Alabama Coach Nick Saban was enjoying Alabama’s 38-0 win over Michigan State Thursday night in the Cotton Bowl, aka College Football Playoff Semifinal Game. But the Crimson Tide coach was also taking a look back to last year, and a little peek ahead to Jan. 11 and the meeting with Clemson in Phoenix for the national championship.
Not to dwell on the unpleasant, but a year ago in the CFP semifinal game at the Sugar Bowl, Alabama played a disappointing game and had a disappointing result, losing to eventual national champion Ohio State, 42-35.
“The focus that the players had for this game was completely different than we ever had before, and I think it paid off for them,” Saban said late Thursday.
“And,” he added, “we're looking forward to try to do the same thing for the next game.”
Alabama improved its record to 13-1 and the Crimson Tide was the No. 2 team in the nation going into the playoff. Clemson, coached by former Tide player and assistant coach Dabo Swinney, is the nation’s top-ranked team and only undefeated team at 14-0.
Although the score indicates Alabama’s dominance of Michigan State, the Spartans were champions of the Big Ten and finished the season with a 12-2 record. Saban congratulated the Spartans on a good season. “And,” he said, “even though we're really, really happy that we were able to come out on top tonight, we also appreciate and respect the kind of team they have and the kind of season they had.”
Saban said, “I'm really, really proud of our team. I think last year when we came to this game, we were happy just to take part in the game. I think this year we wanted to sort of take the game. And really thought our guys had a vision of what they wanted and everybody paid the price for what they had to do in preparation. And there was no circumstance in that game out there today that changed anybody's feeling about how they wanted to compete and how they wanted to play.
“I'm just very, very pleased and proud and happy that we get a chance to play in the National Championship game against a really fine Clemson team.”
This will be Saban’s fifth national championship game, and he is 4-0 going in, including three at Bama – the 2009 season over Texas in the Rose Bowl, the 2011 over LSU in the Sugar Bowl, and 2012 in the Orange Bowl.
Saban said, “I thought this was a great team win for us. I thought Jake [quarterback Jake Coker] did a great job. But we made some big plays on offense. Defense certainly played well. The interception (by Cyrus Jones) before the half was a big momentum swing for us.
“We scored on special teams. And with Cyrus's (punt runback by Cyrus Jones) touchdown which kind of broke the game open. So I think this was a great team win for us. And I'm really, really proud of this team and our players.”
There was a reason that Jones was the game’s defensive award winner. Saban said he thought big plays were the difference in the game. “It could have been 10-7 at halftime,” he said, but the interception by Jones ended a Michigan State scoring threat.
That threat, Saban said, “tells me they’ve got a really good team and a really good program.”
Speaking of threats, the big one coming into the game was Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook. Saban said, “I think our defensive front probably affected the quarterback a little bit. So that made a difference in the game in his ability to operate.”
Cook was sacked four times, intercepted two times, and looked uncomfortable in completing only 19 of 39 passes for 210 yards.
Looking back, Saban said, “I think the players learned a lot from what happened in the game last year. I was not always pleased with the way we prepared for the game. Maybe we were a little bit too complacent, and I take responsibility for all that.
“But because of the result and the bad taste of losing a game when you had a chance to -- in the playoff and maybe in the first playoff we weren't quite ready to handle bowl game versus playoff game, whatever.
“But this year's team was totally focused on the game. I mean, I let them decide what the curfews are, 12:00, 12:00, 11:00 11:00. I mean, the whole time we were here, it was total focus on winning the game. And that was the most important thing, and there wasn't anything else that -- it wasn't a bowl game to go have a good time. It was we want to play well in this game, and I certainly think we did that.”
There was discussion of Heisman Trophy winning tailback Derrick Henry being under-utilized in the game, although he did score two touchdowns.
Saban said, “We knew it was going to be difficult for us to run against Michigan State. First of all, they have a good front. They do a really good job of stopping the run. The way they play in the secondary their guys are very aggressive against the run, which is a good thing.
“So we knew that we would have to throw the bubbles and the smokes and the outside perimeter stuff and try to get them blocked on the perimeter to be able to move the ball effectively. And I think, you know, a couple of those, you know, first drives that we had we sort of stopped ourselves. We'd be going along. And, when you're doing that, you're kind of nickel, diming. You're making seven, you're making nine, you're making five. And, if you get a penalty, it kind of throws you off course. And that happened a couple times early in the game.
“But, once we settled down, we hit some big plays on them, which was really important. But we kind of knew going in those are run-pass options. So Jake (quarterback Jacob Coker) reads, ‘What's the box? Can we block them? Do they have the numbers outside, and do we have the angles to be able to block the people on the bubbles and the smokes?’
“I think he did a great job of reading it. And that was effective for us early in the game. Some of those plays, if the box was right, Derrick Henry would have got the ball.
“I wasn't surprised at all by the game [Coker] had tonight. He's pretty much done a good job all year long in terms of whatever we've asked him to do. He's not a selfish guy at all. He never complains about we don't throw it down the field enough. He just tries to do what he can do for his team. I think that's why he was elected captain by his teammates and he's respected so much because of his toughness and his competitive spirit and how he's a real team guy.
96 Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE “Tonight he had to make the plays because they were there, and he certainly made them. But I think in each game that we've asked him to do that, he's come through for us very nicely.”