One of the mightiest powers in the history of college football, the Alabama Crimson Tide, turned to a ferocious offense on Monday night and paired a yard-by-yard rushing attack with a constellation of daring, electrifying passing plays to ravage Ohio State, 52-24, during the College Football Playoff’s national championship game.
The title was the sixth at Alabama for Coach Nick Saban, equaling Bear Bryant’s mark in Tuscaloosa.
But this championship season was not like all of Saban’s others at Alabama. For as sound as Alabama’s defense so often was, a mainstay of any Saban team, and for precise as its special teams play was, the Crimson Tide plowed past one opponent after the next with one offensive outburst after another. By early in the fourth quarter on Monday, this Alabama team, which won the Southeastern Conference championship, was assured of a new program record: most points per game.
DeVonta Smith, a wideout of such speed and grace that Alabama once mulled whether he should play defensive back, became the first receiver in nearly three decades to win the Heisman Trophy. Before he exited Monday’s game with an injury, he had 215 yards and three touchdowns for the night, finishing his senior season with 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Then there was Najee Harris, a senior tailback who maintained Alabama’s rigorous running game even as Smith soared and dazzled. Mac Jones, the quarterback who had waited and waited for his starting job, found he could trust both Harris and Smith, but also tight ends and receivers like Jaylen Waddle and John Metchie III. The offensive line, stocked with a few talented seniors, was a shifting, swarming fortress from the time Alabama started its season on Sept. 26, when it crushed Missouri.
And in the end, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., the Alabama offense did what it had done in its previous dozen games during the coronavirus pandemic-disrupted season: It scored, scored and scored some more. Ohio State, the Big Ten champion who feared just five months ago that it would not play a single down this season, turned in enough points to have made an impression and to have created, at least for a spell, a scare for Alabama.
But it was Alabama’s night, the Tide’s statistics a record-setting display of power in a playoff-era title game. Jones captured a year-old record for passing yards in the playoff’s title game, seizing the mark from Joe Burrow, who led Louisiana State to the championship last January. Smith’s receptions set a record. And Alabama set a new standard for the most points ever scored in one of the playoff’s championship games.
The third-ranked Buckeyes had hoped to keep it competitive with the No. 1 Tide. The first quarter ended in a 7-7 stalemate. But the second quarter was when Ohio State’s ambitions collapsed. The Buckeyes scored 10 points that period, a fine showing against a defense that does not give up many.
The problem for Ohio State was that Alabama scored 28 in the second quarter and never surrendered the lead again. At the end of the third quarter, the Tide held a 45-24 advantage. Alabama predictably added even more points in the fourth.
By then, though, the game’s tension had long ago slipped away. By then, Alabama was assured that it, and Saban, had a new spot in history.