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Jay Paterno: The Crimson High Tide Explained

by on January 10, 2013 6:00 AM

After Alabama’s third national title in four years, everyone not talking about Miss Alabama is talking about a dynasty. Most striking has been Alabama’s complete and utter dominance in the postseason.

Alabama has played three BCS Championship games, outscoring its opponents by a margin of 100-35 (including Notre Dame's 14 meaningless points). The average margin of victory was 21.7 points. In Alabama’s last four bowls, it has beaten Big 12 champion Texas, Big Ten champion Michigan State, SEC champion LSU and undefeated Notre Dame, 149-42.

But why? Why has Alabama exploded into a dynasty at a time when the rules in college football are set up to try and level the playing field. Using Big Ten math, here are the 10 (14) reasons why Alabama has separated themselves.

1. Plays. Alabama plays a deliberate ball-control offense, keeping the number of plays low. More games are lost by mistakes than are won by great plays. Fewer plays means fewer chances for errors and less fatigue on the bodies over a year. Alabama ran 898 offensive plays and defended 837. Those 1,735 total plays are more than 300 fewer than Oregon ran (in one less game). Alabama’s defense averaged less than 60 plays per game, Oregon’s almost 76. For the past four seasons Alabama’s defense has been on the field for less than 60 plays a game. Guess who led the nation in total defense and hoisted the crystal football — again?

2. It Stops The Run. Most quarterbacks in the college level are not good enough to beat a good defense when they are made to be a one-dimensional offense. Notre Dame started the game passing a lot. By the second quarter it had a tired defense and trailed, 21-0.

3. The best offense is a good defense, and the best defense is a good ball-control run offense. Because Alabama pounds the ball and as coach Nick Saban noted after the game, “controlled the tempo of the game,” it keeps the defense off the field and fresh. In Alabama’s lone loss, Johnny Football had a great game for Texas A&M, but it was A&M’s tackling that limited Alabama to 130 yards rushing. It kept Bama’s defense on the field for 77 plays.

4. Tackling. Tackling in the college game is bad. Many teams don’t tackle enough in practice. Alabama does. Tackling in practice toughens everyone on the team. Alabama's tough running backs ran through Notre Dame’s defense.

5. It Runs the Ball. Power-run games force safeties to help defend the run, leaving the speed receivers one-on-one outside for a downfield pass attack. What may surprise you; Alabama’s offense is more explosive than Oregon’s. Despite the Oregon offense’s flashier attack and No. 5 national ranking, Alabama averaged more yards per play (6.9 to 6.6).

6. It Recruits Aggressively to Its System; Strong running backs and playmakers on offense and versatile skill on defense. Recruiting leads us to . . .

7. Better Xs and Os. I don’t mean that it out-coached or out-schemed anyone (which it can do). But on several third downs Notre Dame had great defensive calls, blitzing safeties where Alabama was running. Often Notre Dame’s X was in the backfield but couldn’t make the play on Alabama’s O. No matter how well a coach called the game, the better player makes the play in one-on-one situations.

8. No Glamour Star Power. You know the names of its players, but Alabama’s had just one Heisman Trophy winner in the school’s history. Promoting glamour stars is a sure way to create locker room resentment. Alabama team chemistry has been strong under Coach Bryant and Coach Saban.

9. A Big-Time Offensive Line. The line is also helped by backs breaking a lot of tackles. Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy made a lot yards after contact the past four years.

10. It Gets By with A Little Help from Its Friends. It lost to LSU in Week 9 of 2011 and lost to Texas A&M in Week 10 this year. After those losses, the teams ahead of it lost. Alabama then found itself back in the national title game.

11. You’re Also Good at What You Practice Against. Alabama’s defense sees the power-run game every day. It’s easier for a defense with speed to adjust to the spread offense than for a defense that practices against the spread to find the toughness and tackling to play the power-run game.

12. Jim Delany and Gene Smith. Why are the Big Ten commissioner and Ohio State athletic director on this list? Their decision to postpone the Ohio State bowl ban gave last year’s 6-6 team the Gator Bowl but kept this year’s 12-0 team from playing Notre Dame. Take heart Buckeye fans, Urban Meyer has the best resume in the league. Ohio State will be in the title hunt.

13. Relentless Pursuit of Excellence. During Tom Rinaldi’s interview, Gatorade-soaked Saban allowed himself a smile but said in 48 hours he’s on to next year. But Saban will not win any fashion awards. His Nike shirt looked like a bowling shirt. All he needed was an oval patch that said “Nickie” and a pack of smokes in his sleeve.

14. Old School Schools the New School. The college football world had better take notice. In a world of hyper-marketed high-paced offenses wearing the uniform of the week, there is a program that is about toughness, defense and substance over style. It keeps winning the national championship.

The Nebraska teams of the mid 90s, the Leahy run at Notre Dame and even the three title-game (winning two) run at Penn State all shared those same characteristics. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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