The last long wait begins as Alabama football tries to beat Ohio State for another crown | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

The next nine days will be full of distractions for Alabama football, as quarterback Mac Jones made clear on Friday night.

Jones fended off one reporter asking about the Heisman Trophy, which will be awarded on Tuesday night, with an answer straight out of the Nick Saban playbook: “That’s a rat-poison question.” 

Jones didn’t get a lethal dose, certainly not compared to his teammate, DeVonta Smith, the presumptive front-runner. However, with the way the rest of Friday night unfolded, even a drop of distraction might be dangerous. Ohio State crushed Clemson, 49-28, in New Orleans, dominating on both sides of the ball and changing the perception of its season with by far its best performance.

Former Alabama player Barrett Jones, who did a good job as an analyst on the ESPN radio broadcast, made a good comparison: Ohio State displayed a singleness of purpose against Clemson, which eliminated the Buckeyes a year ago, that mirrored the focus that 2009 Alabama had against Florida in the SEC Championship Game.

So far in 2020, Saban hasn’t worried about his own team’s focus.

Jan 1, 2021; Arlington, TX, USA;   Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban lifts the trophy Friday, Jan. 1, 2021 following Alabama's 31-14 win over Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff Semifinal hosted by the Rose Bowl in AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

"It will be kind of up to them to see how we manage (preparation), how we get ready to go down to Miami and play in that game,” Saban said. “I'm really proud of the way our players have handled disruptions all year long. I know this has been a difficult season for fans, players, coaches managing their team. But I think this is good for everyone when we have these games, people have something to be interested in, and players have the opportunity to compete”

TIDE UNSTOPPABLE:Commemorate Alabama’s run to the 2021 College Football Playoff final with our new hardcover book.

There will be no shortage of storylines. Alabama has played 12 games, Ohio State seven. That’s not a reflection on Ohio State’s willingness to play. From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Buckeye coaches and administration, well aware that this year’s OSU team had championship potential, fought to play. But there is a toll associated with five extra games. Alabama will be favored in Miami, but how different would it be with Jaylen Waddle, Landon Dickerson and LaBryan Ray? Ohio State has injuries, too, and there is no way to prove that the extra games caused the Alabama players to get hurt, other than the math of playing 20 extra quarters.

Dabo Swinney waved that flag before playing Ohio State. Saban, as he usually does, will keep any public comments strictly in neutral. 

Saban did not know when he made his postgame comments after the Crimson Tide's victory over Notre Dame in its own semifinal which opponent Alabama would be facing. But his analysis of Alabama’s performance seemed presciently accurate in terms of facing Ohio State.

"I think you have to be able to play every style,” Saban said. "I think that if people get a bead on you in terms of what is successful against you, you don't have answers for it, then everybody's going to do it and they're going to take a lot of things away.

"I think the thing that was a little tough for us in the second half is we didn't run the ball very effectively in the second half. We wanted to try to take the air out of it at the end of the game. We didn’t have much success. They had the ball for almost the entire last eight minutes of the game.

"We have to be able to finish a little bit better, regardless of what style of defense anybody is going to try to play against us. I'm sure we'll learn from it and hopefully do better the next time."

With one “next time” to go, Alabama has done everything possible, but, as Saban notes, it hasn’t played the perfect game yet, and it might have to come close.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt 

Cecil Hurt