Momentary Success: Alabama has one box left to check after Rose Bowl win

After winning big over Notre Dame in a Texas-based Rose Bowl, Alabama will face a seven-game Ohio State team in the College Football Playoff final.


Courtesy of Alabama Athletics.

The Crimson Tide looked like they were at a practice today. The team beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 31-14 and punched their ticket to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Alabama looks to capture title No. 18 in Miami, Florida, on Jan. 11 against the Ohio State Buckeyes. 

The most important question coming into the Rose Bowl didn’t have to do with Notre Dame’s game plan at all. Alabama was favored by around 20 points, per most oddsmakers. The question for the team was how the Crimson Tide’s offensive line would play without senior center and team leader Landon Dickerson. 

Although the soul of the Crimson Tide’s offense did not play, Dickerson had a significant presence on the sideline during the game. He was constantly seen encouraging the offense as a whole and helping his replacement, senior Chris Owens. 

Before the Rose Bowl, senior offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood was asked about his confidence in Owens’ ability to play center. Leatherwood was steadfast in his response, saying that Owens was not inexperienced and that the team had put their complete trust in him. 

“Chris has been a really selfless player,” coach Nick Saban said. “He’s been kind of a jack of all trades for us. He’s played center, he’s played guard, he’s played tackle probably all this year and has done a really good job in whatever we’ve asked him to do.”

Owens filled in the roll almost perfectly. Alabama’s offensive line only gave up one sack to the Fighting Irish. It seemed for most of the night junior quarterback Mac Jones had more than enough time to throw for his 297 yards and four touchdowns.

“I’ve been really proud of [Owens] and the opportunity that he’s gotten,” Saban said. “I mean, that’s a great experience just to be able to say, ‘Hey, I’m starting the College Football Playoff game and I’ve been here a while.’ We have that same similar late-bloom, so I’m just really excited for Chris. We’re on the same page and we’re ready to roll.”

The Crimson Tide offense was efficient throughout the game in all aspects. Alabama outgained Notre Dame 279 to 189 in the first half and was able to head into the locker room after two quarters with a comfortable 21-7 lead. 

Most of the second half was about game management for Alabama. The Crimson Tide still outscored the Fighting Irish 10-7, but the team seemed to be in a more relaxed position. 

Focus has been the key to success for Alabama throughout the season. Saban’s experience coaching teams to ignore expectations and work through the season one game at a time cannot be overestimated, but this season brought new challenges and distractions for all college football programs.

One potential distraction for the team this season has been the Heisman race. Jones, senior wide receiver DeVonta Smith and senior running back Najee Harris were all in the Heisman race this year. During the postgame press conference, both Jones and Smith shrugged off questions about the upcoming Jan. 5 ceremony. 

“Obviously the most important thing is not letting [the Heisman race] be a distraction for our next game because the next game is the most important game,” Jones said. “That’s where we want to be. We’re finally here. We’ve got to score one more point than the other team. That’s our goal.”

The battle of physicality was won on the first play of the game. On the opening kickoff, sophomore defensive back Josh Jobe laid a huge hit to Notre Dame’s returner Chris Tyree. Although there were only about 18,000 fans in attendance at the Rose Bowl in Dallas, fan reaction could still be heard through the broadcast. From that point forward, the game seemed in Alabama’s control. 

Although Saban is proud of his team’s success, he understands from his 30-plus years of coaching that the focus is always on the next game.

“Success is not a continuum; it’s momentary,” Saban said. “And it’s always based on the next moment. So that’s what we try to get our players to focus on.” 

Alabama will play in the College Football Playoff National Championship against Ohio State on Jan. 11.