Alabama football: All-Decade offense vs. All-Decade defense ... who wins?
Players on truly elite football programs often say that games are a welcome respite from practices, because the opponent each Saturday doesn’t hit as hard and go as strong as their own teammates do in practice every day.
Extrapolating on that, imagine if the best of the Alabama Crimson Tide in the decade squared off against each other? It would be like A-Day, of course, but with the best Alabama players of the decade — in their primes — on both sides of the ball.
Sure, it is fan fiction. But it also is interesting to contemplate …
Date, venue and pregame
Choosing the last Saturday in November is a logical choice for this, as that is when the toughest games have come for the Crimson Tide in the past 10 years. The site is logical: Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Flipping a commemorative coin with Nick Saban’s face on one side “heads” and the script-A logo on the other “tails,” the Alabama offense — the home team in the familiar Crimson uniform tops — wins and defers to the 2nd half. This infuriates the Crimson Tide defense — in the all-white road uniforms that are the cleanest in the country — as it ends up meaning the offense gets the ball to start BOTH halves.
1st quarter … Tagovailoa off to a hot start
Saban is mic’ed up at midfield and coaching a different side each quarter, starting with the offense — which is coordinated by Lane Kiffin. Ol’ Joey Freshwater almost didn’t make kickoff, as he was delayed at Innisfree getting reacquainted with the local townfolk, but he quickly hits his play-calling stride.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa baits the Tide defense with several RPO fakes to running back Derrick Henry before firing slants to wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Amari Cooper to quickly get into the red zone on the opening series. From there, Henry runs hard over the left-side blocking of left tackle Cam Robinson and left guard Chance Warmack to find the end zone.
The 2nd possession is much different than the 1st, but it has the same effect — as Julio Jones beats Dre Kirkpatrick on a hitch-and-go for an 80-yard TD reception and another quick score.
2nd quarter — Defense adjusts and starts to take control
Shifting over to defense, Saban — via defensive coordinator Kirby Smart — make almost immediate adjustments to stymie Tagovailoa and the Tide offense.
Shifting defensive ends Jonathan Allen and Jesse Williams out wider forces the Tide offensive line to account for the angled rushes, and Smart springs a couple of safety blitzes by free safety Mark Barron to get to Tagovailoa.
Kiffin counters with quick passes in the flats to tight end O.J. Howard, but the success is fleeting — as linebacker Dont’a Hightower squares up on Howard and jars the ball loose, with fellow linebacker Courtney Upshaw scooping up the loose ball and rumbling for a NOT (non-offensive touchdown).
Speaking 1st to ESPN’s Maria Taylor, Saban bristles at the decision to keep going back to Howard — saying to quit asking him about Tagovailoa being on the field instead of AJ McCarron. Saban does simmer down slightly by praising the hands of Jeudy and Cooper on the opening possession.
That interview ends quickly with Saban turning to talk to CBS’ Jamie Erdahl about the Tide defense, which he criticizes for getting beat by Jones on the hitch-and-go before praising Hightower for his ball skills.
3rd quarter — Offensive trickeration thwarted by observant D
The halftime analysis figures these 15 minutes means strength-on-strength will be the theme. Instead, Kiffin reaches deep into the bag of tricks — splitting McCarron out on the right corner and having Alabama’s sweet Hawaiian prince lateral it to him before McCarron heaves it deep to a streaking Jones on a post pattern.
Problem is, strong safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix read it from the jump (likely because he saw the exact formation in practice and was reminded by Smart jumping around like a maniac on the sideline …) and stayed home to intercept it. Making matters worse for the offense, Clinton-Dix gets an iffy blind-side block from linebacker Reuben Foster during the eventual 67-yard return for a touchdown.
This infuriates Saban, naturally, who nearly draws a 15-yard flag arguing with the officials before strength coach Scott Cochran hauls him back to the sideline.
4th quarter — Running game eats clock to salt it away
The Tide offense shakes off the pick-6 and goes back to work doing what Tide fans LONG for … running the damn ball. Alternating between Henry and backup Trent Richardson, Alabama grinds away on a 15-play, 90-yard drive that takes up almost the entire quarter — running Henry left and Richardson right behind guard Anthony Steen and tackle Jonah Williams.
But it is Tagovailoa who finishes the drive, and the game, off in style — getting a key block from pulling center Barrett Jones against linebacker C.J. Mosley on a naked bootleg to dive into the end zone just ahead of lunging defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick for the game-winning score.