By College Football Today President Maddy Sperling
Since Nick Saban became Head Coach at the University of Alabama in 2007, the Crimson Tide has enjoyed an unprecedented record of 136-20, 14 bowl game appearances with 10 victories, seven SEC Western Division titles, five SEC championships, and five national championships. Critics of Saban’s long-lasting reign at the helm of the most successful (and profitable) college football programs claim the head coach wields an unfair advantage over the rest of the FBS and benefits from favoritism by the NCAA and the selection committee.
Though I grew up in DC, my Birmingham-bred father indoctrinated me with a strong sense of what you could call an Alabama Football Supremacy Complex. It’s not like he needed to do a lot of convincing though, especially after 2009, when Alabama went undefeated to topple both Tebow and No. 1 Florida in the SEC Championship and No. 2 Texas in the National Championship. Not to mention, Mark Ingram became the first player on Alabama to be awarded the Heisman. I could go on about all the celebrated history of the Alabama Crimson Tide, but if you’re a college football fan, even an Alabama fan, you’re probably well aware.
How To Beat Alabama Football
I will give Felder credit where credit is due, but one of Saban’s greatest strengths is using his losses to identify weaknesses then subsequently fixing them to create a stronger program. The 2018 Crimson Tide is a different machine than the 2007-2012 that relied heavily on the run game and the brute physicality of its defense. That being said, the SEC and few non-conference defeats Alabama has suffered since coming off of their perfect season in 2009 are definitely worth looking at, and you’ll see why.
At the start of the 2010 season, the Crimson Tide’s depth chart was deep. In the backfield, Saban had a trifecta of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Eddie Lacy. Both of his quarterbacks, Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron had two outstanding targets in Wide Receivers, Julio Jones and Marquis Maze, as well as ample protection in James Carpenter, Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker. Opposite this all-star offense was an even intimidating defense stacked with elite linebackers, such as Courtney Upshaw, C.J. Mosley, and Dont’a Hightower, with DT Marcell Dareus on the line and SS Mark Barron and CB Dre Kirkpatrick in the secondary.
So, how did this incomparable roster led by Nick Saban and Kirby Smart end up 5-3 in SEC play and even fall as low as No. 19 in the Coaches Poll?
Going into their match-up with No. 19 South Carolina, Alabama was leading the nation in scoring defense by allowing only 45 points through five games. But somehow, Alabama’s defense gave the most points (35) since 2007, and was completely unable to slow WR Alshon Jeffrey’s seven catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns. What’s more, the combined talents of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Eddie Lacy managed only 38 yards on a 1.4 yard-per-carry average against the Gamecocks’ defense that also sacked McElroy seven times. After the score was finalized 35-21, Steve Spurrier cemented his 107th SEC win that night and brought his record against Saban to 1-3.
In the Tide’s next two games of the season, they handily defeated SEC rivals Ole Miss and Tennessee, but in Death Valley, Baton Rouge, in one of the more brutal competitions (also referred to as ‘Saban Bowl IV’) that defined the Saban-Miles era, No. 10 LSU bested No. 6 Alabama 24-21. Les managed to secured three wins against Saban in their seven matchups, partly because a) he was well-versed in Saban’s playbook and b) he was able to match the Tide in recruiting some of the toughest and strongest defensive players in the nation, most of whom are found in the Southeast corridor of America.
Miles was again able to beat Bama in Tuscaloosa in their 2011 regular season matchup where neither team made a single touchdown. In what is remembered as a defensive ‘slug-fest’, it fell upon each team’s kickers to put points on the board. Both Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley’s inaccuracy in kicking attempts farther than 39 yards ultimately resulted in an L for Alabama. However, Miles’ success against Saban ended that January in the BCS Championship with a legendary shutout where, in a testament to the ferocity of the Alabama defense, the Tigers never even passed the 50-yard line.
Notes from Les Miles: Stop the run game while also preserving the defense’s energy, so recruit defensive linemen and linebackers that are not only physical but understand how to carbo-load and optimize their energy play after play. This is especially important as you need to be prepared for your offense to get inevitably smacked in the mouth every so often, giving your defense little time to regain their strength.
The Iron Bowl 2018
Back to the 2010 regular season, when Alabama experienced their 3rd loss to yet another SEC rival--the Auburn Tigers. Led by Head Coach Gene Chizick and JuCo transfer QB Cam Newton, nicknamed ‘Scam Newton’ by Alabama fans for the NCAA investigation into ‘pay-for-play’ accusations in addition to the felony charges of burglary and larceny and multiple counts of cheating while playing for Urban Meyer’s 2008 Florida Gators, pulled off a miraculous comeback in the 2010 Iron Bowl in front of about 100,000 Alabama fans in Bryant-Denny Stadium. By the end of the first quarter, Alabama had scored three unanswered touchdowns. In a turn of events, Chizick and OC Gus Mahlzan’s no-huddle signal offense threw a whole wrench into the Alabama defense throughout the second half. With an injured Mark Barron, and Dont’a Hightower and C.J. Mosley spending too much time decoding Mahlzan’s signals in the huddle, Newton and the Tigers’ offense were able to complete 60-70-yard passes down the field against the National Championship winning defense. On the other side of the football, McElroy still had a more passing yards and a greater completion percentage than Newton, but a number of mistakes throughout the game cost the Tide offense many chances to extend and maintain their lead. The results of this game however should be examined with a grain of salt as the buildup was filled with a lot of petty and emotionally-fueled rivalry, which Chizick was able to take advantage of and may have been a distraction for Alabama. This is also why Saban strongly discourages his players from engaging in bitter feuds and rivalries (and probably because of that Alabama fan poisoning Auburn’s trees).
Alabama vs Auburn
Alabama would go on to win the next two matchups with Auburn in the 2011 and 2012 Iron Bowls, 42-14 and 49-0, respectively, prompting Gene Chizick’s replacement by none other than Gus Mahlzan. In what Wikipedia calls the “Kick Six,” the 2013 Iron Bowl in Auburn, AL was a devastating loss for an undefeated Alabama in the hunt for a third consecutive national title at the hands of a long-time SEC rival. I am not going to describe what happened, I am just going to leave a video of the last 32 seconds of the game.
Notes from Gene Chizick and Gus Mahlzahn: Be Auburn and play on the tense pressure of a rivalry game.
Georgia vs Alabama
Part two on how to beat Alabama, will feature the epic Georgia vs Alabama rivalry that surely will have major College Football Playoff implications moving forward into the chase for the 2018 NCAA Football National Championship.
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