Alabama running back Kenyan Drake was five yards away from the end zone when the Clemson special teams unit finally caught up to him, but by then it was too late.
The 95-yard kickoff return put Alabama up for good in what became the Crimson Tide’s fourth title victory since coach Nick Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa. Drake’s run was big for the Crimson Tide, but that was hardly the only big play that helped Alabama secure its 16th national championship.
The biggest play might not have involved Alabama at all.
The Arkansas Razorbacks needed a 25-yard fourth-down conversion in overtime to avoid a loss to Ole Miss on Nov. 7, so the Razorbacks did what any team in that situation would do. They threw the ball forward, backwards and handed it to teammates until the sixth Razorback to touch the football fell down inside the Rebels’ 15-yard-line.
First down Arkansas.
“I watch it all the time because it was just a crazy play,” Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkle said. “I was on the other side of field when I saw the pass caught, and I just thought that the game was over.”
Shortly after the unlikely play, Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen sprinted up the middle on a quarterback keeper to convert a game-winning two-point conversion.
One-hundred and sixty miles away the fans in Bryant-Denny Stadium began cheering. Alabama was back in control of its destiny in the SEC West for the first time since its Sept. 19 loss to the Rebels.
As fluky as the play seemed, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema credited his players with knowing their roles in that situation. Tight end Hunter Henry originally caught the pass, but once he knew he couldn’t pick up the additional yards needed for the conversion, he heaved the ball behind him where he thought his fellow Razorbacks would be.
“[Henry] said, ‘Coach I wanted to throw it where the huddle was because I knew we would have more players there than they did, because all of the players would take off running to the ball and ours are – the linemen are a little bit slower,’” Bielema said. “That’s when I think divine intervention did happen. I’m a believer, I’m a believer, and Hunter’s father is a pastor so I knew it had something to do it as well.”
Bielema said that type of awareness goes back to the big-picture Hoganese lessons his staff teaches the team prior to the season. Once it was in the air Arkansas offensive lineman, Dan Skipper batted the ball to running back Alex Collins.
“Alex is not the most well-versed Hoganese patron in our program,” Bielema said. “He thought he had to score a touchdown. He didn’t know he just needed to get a first down. So he crossed the first down marker, thank God, and he thought he needed to score, so he threw it to the guy with the best hands on the field who is Dominique Reed who fortunately just fell down. So a lot of things worked well for us, but that play did not just happen. It had a cause and a reason.”
A few hours later the Crimson Tide walked off the field firmly in control of the SEC West after handing LSU a 30–16 defeat.
“I think we forgot our why,” LSU running back Leonard Fournette said. “Why we work so hard just to get here, we were on top of the world [at] 7–0.”
The then-Heisman favorite, Fournette, finished the night with only 31 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries. The LSU Tigers followed that outing with two more losses as the team struggled to rediscover itself.
Now the current leaders in Baton Rouge, Louisiana hope the lessons learned down the stretch last season help the Tigers finish 2016 the right way.
“Through that three-week period we talked about it as a team,” LSU defensive back Tre’Davious White said. “We did lose our why. We were 7–0 and up here and everybody was praising us and we sort of lost what got us there, so I feel like going into this year, as leaders, as a team we’re not going to let that happen.”
Alabama had a similar experience earlier in the season when the Crimson Tide found themselves on the wrong side of a 43–37 loss to the Ole Miss Rebels in Tuscaloosa.
A players–only team meeting followed the loss and Alabama seemed more like its old self when the Crimson Tide shutdown Georgia on the road to win 38–10, but that loss and the wakeup call that followed might not have happened if not for a bobbled snap that resulted in a touchdown when Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly threw it up for grabs and Ole Miss receiver, Quincy Adeboyejo took possession of it after it was deflected off of another player in the area.
Ole Miss defensive lineman D.J. Jones said he picked up his helmet to go back into the game and stood in awe when he realized his team not only picked up the first down, but scored a touchdown.
The Rebels were the only team to hand the Crimson Tide a loss last season, but that’s not good enough for Jones. He’s aiming higher this season.
“Of course, [there’s pride in beating Alabama], but if we don’t win the national championship then it means nothing,” Jones said.
Source:: The Crimson White Sports