Alabama defense not willing to overlook Heisman snub

Paul Payne
Special to the Advertiser

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Alabama’s defense is salty enough without any added motivation.

But ever since the Heisman Trophy voting was revealed three weeks ago, there has been a brewing anger among the Crimson Tide defenders across social media to prove the voters wrong.

It was nothing personal against Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, the second straight Oklahoma quarterback to win the trophy. 

Instead, it was a way to right a perceived wrong that flipped the outcome from teammate Tua Tagovailoa, who many viewed as the front-runner until he was injured in the SEC Championship Game.

The media tried to bait Alabama’s defensive players during various interviews throughout the week leading up to Saturday’s playoff semifinal at the Orange Bowl. But the Tide defenders weren’t biting. Instead they praised Murray’s abilities, preferring to let their actions on the field voice their feelings.

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Meanwhile Murray was a no-show at the opening media session on Wednesday, supposedly being under the weather — although he attended that afternoon’s Oklahoma practice.

Possibly, he’s been reading some of the Alabama defender’s tweets and thought it best just to steer clear of a chance encounter with a posse of angry Tide players.

Fully aware of the bigger prize of earning a berth to the national championship on Jan. 7 in California, the Tide defense wanted to show that the Heisman results were personal and that the voters got it wrong in Alabama's 45-34 win.

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After Tagovailoa led Alabama to a touchdown on the game’s initial possession, Murray felt the ire of Alabama’s defense on the Sooners’ opening series. 

He was sacked twice, once when Anfernee Jennings fought off a block to lasso Murray as he tried to escape the pocket on second down, and Christian Miller blindsided the Sooner quarterback on third down.

Things didn’t get any better for Murray the next drive with Oklahoma netting only six yards on five plays. The stat sheet for the Heisman winner through two series was four carries for two yards and zero passing yards on two failed attempts.

Meanwhile, Tagovailoa validate his defense’s indignation by demonstrating his performance against Georgia in the SEC title game was an aberration.

Tagovailoa led the Crimson Tide to touchdowns on its first four possession, completing his first nine passes for 184 yards. They included a 10-yard scoring toss to Henry Ruggs III and a 27-yard swing pass that Josh Jacobs took the distance after leveling a Sooner defender near the goal line.

At one point, Alabama held a 191-0 advantage in total yards.

Let me reiterate, the offense of the Heisman winner had a goose egg in the yardage department, while the runner-up was dicing Oklahoma’s porous defense with ease.

To his credit, Murray showed flashes of elusive brilliance in leading shaving the deficit to 31-20 after three periods. He finished with 109 yards rushing and 308 yards passing. But spotting the Crimson Tide a four-touchdown lead was too much for even a Heisman Trophy winner to overcome.

Plus, Murray didn’t a have defense to rely upon that could not only slow Alabama’s offense, but more importantly, was motivated to atone for the disrespect they felt for their teammate.

So while Tagovailoa’s season continues for another week with a championship to chase, Murray will have to sit home in Norman, Oklahoma, admiring his bronze piece of hardware.

Maybe the Alabama defense should be given a Heisman vote in the future. Looks like they got this one right.