Top Ten Plays of the Saban Era at Alabama

 

Go ahead, Alabama. Pinch yourself. 

This isn’t a dream. 

Yes, this is the greatest run in the history of college football. Yes, your program has captured 5–say it again, 5–national championships in the last 9 years. Yes, Nick Saban is every bit as good as Bear Bryant. Yes, it doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. 

When Nick Lou Saban took the podium on January 3, 2007, Alabama fans had no idea what was in store for the next decade of Crimson Tide football. The sweet perfume of championships has returned to the Capstone, and all is well in Tuscaloosa.

If you didn’t know it, Alabama is a program of numbers. Because of Saban, housed now in the trophy case are 5 more national championships, 5 more SEC championships, 2 Heisman Trophies, 9 more bowl victories, 46 more All-American selections, 2 more Maxwell Award Winners, 4 more Outland Trophy Winners, and a host of other hardware. Like ducks in a shooting gallery, the Tide have systematically picked off a pantheon of national juggernauts: Virginia Tech, Texas, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Florida State, West Virginia, Wisconsin, USC, and Washington–in addition to every team in the SEC. Fourteen U.S. states have played host to Tide victories, with Texas (where Alabama is undefeated) being the most favored situs outside of the borders of Alabama. Against SEC West opponents, the Tide hold a remarkable 51-11 mark. Alabama is 11-0 against Tennessee and Arkansas, 6-1 versus Florida, 9-3 versus LSU and 7-4 versus Auburn. 

But statistics merely stir the mind. It’s the moments that travel down to the heart and plant a stake. 

Here’s a look at the Top 10 plays of the Nick Saban era at Alabama: 

 

10. Julio Jones 73-Yard TD Reception vs. LSU

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium – Tuscaloosa, Alabama

When: November 7, 2009

H&A Notes: LSU led 15-13 with 10:24 left in the game when Jones struck. Said Jones on the touchdown play: “We practiced that all week. A situation like that, I feel like I should just step up and make the play. I did what I had to do.” On the evening, the Tide had 452 yards of offense to LSU’s 253. Alabama RB Mark Ingram rushed for 144 yards on 22 carries. 

 

9. Marcell Dareus Interception vs. Texas 

Where: Rose Bowl – Pasadena, California. BCS National Championship Game

When: January 7, 2010

H&A Notes: Leading 17-6 with the second quarter closing, Marcell Dareus scooped up a Garrett Gilbert pass and trucked to the end zone like an angry rhinoceros. Dareus, who had already delivered a game-ending hit on Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, made his second big play of the first half. Bama went on to secure it’s 13th National Championship and first since 1992.

“We back,” said RB Mark Ingram after the game. 

 

8. T.J. Yeldon Touchdown Reception vs. LSU

Where: Tiger Stadium – Baton Rouge, Louisiana

When: November 3, 2012

H&A Notes: Stifling the LSU offense, Alabama led comfortably 14-3 at halftime. But a pair of second half touchdowns gave the Bengal Tigers a lead, 17-14, with time waning down. The Alabama offense had stalled for two straight quarters, but quarterback AJ McCarron engineered a drive that was punctuated with the screen pass to Yeldon with :51 remaining. The Tide emerged victorious, 21-17, and punched its ticket to Atlanta. 

 

7. Trent Richardson Run vs. LSU

Where: Louisiana Superdome – New Orleans, Louisiana. BCS National Championship Game 

When: January 9, 2012

H&A Notes: Previous to Richardson’s run, Alabama had not scored an offensive touchdown in the last 7 quarters versus LSU. Richardson’s scamper capped off an incredible defensive performance by the Tide defense, which held LSU to 92 total yards and only 5 first downs. 

“That defense is as good as any defense I’ve ever seen,” said Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones. “They rush the passer, they have awesome linebackers and they’re great in coverage. They really don’t have any weaknesses. They have to be as good as any defense ever.”

 

6. McElroy to Upchurch versus Auburn 

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium – Auburn, Alabama 

When: November 27, 2009

H&A Notes: Auburn, a heavy underdog in the game, came out gunning, scoring a pair of early touchdowns to take a 14-0 lead. But Alabama charged back behind QB Greg McElroy’s leadership and a solid receiving game from Julio Jones. Mark Ingram, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, was limited to 30 yards on 16 carries. But it was the third-string Upchurch who was the hero of the night. 

“Patience pays off and today I’ve got a story to tell,” Upchurch said.

 

5. McCarron to Cooper versus Georgia 

Where: Georgia Dome – Atlanta, Georgia. SEC Championship Game 

When: December 1, 2012

H&A Notes: Chock-full of stars, this game will be remembered as the night the clock ran out on Georgia. Trailing 32-28, Georgia QB Aaron Murray marched the Bulldogs down the field to the 8 yard line, a game-winning touchdown just within reach. But time ran out on a tipped ball by Alabama’s C.J. Mosley and Alabama survive and advance to face Notre Dame in the national championship.

The game-winning 45-yard pass from McCarron to Amari Cooper with 3:15 to play will be seared into SEC Championship Game history. 

 

4. Kenyan Drake Kickoff Return TD versus Clemson 

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium – Glendale, Arizona. 2015 National Championship Game.

When: January 11, 2016

H&A Notes: A monster game by Alabama tight end O.J. Howard was outshined by two Godzilla-like fourth-quarter plays by the Alabama special teams. One could certainly make the argument that Drake’s 95-yard kickoff return was the more spectacular play, given Drake’s history with broken bones. However, the onside-kick is the #3 spot on our list because it changed the momentum of the game.

Either way you slice it, the 4th quarter of this game is perhaps the best quarter of football in Alabama history. 

 

3. Onside Kick versus Clemson

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium – Glendale, Arizona. 2015 National Championship Game. 

When: January 11, 2016 

H&A Notes: Don’t mess with Nick Saban. 

 

2. Terrence Cody Blocked FG versus Tennessee

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium – Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  

When: October 24, 2009

H&A NOTES:  This play could easily come in on our list at #1, for 5 national championships may never have happened had Tennessee’s Daniel Lincoln been able to convert.

The only October game on the list, the game itself was a classic, even though it was a bit of an offensive snoozer. Tennessee scored the lone touchdown of the game and Alabama’s Leigh Kiffin kicked four field goals.

Enter Terrence “Mt.” Cody with theatrics.

Cody’s last-second block was his second such FG block on the day, the duplication of which made his feat even more remarkable.

Five years later, all was forgiven, as Lane Kiffin joined the Tide as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. 

 

1. Tua Tagovailoa Pass versus Georgia

Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium – Atlanta, Georgia. National Championship Game 

When: January 8, 2018 

H&A Notes: A great play will be etched simultaneously into the minds of the winner and the loser, and no doubt both Alabama fans and Georgia fans will take this image to the hereafter.

Here’s a story for you. A backup quarterback–from all places, Hawaii. Hold it. A backup freshman quarterback– from all places, Hawaii–steps in at the beginning of the third quarter to lead a comeback for the ages. Trailing 23-20 in OT, Tagovailoa hurled a 41-yard screamer to DeVonta Smith, securing Alabama’s fifth national championship of the Nick Saban era. An instant classic, the game is considered by some to be one of the best– if not, the best–in the history of Alabama football. H&A

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Cover photo courtesy Alabama Athletics. 

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