This is the second undefeated champion coached by Saban. The 2009 Tide were 14-0 but had some close calls. They rallied late to beat LSU and Auburn. They held on to beat a mediocre Tennessee team by two points. Those Tide didn’t roll until the postseason.
This Tide team beat 11 of 13 opponents by three scores or more. They were tied with Ole Miss in the fourth quarter before closing with a 21-6 run to win 63-48. Bama beat Florida 52-46 in the SEC championship game after leading by 14 in the final period. Ole Miss and Florida pushed Alabama but neither led after halftime.
Rather than showing that Bama is vulnerable, those games only reinforced the potency of the Tide unleashed. Saban once famously lamented the rise of spread-and-tempo offensive football. He eventually accepted that defense and a cloud of dust no longer wins championships and then assembled offenses better than all others.
This was the best of them all. The Crimson Tide made it to the championship game while averaging 48.2 points and 7.84 yards per play, both the best among Power 5 teams. They topped both of those marks before garbage time on Monday. Bama’s offense just couldn’t be stopped.
Last season’s CFP didn’t include the Tide for the first time in its six-year history. Losses to LSU and Auburn kept Alabama out of the 2019 SEC championship game. It was a bad year by Bama’s standards. Consecutive seasons without a national championship qualified as a drought.
Clemson had emerged as Alabama’s main challenger. The Tigers thumped Saban’s 2018 team in the national title game and beat Bama for the 2016 national title. That made Clemson coach Dabo Swinney the only other active college coach with multiple national championships (Pete Carroll won two for USC, one of them vacated by the NCAA, before heading to the NFL).
LSU topped Clemson for last year’s national championship. Both teams fell back. LSU finished 5-5 without nearly every good player from 2019. Ohio State dominated Clemson in a CFP semifinal. That left it to the Buckeyes to stop Bama, which ran them over.
“People last year said the dynasty was over,” Smith said. “We don’t stop, we just keep reloading.”
Key to that was Smith’s decision to return for his fourth year. He won the Heisman Trophy. Jones won the Davey O’Brien Award and Harris won the Doak Walker Award. They were the best players at their positions and Alabama’s offensive line was voted the best in the nation. All played like it on Monday as Alabama piled up 621 yards.
Jones was 36 of 45 for 464 yards and five touchdowns. Smith had 12 catches for 215 yards and three scores despite leaving the game early in the second half because of a hand injury. Harris totaled 158 yards with three touchdowns. Alabama offensive stars leave for the NFL and others take their place.
Saban’s seventh ring started to feel inevitable when Alabama scored touchdowns on five of six first-half possessions. When Ohio State forced a turnover that set up a touchdown for a 14-14 tie, Alabama shrugged that off and scored TDs on three consecutive possessions. It seemed the only way the Crimson Tide could be stopped is if they gave OSU the ball, which they didn’t do again.
The Tide led 35-17 at halftime but kicked a field goal to end the opening drive after it after making it to OSU’s 2-yard line. The bigger issue for Bama was Smith leaving the game because of injury. And then the Buckeyes scored a minute later with quarterback Justin Fields throwing twice for 37 yards and running for 33 on a three-play TD drive.
That was OSU’s last challenge. Alabama didn’t need Harris to score touchdowns on its next two possessions, sandwiched around a turnover on downs by the Buckeyes. The Tide led 52-24 with 12:15 to play. The Buckeyes became the latest Bama opponent to watch the inescapable reality of a scoreboard tilting in the Tide’s favor.
Alabama opened as a touchdown betting favorite. The line was at 8 points for most of the week. It was up to 9 ½ points by kickoff. The movement likely was influenced by the news that several Ohio State players might sit because of COVID-19 protocols. Less than an hour before kickoff the Buckeyes confirmed that 13 players were out.
The absences hurt Ohio State’s depth. It only took a few minutes for Ohio State to suffer more injury attrition. Senior running back Trey Sermon hurt his left shoulder on his first carry. He totaled 254 yards against Clemson in the semifinal. Sermon didn’t return so OSU’s lead back was Master Teague, who hadn’t played since suffering an injury during the first half of the Big Ten championship game.
Teague tied the score twice with touchdowns in the first half. The first was an answer to Alabama’s opening TD drive. Teague’s second TD came after Baron Browning forced Jones to fumble and recovered at Alabama’s 19-yard line, followed by a pass interference that put OSU at the 4.
That sequence changed things after Bama appeared on its way to a three-score lead. It was a temporary shift. Ohio State’s dilemma became clear as Alabama built its big lead.
The Buckeyes were sending blitzers at Jones but, save for the fumble, he anticipated the pressure and feathered short passes to receivers. Sarkisian kept OSU off-kilter with pre-snap shifting. OSU also couldn’t sit back and let Harris run through them, give space for Smith and Co. to turn short catches into long gains or give Jones time to show off his accuracy on deep passes.
It’s tough to stop so many threats. No Alabama opponent figured it out all season. The Buckeyes would just have to keep up. They needed some magic from Fields, who was playing with extra padding for injuries he sustained against Clemson. He winced after taking a big hit to end OSU’s third drive but got up and kept going. Fields just couldn’t do enough.
Ohio State kicked a field goal to cut its deficit to 21-17 with 5:21 until halftime. That was enough time for Smith to score two more touchdowns. There was little the Buckeyes could do to prevent Bama’s inevitable climb back to the top of college football.