The 70th play of the game
Mary Lou and I made our first visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium this past weekend to watch Alabama handily defeat my beloved Auburn Tigers. It was not an unexpected result and we must admit that we had a really good time in Tuscaloosa.
Given the bitterness of the rivalry, there were almost no fans on either side misbehaving. Of course, there were probably no more than 5,000 of the Auburn faithful in attendance so picking a fight was not in anyone’s interest if they were wearing orange and blue.
This year’s Crimson Tide team is what results when you take the best team in the country and plug in a new quarterback that seems to play flawlessly every game. If Tua Tagovailoa does not win the Heisman Trophy this year, then the fix is in. He is that good.
I have felt a bit sorry for Jalen Hurts this year. After all, who leads a team to two National Championship Games only to be benched by a true Freshman? He entered the Auburn game well after the outcome was known, only to throw a touchdown pass on his first play. Alabama’s football team is truly an embarrassment of riches.
You can be an Auburn fan, hated rival of Alabama, and still admire the incredible job that Nick Saban has done at Alabama and throughout his college career. He has almost certainly cemented his place in history as college football’s greatest coach of all time.
This sort of begrudging admiration led me to research a bit about Saban and his “process”. The scoreboard has nothing to do with the process although that is what drives the fans and donors.
Saban’s process is about having each individual player being committed to dominating the opposing player. Not just during the game, but on every single play. Block out all the distractions and focus on the job at hand.
There is no shortage of quotes attributed to Saban’s philosophy. One of my favorites is “You don’t dominate someone the first play, you do it the 70th play. You need to sustain”. Alabama did not become only the second team in history to beat every team on their schedule by more than 20 points by just dominating them in the first quarter. They did it by dominating them on the 70th play, and then the next play and the next.
Can anybody beat Alabama this year? The answer is yes, yes they can. I believe that the only team in America with a decent chance to beat Alabama is in fact the Georgia Bulldogs. To do so the Dawgs have to try to dominate the opposition on every play. They can’t think about the score, but only the next play.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Only Georgia can beat Alabama at their own game. That’s not an accident since Coach Kirby Smart coached under Saban for nine years. He understands the process and he understands how to win.
Last year, Auburn beat the #1 team in the country on consecutive weekends. It wasn’t enough to win either the SEC or National Championship, but it was still awfully satisfying. This year we will lick our wounds knowing we don’t belong in this game. Not this year.
Good luck to the two best teams in the SEC. May the best team win . . . on the 70th play.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org