ORLANDO — The 11th win of the University of Alabama’s 2019 football season wasn’t on the way to a shot at the national championship as it usually is, but it was historic all the same.
The 11-win plateau is a tricky one for even elite programs: Michigan hasn’t had one since 2011 and has never had them consecutively; Texas didn’t have one in the previous decade, and USC only had one; Tennessee didn’t have a 10-win season in the previous decade, much less 11. But with the 35-16 win in the Citrus Bowl, Alabama has had 11 wins in nine consecutive seasons.
Tweet length review of the game
An Alabama team with unfortunate, critical flaws was able to shed those flaws for the final flaws for its final 30 minutes and end the season as well as it possibly could, given its circumstances. There’s something in that to be commended.
Did you know?
– Let’s put some context on Najee Harris recording a rushing touchdown in his seventh consecutive game. A list of recent Alabama running backs that never did that: Eddie Lacy, TJ Yeldon, Trent Richardson, Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs. Mark Ingram maxed out at a seven-game streak. The one outlier is Derrick Henry, who scored in all 15 games of his 2015 Heisman season and the final five games of the season before it.
– Alabama had six 200-yard receiving games in program history before 2019, but it had three this season. Jerry Jeudy going for 204 in the Citrus Bowl was the third, after DeVonta Smith went for 274 against Ole Miss and 213 against LSU. Jeudy also became just the third UA wide receiver to have two 1,000-yard receiving seasons, joining DJ Hall and Amari Cooper. His 1,163 yards this season (third in school history) give him 2,742 career receiving yards, which is fourth in school history, only 39 yards behind Calvin Ridley in third.
– The most penalized Alabama team of the Nick Saban era managed to fix that issue in its swan song, committing five penalties for 25 yards. It was just the second time this season UA did not allow a first down by penalty, the other being against New Mexico State in the second game of the season.
– The 55 offensive play Alabama ran were its lowest of the season and lowest since it ran 49 against The Citadel in 2018. Both were heavily influenced by time of possession: Michigan held the ball for 28 minutes and 50 seconds of the first 45 minutes, taking 64.07 percent of the possession.
– Xavier McKinney ended the season: first on the team in tackles (95), sixth in tackles for a loss (5 1/2), fourth in sacks (three), second in interceptions (three), fourth in pass breakups (five), third in quarterback hurries (five) and first in forced fumbles (four, the 17th player in UA history to have that many).
What about this game will be remembered in the offseason?
Saban’s comments about the juniors who played in the game and the opportunity to reestablish a standard for the program seemed to resonate with people, and statements like that coincide with the belief of bowl wins generating momentum into a productive offseason.
Quoting Nick Saban
– “I’m especially proud of this team, for the adversity that they had to overcome this year, the perseverance that they showed, and the grit that they showed in coming out and playing the way they did in the second half of this game.”
– “I think this team had a lot to prove in this game. I think that we have a culture of how we play football at Alabama, with great effort, great toughness, but also discipline to execute and accountability for everybody to do their job. That’s always been the trademark of what we do, and people make decisions based on what’s best for the team.
And I thought that maybe at the end of the year this year in a couple games that we played — you know, half of the LSU game and maybe at Auburn — we didn’t really do that that way, to the standard that I would like and to our expectation, and I think the players realized that. And I think they wanted to prove that, you know, this is the culture that was established for a number of years here by a lot of good players, and I think they have a lot of pride in that and I think they wanted to come out today and prove that this is what Alabama football, the culture of Alabama football is really all about.”
Quoting the Crimson Tide
– Mac Jones: “I think the confidence just comes from reps at practice and the guys around me — the line making their calls and their blocks and the receivers making plays, running backs making plays. It’s really easier when you have the best players around you. Coach Saban always tells me, just do my job, get them the ball and they’ll make the plays. So, I mean, looking forward, we have a good group. Like I said, we have a long off-season and a lot to work on, and I’m really fired up to keep working.”
– Jeudy: “I played football all my life, so I couldn’t just sit out there and watch my team play and my brothers be out there. So I just wanted to go to war with my brothers like I’ve been doing the whole season. I love playing football, so I just wanted to come out here and compete with my brothers.”
– Shyheim Carter: “This senior class, man, we wanted to go out on top. We didn’t finish how we wanted to finish, in the national championship, but we wanted to recreate the Bama identity and set the tone for next season.”
Quoting the opponent
– Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh on how UA stopped the run: “They started cutting our edge. That jammed up a few of the outside running plays. But I thought Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet really ran well the whole game. We just — you know, we didn’t make enough plays, keep enough drives going. We were backed up. The 1-yard line, I think we came out, got the ball out; we ended up getting a field goal. The time we were on the 4, drove it all the way to the 40. So there was some field position but, I thought our guys moved the ball well in the running game throughout the game.”
– Linebacker Jordan Glasgow: “My experience at the University of Michigan and Coach Harbaugh-led teams, my brothers have been on them and I was on them for my entire five years. It’s been an honor to be coached by Coach Harbaugh: by a person who wants to develop a person’s character as well as their football skills. It’s difficult to put into words, but it’s just been a pleasure playing for him and for the people that he’s brought in.”
One man’s very arbitrary top four players of the game, in no particular order
– Jeudy: Six catches for 204 yards and a touchdown. He was the easy choice for the game’s MVP.
– Harris: 24 carries for 136 yards and two touchdowns. In the event that this caps his career, it was a fitting end: one that saw him churn the offense through crucial points in the game and make explosive playmaking possible.
– Mike Bernier: Six punts for an average of 42.3 yards, four downed inside the 50. His presence was a surprise, but his production was a pleasant surprise. Given Michigan’s best method of moving the ball was a plodding running game that got worse with time, the field position Bernier earned UA was crucial.
– Michigan running back Zach Charbonnet: 13 carries for 84 yards. When he was going strong, he was more or less Michigan’s only offense, and that offense was enough to keep the Wolverines in it for three quarters.
Against the spread
Alabama’s 19-point win was easily ahead of the 7 1/2-point spread. The final UA touchdown brought the game close to the over/under total of 54 1/2, but Michigan’s last-second heave failing kept it under.
A long and news-filled offseason, given upcoming NFL Draft decisions to be made, before opening the 2020 season against USC in Arlington, Texas.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson