MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) – The celebration was immediately familiar and unique. The confetti cannons sent a reddish-brown and white shower into the air, and Alabama players ran to the sidelines to grab their championship hats and T-shirts.
It’s a transition ritual if you’ve played for Crimson Tide under coach Nick Saban.
This time, however, the band playing the battle song was a pip-in recording, and when “Sweet Home Alabama” blared, there were only a few thousand tide fans in the stadium to sing along.
The final game of a college football season in a pandemic, a season that was uncertain to be played in the summer and filled with disruption in the fall, ended in the most predictable way: Alabama as national champion for the sixth time in the last 1
DeVonta Smith was revealing, Najee Harris unstoppable and Mac Jones impeccable as the highest-ranked tide won the College Football Playoff national championship game 52-24 against No. 3 Ohio State on Monday night. They ended the year 13-0 – an entire season where many wondered if it would be possible to play someone.
“I think we’re the best team ever,” Jones said.
For Saban, it was career title No. 7 overall, beating Alabama great Paul “Bear” Bryant most of a major college coach.
“For me, this is the ultimate team,” Saban said. “There is more togetherness on this team than on almost any team we have ever had. They have had to overcome and endure so much through this season and they have done it magnificently. ”
Ohio State (7-1) just could not keep up. Justin Fields played what could be his last game before going to the NFL, passing in 194 yards and a touchdown. Whether Fields was 100% after taking a brutal hit to the side during his brilliant semifinal performance against Clemson was hard to know for sure.
“I was able to be out there,” all junior quarterbacks said.
On the Buckeyes’ first run, they lost a star who ran back Trey Sermon to an injury, and in a game they needed to run at top speed, facing one of major offenses in recent history, they splashed too much. Ohio State has never allowed more points in a bowling match.
“I think there’s a sense that if you do not score, you will fall behind and then be pressured,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said of facing the lush violation of the tide.
Fans can discuss which team in the Saban Dynasty is the best, but no one will be more memorable than this group.
“Everyone is so together,” Smith said. “People last year said the dynasty was over. We do not stop. We continue to reload. ”
After going a full two seasons without winning a national title, the tide ended perfectly in a season that could not have been further away from it. COVID-19 forced teams to quarantine and endless testing and uncertainty every single week with games played in mostly empty stadiums.
“For me, this team achieved more than almost any team,” Saban said. “No respect for other teams we had, but this team won 11 SEC games. No other team has done that. They won the SEC and were undefeated in the SEC, then beat the two big teams in the playoffs without a break. I think there will be a lot to write about the legacy of this team. ”
Only about 15,000 fans were at Hard Rock Stadium, capacity 65,326, to see the last magnificent performance of Smith’s college career. The Heisman Trophy winner had 12 catches in 215 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half.
“Heaven knows what he would have done if he played the whole game,” Saban said.
Using a series of moves and misdirections, outgoing offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian had Ohio State heads spinning trying to track down Smith. At one point, he was suddenly matched against a linebacker, which he left in the dust for a 42-yard score to make it 35-17 with 41 seconds left in the second quarter.
Smith, who ended his freshman season by capturing the national championship-winning touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa, ended his Alabama career as the leading career receiver in the history of the Southeast Conference and the most outstanding offensive player in his third title game.
As for Sarkisian, he’s on his way to Texas as head coach. Longhorn fans must have wanted what they saw. If only he could bring Smith and his fellow Heisman participants to Austin.
Jones, who finished third in the Heisman poll, was 36 to 45 for a CFP championship record of 464 yards and five touchdowns. In one of perhaps the most overlooked seasons a quarterback has ever played, Jones set a single season record for passing efficiency rating of 203.
Harris, who was fifth in the Heisman race, had 158 yards from scrimmage on 29 touches and scored three times to give him an SEC record of 30 touchdowns this season.
Smith barely played in the second half and left with an injury. He returned to the sidelines in the fourth quarter with his right hand wrapped around his wrist, two fingers taped together and wearing a Heisman mask.
Alabama barely missed him and cracked 50 early in the fourth quarter when Harris walked in untouched from a yard out.
Smith and Harris surprised some by returning to college after last season for their senior year.
Boy, did it turn out to be worth it. Together with Jones, another member of the recruiting class in 2017, they will leave Alabama as the leaders of a team that managed to make a tough fight through the pandemic easy.
“We all had a mission that was trying to get things done the right way,” Smith said. “We all went to work and it ended the way we wanted.”
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