A rare down year in Tuscaloosa only made it worse for the rest of college football. Alabama missing the College Football Playoff for the first time helped create one of Nick Saban’s most dominant teams.
Last season, the Crimson Tide lost twice and finished eighth in the final Associated Press poll. For most teams, that’s a quality season. For Saban, it’s unacceptable.
Monday night — and his team’s performance throughout this flawless season — was more along the lines of what he expects.
Alabama manhandled Ohio State for Saban’s record seventh national championship, outclassing the Buckeyes, 52-24, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. In the Crimson Tide’s 13 wins, only one victory came by single digits. They outscored the opposition 630-252.
Alabama completed the ninth perfect season in program history with a world-class offensive performance, producing 582 all-purpose yards and setting a College Football Playoff championship game record with 52 points.
In the first half alone, Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver Devonta Smith set a College Football Playoff championship game record for catches (12) and touchdown receptions (three). In the second half, after a right hand injury sidelined him, his friends did the rest.
Mac Jones, the unsung former backup quarterback, completed 36 of 44 passes for 464 yards and five touchdowns. Najee Harris scored three times and accounted for 158 total yards. The overlooked Crimson Tide’s defense held Ohio State’s quarterback Justin Fields and Co. in check.
The Crimson Tide took a commanding 35-17 lead into the break and ate up the first 7:13 of the second half with more of an old-school Alabama drive, methodically moving the ball down the field despite Smith leaving the field after the second play of the possession.
Ohio State answered by going 75 yards in three plays with Fields looking more like the player who took apart Clemson, picking up 33 yards on a keeper and hitting Garrett Wilson on a 20-yard score. It didn’t generate any momentum, not with the Buckeyes defense unable to mount any resistance.
Alabama went right down the field despite Smith’s absence to push the lead back to three touchdowns with Jones finding Slade Bolden from 5 yards out.
The expectation of a shootout between two top five-ranked scoring offenses was on target early. The game’s first eight drives resulted in five touchdowns. Both defenses appeared overmatched.
While the Buckeyes were doing most of their damage on the ground — Master Teague III scored their two first-half touchdowns on runs of 4 and 8 yards — Alabama was carving up Ohio State’s secondary. Jones threw four scores in the opening half, three to Smith, and completed 25 of 30 passes for 342 yards.
The momentum turned when Ohio State had to settle for a field goal midway through the second quarter after a few off-target throws from Fields in the red zone.
It was a shaky opening half for Fields, who completed just 6 of 15 passes for 90 yards. He seemed hesitant and jittery, missing open targets, and only used his feet on occasion. It didn’t help that starting running back Trey Sermon was lost on the game’s first play due to a collarbone injury. The Crimson Tide began getting more pressure on Fields in the second quarter, leading to rushed throws.
Just 3:31 later after the Ohio State field goal, the Alabama lead went from three to 17. Smith caught consecutive scoring strikes, the second a 42-yard catch on a seam pattern in which he was somehow matched up with slow-footed linebacker Tuf Borland.
At that point, Smith had set numerous records. The first half wasn’t over yet, and it didn’t matter. Alabama was well on its way to another championship. It was a foregone conclusion.