Alabama football: Past is prologue, now it's trophy time for the Crimson Tide
Bobby Jones, undoubtedly the most decorated amateur golfer in history, used to break down his sport this way: golf, tournament golf and major-championship golf.
Applying that philosophy to college football, the Alabama Crimson Tide — having become the only team in history to win 10 SEC games in a regular season — have put the first elements of the 2020 college football season in the rear-view mirror and are finally ready for major-championship college football.
The top-ranked Tide embarked on their final business trip of the 2020 regular season Saturday, and didn’t need to cash in many frequent-flier miles en route to a 52-3 destruction of Arkansas. Round 10 of Joyless Murderball was just that, as the Alabama Death Star began firing lasers with a DeVonta Smith punt return touchdown and didn’t finish pew-pewing through Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium until true freshman Jase McClellan was done dapping up Tide fans after his untouched 80-yard jaunt to the end zone.
While Arkansas put up at least token resistance to what appears to be Alabama’s Formula One-like offensive machine, nothing the Hogs did Saturday likely imbued a sense of confidence in the intercollegiate tackle football program in Gainesville. The Tide piled up 443 mostly effort-free yards on Arkansas, with Mac Jones going a crisp 24-of-29 for 208 yards in just over a half of work and a gaggle of Alabama running backs gathering up 216 yards on the ground on 38 carries.
The strategy that Saban and the Tide had in mind when they boarded the chartered jet to Fayetteville this week was to what you gotta do to win against a demonstrably inferior Razorbacks squad, then get your guys out early and prep for the Gators. Evidence running back Najee Harris’ truncated effort, as he ran just 14 times for 46 yards before taking a seat without a scratch on him.
“A lot of guys we took out, there was nothing wrong with them,” Saban said. “We just chose not to play them anymore so nothing would happen to them so they could play next week.”
Alabama’s defense was just as superb, limiting Arkansas to just 188 yards and swiping the rock 4 times. Only a Matthew Phillips field goal in the first quarter kept the Tide from pitching the shutout. In fact, the only L that Alabama took all day was on the game’s opening series, as Tide linebacker Christian Harris landed awkwardly making a tackle attempt and was helped off with an injured left shoulder. It didn’t take long for Alabama to rule Harris out for the rest of Saturday’s proceedings, but you better believe forthcoming injury information on Harris will be hard to come by during SEC Championship Game week.
“I don’t know exactly how bad it is yet,” Saban said after Saturday’s game. “I don’t know, you know, Doc said they’re going to do an MRI on it. And he said he didn’t know for sure the extent. But that would determine whether he could come back and play this week or how long he would be out, and I can’t really comment on that right now.”
Ah yes, the SEC Championship Game. The 6th-ranked Gators, who suffered a crippling loss to LSU later in the day, get their dose of Murderball next week in Atlanta — a place Alabama has practically made a second home in recent years.
Saturday will mark the 40th in the series between Alabama and Florida, with the Tide holding a 25-14 lead and winning the last 6 straight. How dominant has Alabama been against the Gators in recent history? They temporarily retired Urban Meyer with the 32-13 smackdown in 2009, and will be facing Florida’s fourth coach (Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain and now Dan Mullen) in Atlanta’s second dome (Georgia Dome and now Mercedes-Benz Stadium) since Meyer’s heart just wasn’t in it 11 years ago.
The predominant storyline entering SEC Championship Week will undoubtedly be Mac Jones vs. Kyle Trask for the Heisman Trophy, as if the college football heavyweights can be distilled down to a pair of players. Yes, ol’ Mr. Stiff Arm will likely go to the winning team’s quarterback, but you can bet neither Jones nor Trask ultimately give a single solitary rip about a hunk of bronze when the chance to play for a weird hunk of gold is the real prize.
“Obviously Florida’s got a great team,” Saban told ESPN. “They’ll challenge us a little bit differently because of their quarterback and their ability to throw the ball, and some of the mismatch players they have. We got to get healthy and we got to get our guys going again.
“I think we’re certainly going to be challenged in a different way with the type of quarterback and passing game that Florida has. I think we have to show that we can stand up and play against a team like that. It’s going to take a great team effort in every part of our team to be able to win the SEC championship. The offense is going to have to play well. We’re going to have to do a really good job on special teams. Obviously, play even better on defense.”
Better on defense? Gulp. Look, it’s Saban’s job to squeeze the absolute most of every moment the Crimson Tide is on the field. Anyone with a sentient brain can also say Saban is on the Mount Rushmore of doing just that. So if there is more to be gotten out of Alabama’s defense — and offense, for that matter — then woe unto the Gators for what is to come Saturday night in Atlanta.