Multi-dimensional QBs have given Alabama fits through the years
In the past five years, Alabama and Nick Saban have only lost seven games. They are a staggering 61-7 during that time and can add that 62nd win on Monday night in the College Football Playoff national championship game against Clemson.
How have they been beaten? Well, most of the time it’s because a mobile quarterback has had the night of his life, running and throwing and spreading out the Bama defense. That’s been the game plan to beat Bama – except for that seventh win, the ugly 9-7 loss to LSU back in 2011 – to get them uncomfortable and forced to cover every inch of the field.
It’s been guys cut out of the same mold, guys like Chad Kelly and Cardale Jones and Johnny Manziel that have figured out and frustrated the Alabama defense.
And now comes a similar species Monday night, Clemson sophomore Deshaun Watson. He can run and pass and spread you out, too. He’s unbeaten this year, and is considered by most to be the most complete quarterback in the country.
So should the Tide be worried? If past history is any indication, then absolutely they should be worried. Watson will give them a stern test.
Here’s what has happened against similar QBs in those seven losses in the past five seasons, in chronological order:
1. Ole Miss 43, Alabama 38
on Sept. 19, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Who beat them: Junior Chad Kelly
How he beat them: It was Week 3 and this really was Chad Kelly’s first start ever against a quality major-college opponent. After a cup of coffee at Clemson and a year at junior college, Kelly arrived at Ole Miss and lit up nonconference foes Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State for 76 and 73 points, respectively.
Alabama was going to have none of that, of course, especially after losing to Ole Miss in 2014. But Kelly lit them up for 341 yards and three touchdown passes in a 43-37 Ole Miss win. He connected with eight different receivers and made Alabama cover the whole field. He attacked deep, too, and completed passes of 66 yards (Quincy Adeboyejo) and 73 yards (Cody Core). Sure there were some crazy bounces and, yes, Alabama turned the ball over five times, but Kelly deserves his props. He was cool under pressure all day against that vaunted Alabama defense.
2. Ohio State 42, Alabama 35
on Jan. 1, 2015 in College Football Playoff semifinal
Who beat them: Sophomore Cardale Jones
How he beat them: Jones was Ohio State’s third-string quarterback last year and he was pressed into duty after injuries knocked out Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett for the year. All he did in his first start was beat a good 10-2 Wisconsin team 59-0 in the Big Ten championship game, throwing for 257 yards and three scores. He threw for 243 and a score in the playoff game against Alabama and led and OSU offense that gained 537 yards on the Tide.
Jones is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. He didn’t run much against Alabama – he had 43 yards total – but he shook off tacklers often and kept plays alive downfield. Ohio State would win the national championship the next week, beating Oregon 42-20 behind Jones’ 242 yards passing. He was also very good at handing off the ball to RB Ezekiel Elliott in both playoff games. Elliott rushed for 246 in the title game and 230 against Alabama.
3. Ole Miss 23, Alabama 17
on Oct. 4, 2014 in Oxford, Miss.
Who beat them: Senior Bo Wallace
How he beat them: Bo Wallace had an up-and-down senior year for Ole Miss in 2014 but he was spot-on during the first week in October when he led Ole Miss to a stunning 23-17 upset of Alabama. It was stunning, of course, because Ole Miss almost never beats the Tide, but they were nearly perfect on this day and Wallace was sharp, throwing for 251 yards and three touchdown passes.
Wallace threw the go-ahead score to Jaylen Walton from 10 yards out with 2:54 remaining to snatch victory away from the Tide. It ended a 10-game losing streak to Alabama and let Ole Miss start a season at 5-0 for the first time in 52 years. Alabama would win the SEC West anyway after the Rebels later lost to LSU, Auburn and Arkansas. Wallace wasn’t very good the rest of the season, but he sure had a magical day against Alabama.
4. Oklahoma 45, Alabama 31
on Jan. 2, 2014 in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans
Who beat them: Freshman Trevor Knight
How he beat them: Knight had completed a grand total of 44 passes all year prior to meeting Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Then he torched the Crimson Tide for 348 yards and four touchdown passes on 32 of 44 passing in the Sooners’ 45-31 rout of Alabama.
The Tide’s season had been ruined a few weeks earlier by the shocking “Kick-Six” loss to Auburn and motivation was an issue for Alabama. Knight had plenty of time to throw all night and his 32 completions set a Sugar Bowl record. He also outdueled AJ McCarron for the win, ending McCarron’s brilliant career with a loss. “It’s all about just getting in that rhythm, hitting a few shots early,” Knight said. “The more snaps you get, the more comfortable you are.”
5. Auburn 34, Alabama 28
on Nov. 30, 2013 in Auburn, Ala.
Who beat them: Junior Nick Marshall
How he beat them: Auburn’s win over Bama in 2013 will always be remembered for the “Kick-Six” final play, a 100-yard return of a missed field goal for a touchdown and the win. But what can’t be forgotten was the difficulty the Crimson Tide had in keeping Nick Marshall under control the entire game.
Marshall didn’t throw for many yards – he was just 11 of 16 passing for 97 yards with only one throw gaining 20 yards or more – but he ran for 99 yards and kept getting first downs at critical times. Auburn rushed for 296 yards on the day and kept the Tide on their heels. Running quarterbacks proved to be an issue for Alabama.
6. Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24
on Nov. 10, 2012 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Who beat them: Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel
How he beat them: By running around all over the place and Johnny Manziel becoming “Johnny Football.” In one of the most memorable games of the year, Texas A&M arrived on the big stage in their first year in the SEC and took down mighty Alabama with an incredible performance by Manziel.
Alabama, ranked No. 1 at the time and undefeated, didn’t know what hit them. Manziel led A&M on three straight scoring drives in the first quarter, racing out to a 20-0 lead. Alabama did get it back to 20-17 early in the fourth quarter but Manziel threw his second TD pass to seal the victory. A legend was born. He would go on to win the Heisman Trophy after throwing for 3,706 yards and rushing for 1,410 himself. Against Alabama, he threw for 253 yards and ran for 92. Once again, it was a multi-dimensional QB that gave Alabama fits.
7. LSU 9, Alabama 6 in OT
on Nov. 5, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Who beat them: In baseball parlance, Jordan Jefferson was the pitcher of record.
How he beat them: He didn’t, really. Alabama beat themselves in the this one, a showdown of No. 1 vs. No. 2. It was as ugly as the score indicated, a 9-6 slugfest with no touchdowns and a game-winning field goal in overtime. Jefferson passed for only 64 yards and LSU only gained a total of 242 yards the entire game.
Alabama missed four field goals and turned the ball over twice. They would exact revenge two months later however, when the two teams were paired up again in the BCS title game. Alabama won that game 21-0.