will be tasked with renewing a streak likely established by former Vanderbilt tackle Tyler Steen, one of three transfers that will have a major impact on attack, as well as wide receiver Jermaine Burton (Georgia) and returnee Jahmyr Gibbs (Georgia Tech). Will Anderson Jr., perhaps the best player in college football, will lead the defense this season.
The outside full-back represents the one thing Saban’s squad has lacked during his tenure – goodwill, quickening the trailing edge. The best linen men in Alabama tend to be on the inside. If Anderson has had the season that many have been expecting, next April he will become by far the best rim snoozer Saban Tide has ever produced. If the offensive line returns to Gibbs’ road rank and can take some pressure off Young, Alabama might be able to bring him back into something similar to the way Saban prefers to play.
The coach is not excited about the trends of the sport; He was practical enough to know the way the game was going and led the tides to it better than anyone else. Looking at how each of the other CFPs were structured last season – especially Georgia – their teams show that being defense first can still keep you ahead of the national title push in the era of the supercharged pass option.
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