No. 5 Alabama returns to standard, routs No. 9 Kansas State in Sugar Bowl


Courtesy of UA Athletics

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9) holds the Sugar Bowl MVP trophy after Alabama’s 45-20 victory over Kansas State.

Blake Byler, Sports Editor

NEW ORLEANS — With one final chance in 2022, Alabama football finally looked like Alabama football.

The No. 5 Crimson Tide capped off its up-and-down season with a victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl over No. 9 Kansas State in overpowering fashion, defeating the Wildcats 45-20.

“I think there was a team out there today that cared,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “They cared about how they played, cared about the pride they had in their performance, cared about each other, and they prevailed because of that.”

For the majority of the 2022 season, Alabama looked different than what college football fans have grown accustomed to seeing in Saban’s decade-and-a-half tenure at the Capstone. Typically, the Crimson Tide has set the standard for the sport with overwhelmingly dominant performances on the biggest stages. This season, though, Alabama faced obstacles every which way, including five nail biting outcomes.

But on Saturday, the Crimson Tide made a statement.

Despite Alabama securing an early-game interception from senior safety Jordan Battle, Kansas State took a 10-0 lead over the Crimson Tide with just over three minutes to go in the first quarter after an 88-yard scamper for a touchdown from star Wildcat running back Deuce Vaughn.

Through two drives of offense, Alabama had amassed only 26 yards and trailed by 10.

It looked bleak, but then a switch flipped.

Facing 3rd-and-10 and risking giving the Wildcats the ball again with a double-digit lead, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young dropped back and delivered the ball over the middle to junior running back Jahmyr Gibbs. Gibbs, who has been Alabama’s most dynamic playmaker in space all season, took the catch 60 yards to move the Crimson Tide into scoring position.

Alabama scored three plays later and proceeded to score 35 unanswered points in the game.

“[Alabama] was able to hit the explosive plays. That was kind of a fear we had,” Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman said. “They’re pretty talented, their quarterback’s a pretty good player, they have good wide receivers.”

Klieman cited Gibbs’ long catch as a chance for the Wildcats to get off the field, but they couldn’t make it happen.

Once the offense started rolling, so did Young, who played like a star in what may very well have been the final game of his collegiate career. He finished the game completing 15-of-21 passes for 321 passing yards, five touchdowns, and a thunderous standing ovation from the Crimson Tide faithful as he left the field late in the fourth quarter. His performance earned him the game’s MVP award.

After the game, though, Young only wanted to talk about his teammates

“For me, it was just about doing everything I can to help the team out. This is such a huge opportunity for us as a team to prove something, and for us to finish the season the right way,” Young said. “I’m just happy we were able to win and that I was able to play with my guys.”

Outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr., Alabama’s captain and leader on defense, shared the same feelings as his quarterback.

“It’s really not about me,” Anderson said. “It’s more about my teammates. They’ve worked so hard these past two weeks. All the practices we had, all the film study we had, […] the brotherhood that was in there was amazing.”

One of the biggest deficiencies that Alabama’s detractors have harped on has been the lack of explosive plays from its wide receiver room this season. This game was the exact opposite, with three different Crimson Tide receivers collecting a catch of over 30 yards – junior Jermaine Burton, sophomore Ja’Corey Brooks and freshman Kobe Prentice.

“We made a lot of explosive plays,” Saban said. “We attacked them down the field, we made some throws and guys made really good catches. I think those explosive plays were huge in the game.”

To go along with the offense’s explosiveness after the first quarter, the Crimson Tide defense held Kansas State without a point until late in the third quarter, and without a touchdown until the fourth. Vaughn was stymied apart from his 88-yard touchdown, garnering just 45 yards on his other 21 carries.

Junior defensive back Brian Branch was a standout amongst the solid group, racking up for tackles for loss while sacking Kansas State quarterback Will Howard once and intercepting him once as well.

“Being down 10-0, I think all the leaders on defense did a really good job,” Anderson said. “Byron Young did a good job of getting his guys going, I did a good job of getting my guys going, Henry To’o To’o with his, Jordan Battle — we all came together as a defense like, ‘look, this is what we’ve got to do.’”

With the victory, Alabama erased any doubt from those that expected repeats of the Sugar Bowl performances from the 2008 and 2013 seasons — teams that had disappointing losses that took them out of championship contention, resulting in Sugar Bowl losses.

Because of the convincing fashion of the Crimson Tide’s victory, there will undoubtedly be some that suggest Alabama should have been one of the four teams to make the College Football Playoff. Ultimately, we will never know what this team could have accomplished in the playoff field, but Saban, above all, values this team’s competitiveness.

“I think we had a little bit of a taste in our mouths that if we had a dominant performance, it would show people that we probably did deserve to do a little better than we did, in terms of the playoff picture,” Saban said. “But I’m most proud that there was a team out there that cared, that represents the University of Alabama in a first-class way in the way they competed and they way they played in the game. Great competitive character from this team.”

From the strong finish to the season after a tumultuous midseason, to the decisions of Young, Anderson, and others to decide to play in the Sugar Bowl, competitive character rings true as two words that define Alabama football in 2022.

Questions or comments? Email Blake Byler (Sports Editor) at [email protected]