'Hats Off' To Alabama Title Team

Nick Saban and Derrick Henry took their hats off to the Florida Gators, but Henry seemed pretty happy about the hat he was wearing: the one that said “SEC Champions.” Such was the case after Alabama’s 29-15 win over Florida for its 25th league title Saturday at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

‘Hats Off!’ To Alabama, Saban Says

“I’m very proud of this team,” Alabama Coach Nick Saban said. “They wanted to do something special. Probably, more than any other time I’ve ever coached, I wanted to see those guys succeed today and win the back-to-back SEC Championships, and have an opportunity to get in the playoff.

“It was a tough game. Florida is a very good team. They competed really hard out there today. But I sure was happy. The best fighter doesn’t always win the fight. You’ve got to fight the best fight, and that’s why we needed to respond today. Our players certainly did that.

“So What’s Important Now? That spells W-I-N, and I think the players did all they needed to do to prepare for this game. I’m really proud of their performance out there (today).”

The Tide coach then turned to his Heisman candidate running back, sitting to Saban’s right at the podium. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of this guy (who ran for 189 yards and became the SEC’s all-time single season rusher). He’s had a phenomenal season (1,986 yards, passing Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker). He deserves every accolade that anyone could every throw his way.”

Derrick Henry said, “I’m very proud of the team. It’s a team effort. We wanted to get to this SEC Championship, and we knew that we had to come battle every week, and we got better week after week. I’m proud of the team, and proud of what we accomplished.

“I think (Florida) is the best defense that we faced. They’re very physical; very disruptive, and very fast on the defensive line; athletic linebackers who are very physical and try to knock you out, and a good secondary.”

“My main focus is on finishing, and helping this team win. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help this team win. Whether it’s me running the ball, catching the ball, or pass blocking, I just want this team to win. It’s a team effort. All the success I had, I credit my teammates, coaches and God, because I couldn’t do it without them.”

Henry also gave plaudits to a specific unit: “Credit to the offense line,” he said. “They really take pride in controlling the line of scrimmage. Throughout the week, they work hard, and keep pushing the defensive line (in practice). Offensive line stays motivated. I just tell them to keep running it, and keep staying hungry. They practice hard in practice, so in the game it’s not surprising when they’re controlling the line of scrimmage and we’re moving the ball like we did (437 yards of offense to Florida’s 180).”

Henry said he was honored to pass Jackson and Walker on the league’s season rushing yardage list “They are like my heroes,” he said of Bo and Herschel. “My football heroes. Growing up and hearing their names, and just watching what they did is incredible. For my name to be mentioned with theirs; it’s an honor and a blessing.”

It’s not often an SEC team holds its opponent under 200 yards total offense. “We didn’t make a lot of adjustments (in-game),” Saban said. “The biggest thing: We had a good plan on defense. We knew what they were going to do.

“Our staff does a good job of tracking what the other team is doing and what we need to do, but nothing different than what we practiced and what the players need to know. (Florida) was behind the sticks a lot, and we did a good job on third down.” (The Gators were 0-11 on third down and 0-1 on fourth down.)

Somewhat surprisingly, Saban was asked if his team had done enough to make the four team playoff when the field is announced Sunday. “I certainly think this team deserves it, being SEC Champions,” he said. “They were (ranked) No. 2. I don’t know what they did out there today that would dispel their opportunity to play in a playoff.

“Our league is a tough league. We beat each other up. Then people say, ‘Well, you don’t have that many ranked teams this year.’ Well, that’s because we beat each other up. When we played a lot of the teams this year, they were ranked in the top 10 or 15. Maybe they’re not now, because we all have to play each other.

“I think if you win this league, you should deserve the opportunity to be in a playoff. Other than one game (Ole Miss) where we played poorly and turned the ball over five times, this team has shown a lot of consistency. Now, I’m sure there are a lot of other coaches out there who are going to lobby for their team being in it, but I would be surprised if anybody has a lot of doubt about whether we should or shouldn’t be in the playoff.”

Saban also took time to praise a pair of true freshmen, defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Calvin Ridley (102 yards on 8 grabs). “Those two guys are special,” he began. “To be freshmen, to contribute as much as they’ve contributed they year. What happens a lot of times with the young guys on your team is they can’t sustain the season. They don’t have the maturity to stay focused on the next game plan. These two guys are special because they’ve never skipped a beat. They’ve always been able to focus on what they need to do to go out and do their job well in a game, and make very good plays (like Ridley’s 55-yard catch that set up Henry’s 2-yard second quarter touchdown).

“Those two guys have been fantastic additions to our team this year. Their contributions have been very, very important to us. Calvin (Ridley) got an opportunity when Robert Foster got injured in the Ole Miss game, and took great advantage of it.”

Florida Coach Jim McElwain is folksy, but he’s a realist. “Guys, they won the line of scrimmage,” he said. “That’s what big, fast, strong, highly recruited guys do. I’ve gone against that (Alabama) defense before, battled for four years of spring ball and two-a-days (as the Tide’s offensive coordinator). It’s a good football team. I think the shock and awe of (Alabama’s) and speed might have got (to his players) a little bit.

“Obviously, my hat’s off to an outstanding Alabama Crimson Tide football team that took our offense out of it. I thought our defense battled their tails off.”

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