Happy Pearl Harbor Day, everyone. Plenty of folks are talking about Alabama this morning as the Tide celebrates its 25th SEC title and prepares for an opportunity for redemption that will take place in a long 24 days, as its defensive coordinator pulls double duty in preparation for a new job. On to it:
The Gators' offense had struggled in Florida's previous five games. It got completely shut down by Alabama's defense Saturday aside from that one drive during the first quarter and the touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. "I really feel it was our preparation," Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. "We did a good job preparing. We had a really good week of practice, and I feel like that carried over to the game."
Alabama won its 25th Southeastern Conference championship with a 29-15 win over No. 18 Florida on Saturday, and Henry gained 189 yards on 44 carries and was an obvious catalyst. But Coker dived on his own fumble in the first quarter in Alabama territory after being blindsided by a rusher, and he led a key second-quarter drive with his first zone-read run of the season, a 17-yard gain. He kept Alabama in field-goal range while the game was close by throwing a left-handed pass to avoid a sack, and he made many other competitive plays as the night went on. "I’ve been saying since Day 1, Coker is one of the toughest guys we have on this team, one of the hardest workers, one of the most competitive guys you will ever meet," center Ryan Kelly said. "We’re glad to have him on our team."
Jake Coker is an unquestioned leader on this team who seems to be willing to do whatever it takes to win. He has taken some brutal shots and doled out quite a few as well. The game went in Atlanta went about as expected, as two great defenses faced off. While Ole Miss had plenty of lucky bounces against Alabama, Tide fans should all take a moment to remember Hunter Henry this morning. Without his crazy lateral play against Ole Miss, Alabama may well be headed to the Peach Bowl as the SEC is left out of the playoff.
The event, as usual, was held Sunday night in Birmingham. As part of the program, team awards were handed out. Derrick Henry was the team MVP. He also claimed part of the biggest honor as one of four permanent captains. Jake Coker, Ryan Kelly and Reggie Ragland were also voted captains by their teammates. They'll put their hands and cleat prints in cement at Denny Chimes before A-Day in the spring.
Logical choices all around. Each of those will be missed next season as the Tide attempts to replace all of the key veteran leadership on both sides of the football.
This State team is quarterbacked by Connor Cook, a battle-hardened senior who, to borrow a phrase from a former Alabama coach, "ain't never been nuthin' but a winner." Cook leads all FBS QBs in career wins and winning percentage. One big reason this Michigan State team should not be confused for the 2010 edition Alabama dominated 49-7 in the Capital One Bowl: Cook hadn't gotten to East Lansing yet. Then there's the Michigan State defense, which shut down pretty much the same Ohio State flying circus Alabama couldn't slow down in last year's playoff.
Saban's influence is still present in the Michigan State program, which has been built on physical football, mental toughness and winning the line of scrimmage. Even Saban had to be impressed with the 22-play, 82-yard drive the Spartans put together to beat Iowa 16-13 in the Big Ten championship game, calling it "awesome." "I think it showed a lot about the grit that Michigan State's team has and the resiliency they played with to convert third downs, make plays when they needed to make them," Saban said. "They had a big physical (running) back and a physical offensive line, and that's the way we try to play and the way they try to play and that's the kind of football a lot of people enjoy watching. It's going to be a great matchup from that standpoint."
The consensus is that Alabama’s defense is the best in the country. The front seven, with as many as four potential first-round NFL draft picks, has been stifling. The secondary, which was maligned the past two years, has transformed into a stingy unit with five more interceptions and eight more pass breakups than it had last season. But at the same time, you have to look at who it has faced. Whether it’s Auburn, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M or Wisconsin, there isn’t an all-conference quarterback in the bunch. Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott is awfully good, but he had very little in the way of a supporting cast. Meanwhile, Arkansas’ Brandon Allen has played well, but his receivers aren’t exactly world-beaters.
Michigan State jumped Big 12 champion Oklahoma. The Sooners didn’t have a 13th game because the Big 12 doesn’t have a conference championship game. And while playoff committee selection chairman Jeff Long told ESPN immediately following the CFP announcement that the Spartans’ two top-10 wins slightly pushed them ahead of Oklahoma in the final analysis, it cannot be ignored that putting a No. 3 Oklahoma against No. 2 Alabama in Dallas would have been a disadvantage for the Crimson Tide because Oklahoma plays Texas every season in Dallas. Don’t think for a second that it didn’t play a factor in the committee’s decision.
Alabama was the only of the four playoff teams that didn't hold a team watch party, according to the ESPN telecast. Clemson expected more than 20,000 fans for a pizza party to celebrate the No. 1 seed. The Alabama-Michigan State pairing matches Nick Saban with his former employer and ex-assistant Mark Dantonio. The two met in the 2011 Capital One Bowl when Alabama won 49-7.
It's hot take season, and they will only get hotter as we get closer to the games. Need to pace ourselves.
Glenn Schumann, listed as having a player development and player personnel staff position at Alabama, appears to be heading to a role in some capacity at Georgia. Current Georgia coaches Jeremy Pruitt and Kevin Scherrer started out in the same role Schumann had at Alabama. Schumann, a Valdosta native, served as an undergraduate assistant from 2008 to 2011 and got his undergraduate and master's degree from Alabama. He served as a defensive graduate assistant from December 2011 until February 2014, when he was given the personnel role.
Hopefully Kirby has a hard time poaching too many of the Alabama coaches. Since Schumann is an Alabama grad, one would have to believe that he will be receiving some sort of promotion as an inducement to leave. In any event, he seemingly plays an important role in Alabama's defensive game planning. Smart has told everyone that he will stick around through the playoffs. Hopefully the external distractions won't be a problem.
That should do you for today. Have a great week, everyone.