Alabama players gear up for national championship game against Clemson

Alabama is coming off a 38-0 win over Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, but now must prepare for the College Football Playoff national championship game against Clemson.

When it seems there could be nothing more to take umbrage regarding Alabama football, there now is a complaint that the Crimson Tide is too businesslike, that it doesn’t look like fun. Former Alabama Coach Gene Stallings articulated it well: “The fun is in the winning.”

Alabama certainly is winning, and to be sure the Crimson Tide under Coach Nick Saban does it in a businesslike manner. Bama practices with a purpose and plays with efficiency. That’s not to say there is not fun, that there is not emotion. Did anyone see the reaction of Bama players after Cyrus Jones’s 57-yard punt return for a touchdown against Michigan State? The 50-yard Jacob Coker to Calvin Ridley TD pass? The interception by Dillon Lee to preserve the shutout?

Alabama players are not robots. They are well coached and they are drilled to focus on the job at hand, which in a game is the next play. The process, as it is well known. That’s why Bama will be playing with a chance to win its fourth national championship in seven years when the Crimson Tide takes on Clemson Monday, Jan. 11, in Glendale, Ariz. That’s why Bama’s seniors have a chance to finish with 50 wins in four years.

And there will be many more numerical achievements to share should Alabama defeat Clemson.

Part of the method is the focus that Alabama has had since early in the season, that well-chronicled home loss to Ole Miss when Bama committed five turnovers, the Rebels none. Since then, it has been one game at a time, no margin for error. And Alabama has produced. Nine straight wins to close out regular season play and win the Southeastern Conference Western Division. A win over Florida to win the Tide’s 25th SEC Championship. And then the rout of Big Ten champion Michigan State last week in Dallas.

Saban has pointed to the Tide’s “internal leadership,” meaning the players. He allowed them to set the team curfews in Dallas. It has been reported that the team’s Leadership Council, nine players who contribute to team policy, were responsible for the decision to send teammate Tony Brown home from Dallas before kickoff in the Cotton Bowl. (Saban said Monday that Brown remains suspended pending new information.)

And the focus, the laser-like focus, as this team has played one play at a time, one game at a time to reach the final college football game of the season.

Following the Cotton Bowl, Saban said, “The focus we had for this game was completely different than we ever had before, and I think it paid out.”

 Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said that the message from Saban as the Tide resumed practice Sunday was “Just go 1-0. Go 1-0 this week.”

Allen said Alabama’s focus is the result of hard work, particularly since that loss to Mississippi. “I’m not really surprised,” he said. “If you’ve seen how we’ve been practicing these last two or three months, no one would be surprised by the success we’re having.”

Richard Mullaney said that Sunday’s start to preparation was “a little practice and watched a little film.”

“I felt like everyone was focused, attention to detail, all that,” he said. “It was a good practice.” 

Mullaney has seen the result of the process. “In the beginning of the year, everybody talks about national championship, winning the SEC,” he said. “But I think after the Ole Miss game, we just kind of came together and instead of looking at the bigger picture, kind of took it week by week. Every day is a day to get better and start that week off and at the end of the week just be 1 and 0.”

Getting the focus back after the Cotton Bowl was no problem. Mullaney said, “Coach Saban always says 24-hour rule, so you have 24 hours to celebrate this win and after that we just move on to our next opponent.”

He mentioned that Alabama was in the Red Zone (inside the Michigan State 20) four times and scored three touchdowns and a field goal. “We want to score touchdowns every single time we’re down there,” he said.

Seventy-five per cent isn’t good enough?

“No,” he said.

 Offensive tackle Cameron Robinson said, “We know what our ultimate goal is. That’s pretty much what keeps us locked in. We have excellent leadership this year and they do a great job setting examples for the younger guys and I think that’s what keeps us going. Our ultimate goal is to win the national championship.”

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