Saban’s gambles have paid off in title games
Two big moves helped propel Alabama to recent national championships
Nick Saban showed he’s capable of derring-do in Alabama’s past two national championship game wins.
The coach famed for his scowl, his process and meticulous down-to-the-tiniest detail nature — even eating the same salad daily for lunch and, of course, oatmeal creme pies for breakfast — has turned title games in the Crimson Tide’s favor with two gutsy calls.
When thinking of Saban, a gambler or risk taker isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
But when the time is right, the coach has stepped outside the box. In January 2016, Saban’s fourth- quarter onside kick call propelled Alabama on to a 4540 win over Clemson by not only setting up a touchdown drive but keeping Deshaun Watson & Co. off the field.
Last season, he brought in freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for the second half to rally the Crimson Tide from a 13-0 deficit against Georgia, benching two-year starter Jalen Hurts.
The Tide and Tigers, both 14- 0, meet again Monday night in Santa Clara, California, with the national title on the line.
Don’t be shocked if Saban gambles — or at least takes a calculated risk — at some point. Anything to tilt the game in his favor.
“Well, I think when you’re playing against a very good team and you anticipate that it’s going to be a really tight game, that you’re always looking for somewhere or someplace in the game where you can create an advantage for yourself and try to put your players in the best position to have a chance to be successful,” Saban said. “You know, I think we do that for every game, but I think when you play in games like this, sometimes those plays can have a huge impact because it’s probably going to be a pretty close game.”
Three seasons ago, Ala- bama had just tied Clemson at 24 with a field goal when Marlon Humphrey collected Adam Griffith’s onside kick at midfield. Two plays later, Jake Coker hit tight end O.J. Howard for a 51-yard touchdown and Alabama took the lead for the duration.
Clemson tight end Milan Richard was on the field with the kick return unit.
“We weren’t expecting it,” Richard said. “The way we were lined up, they tried to take advantage of it and it worked. It’s something we’ll be ready for, something we came back and prepared for and we’ll try not to let happen again.”
Tigers left tackle Mitch Hyatt felt like his team had the momentum before that onside kick. Watson and the Tigers’ offense certainly were looking all but unstoppable.
That made Saban’s timing so perfect.
“We knew if we just got the ball, we would go and win the game,” Hyatt said. “The onside kick just really turned that game around.”
The Tigers weren’t the only surprised ones. Ala- bama offensive lineman Jonah Williams was a newly arrived freshman watching from Bryant Hall back in Tuscaloosa.
“Yeah, it was crazy,” said Williams, now a unanimous All-American. “Me and all the early enrollees were in Bryant watching it on TV and we were just freaking out when it happened, because that was such a momentum swing in the game. That’s the type of thing that this game takes.”
Maybe switching to Tagovailoa now seems like a no-brainer considering how poorly Alabama’s offense was playing against Georgia and that he wound up being a Heisman Trophy runnerup some 11 months later. But Hurts had done little but win since claiming the starting job — and Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year honors — as a freshman.
Alabama’s offense had produced just 94 yards in the first half and trailed Georgia 13- 0 when Saban made the quarterback switch. Tagovailoa wound up passing for 166 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner to DeVonta Smith in overtime.
Afterward, Saban said he didn’t think the Tide could run the ball well enough to overcome the struggling passing game and lack of big plays.
“I thought Tua would give us a better chance and a spark, which he certainly did,” the coach said following the game.
Cal sophomore hospitalized
Cal cornerback Bryce Turner is in a Southern California hospital after suffering a medical emergency earlier this week, according to his family.
Though offering few details on what led to the redshirt sophomore’s hospitalization or his current condition, Turner’s family released a statement Thursday.
“We are grateful to those who have cared for Bryce and the doctors who continue to closely monitor him in the hospital,” the Turner family statement said. “Please keep Bryce in your thoughts and prayers. We will share updated information as it becomes available and we learn more about his condition, but at this time we ask that our family’s privacy is respected so we can focus on Bryce’s care.”
ESPN reported Turner’s medical episode happened during a workout near his Bellflower area home on Sunday and he was hospitalized later that day. The 20-year-old Turner and the rest of Cal’s players are on a holiday break from school.
The 5-foot-11, 178-pound Turner was a walk-on at Cal last year after playing one season at Long Beach City College.
Army’s Monken is Munger coach of year
Army’s Jeff Monken was selected the George Munger coach of the year.
Monken earned the award by the Maxwell Football Club after guiding the Black Knights to an 11-2 record, the most victories in a season in academy history. Army also earned its first national ranking in 22 years.
Army capped its breakthrough campaign with a 70-14 victory over Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl, which tied a Bowl Subdivision record for points in a bowl game. It was the Black Knights’ ninth straight win.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, left, put in quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the second half of last year’s national championship game as the Crimson Tide rallied to beat Georgia.
In 2016, Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, left, recovered an onside kick in the fourth quarter to set up a touchdown drive as the Crimson Tide beat the Tigers to win the national title.