The team nobody wants to play

By Shane from Centerpoint
I remember the first time Nick Saban made the statement. He said that he wanted Alabama to be a team that opponents feared – a physically dominating team that would literally beat others into submission.

He wanted a team that could exercise its will on the field. It was never more evident than last Saturday night in Knoxville when Tennessee players were falling like flies during Alabama’s mauling (31 rushes/150 yds/2TDs.) second-half performance. I know Saban has to be smiling right now because the Crimson Tide is becoming the team that nobody wants to play.

Forget fancy formations and schemes. Anybody who really understands football knows that physicality, when added to speed and execution, is the secret ingredient that allows the great teams to dominate games.

Want proof? Alabama’s total time trailing all opponents is 75 seconds! Yes, through 8 games (4 on the road), countless potential momentum shifts, turnovers, and negative plays, Saban’s Tide continues to stay focused and intense. I have yet to see a team that can break their will, even for a moment.

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Experts who claimed Alabama might win 8 games and no more forgot about Nick Saban’s ability to quickly create a strong, hard-nosed football team. I know I’m about to commit gridiron blasphemy by saying this, but I think this year’s version of the Crimson Tide resembles a Bryant team from the “seventies” era. They play flawless, fundamental football. The offensive and defensive lines are just as dominant as those monsters the “Bear” used. Saban’s innovative defensive style resembles both Bryant’s and Oliver’s to some degree as well. Lastly, much like coach Bryant, Saban has some of the best athletes on the defensive side of the ball.

This season I’ve yet to see or hear a player who doesn’t completely understand the team’s mission. There are numerous leaders at every position. This group of athletes also speaks with one heartbeat in the most important place of all – on the field during the heat of battle.

Great coaches say football teams must be able to run the ball and stop the run to win championships. Alabama has been extraordinary in its ability to do both. Since the running game is by far the most brutal aspect of the game of football and is a key for all other processes, Bama’s success in this area is directly responsible for its victories.

Alabama’s offensive rushing capabilities allow them to control the clock, dictate the pace of the game, and break the will of the opposition. They force the defender to play their game, and they execute run-blocking schemes almost flawlessly. Bama’s stellar running game allows the play-action passing game to have consistent success.

On the other side of the ball there is a brick wall that is hard to break through. Think about what this group has accomplished. They shut down Clemson’s super tandem of Spiller and Davis. They shut down Heisman candidate, Knowshon Moreno. The Tide has taken away the run from everybody and left them one-dimensional. Predictability cripples an offensive attack.

Everything I’ve stated thus far is merely confirming fact. From this point forward, like anybody else, I am issuing an opinion. I don’t think any of the opponents remaining on Alabama’s schedule have the right ingredients in place this year to stop the Tide’s roll. After Arkansas State, the remaining three teams in Bama’s way all have one thing in common – they all have a winning streak against Alabama. Alabama will snap every one of those streaks in fine fashion. Payback is hell. Just ask Georgia.

The Crimson Tide will face Florida or Georgia in the SEC championship game. Both squads have great skill players, perhaps better than Alabama’s, although that is debatable. The problem for these teams is the same faced by every opponent Bama will have eliminated on it way to the Georgia Dome – they cannot win the war on the line of scrimmage. Alabama has already dominated the Bulldogs, and Florida’s line would fare no better against the best linemen (on both sides of the ball) in the nation.

Of course injury luck will come into play, but that is true with all teams in this bone-crunching sport. Barring those sorts of problems, Alabama seems destined for a match-up against either Big 10 foe Penn State, or Big 12 champion Texas or Texas Tech. Neither team leaves me with the impression that it could come close to beating the Crimson Tide for the same reason as I stated above – they can’t whip the Tide up front.

I give former Tide coach Mike Shula credit for the highly talented linemen he recruited. I give Joe Pendry and Saban’s defensive staff credit for developing these men into a dominant force on both sides of the ball. Saban also has a “lead dog” in strength coach Scott Cochran, who is probably the best in the country. In a short time he’s turned a bunch of growing boys into a driven unit of grown men.

Championship football teams get better each game as the season progresses. Alabama’s defense is becoming so good that the offense can afford to make a mistake, never affecting the defense’s mission of just shutting the opponent down.

One other key component to Alabama’s soaring rise to the top is John Parker Wilson. He beat “media darling” Matthew Stafford in his own house (between the hedges). His leadership qualities – decision making, putting his team in the right play, passing-game management, even the way he carries himself – all serve to confirm that he is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. John Parker Wilson is playing consistent, winning football.

Finally, I’ll sum it up for the rest of the SEC. This isn’t the Alabama you enjoyed kicking around the field during the first seven years of this decade. This version of the Crimson Tide is relentless and will smack you in the mouth for sixty minutes. They thrive on pure physicality and simply have no fear. I looked in their eyes when they entered big games on the road in Athens and Knoxville. Each time they seemed so business-like. The atmosphere around them seemed secondary to their mission at hand – kicking some ass.