Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Special teams wins the day in national title game


GLENDALE, Ariz. — The ball only had to go 10 yards.

Ten players had to be behind Adam Griffith before he chipped the ball. If any one of them was ahead of the ball, there would’ve been a flag: offsides.

Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart couldn’t go up to the huddle and warn them not to be offsides. He couldn’t give away the play. He had to stand on the sideline and watch as head coach Nick Saban made a call few were sure existed in the Alabama playbook. An onside kick is rare enough for Alabama but attempting one by surprise is nearly unheard of.

The ball only needed to go 10 yards. It went 15.

Ten players couldn’t pass the ball before Griffith kicked it. No one did.

Griffith had to be perfect. Marlon Humphrey had to be perfect. Both were.

“The onside kick was huge; it was a great kick by Grif,” Saban said. “I think it changed the momentum of the game, and the guys finished.”

The game was tied up at 24 with 10:34 left to play. Griffith had just made a 33-yard field goal. The defense had forced Clemson to punt on its last two drives, but the unit was gassed, having spent as much time on the field as the offense and more than nine-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter on the field.

When he got the signal for the surprise onside kick, Griffith was ready.

“We practice that once a week,” Griffith said. “I was real confident in it. It was one of the best ones. That’s for sure.”

When Alabama recovered the ball, it needed two plays to take a lead, which it never gave up.

“That was a huge, huge play in the game because I felt like we had all the momentum and were getting ready to get the ball back,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We were confident in where we were, and it was a huge play.”

Clemson kicked a field goal on its next possession. On the ensuing kickoff, Kenyan Drake took it back 95 yards and dove into the end zone. It was his first kickoff return for a touchdown and Alabama’s sixth special teams touchdown of the year.

Saban said he felt the team needed to win special teams in the game. Between the onside kick and kickoff return, Alabama did.

“We weren’t playing very well on defense, and it was a tie game, and I thought we needed to do something that was going to change the momentum,” Saban said. “That certainly did, and then the kickoff return was big too, so special teams was what did it for us.”

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