Daily Dose of Crimson Tide: The 2011 National Champions
If the disappointment of not returning to a BCS bowl wasn’t enough motivation for the Alabama football team, it got an overdose of tragedy during the months building up to the 2011 season.
Mere days after the annual A-Day scrimmage, and unveiling of Nick Saban’s statue for winning the 2009 national title, a series of horrific tornados struck the state on April 27, killing 53 people in Tuscaloosa alone including long-snapper Carson Tinker’s girlfriend Ashley Harrison. He barely survived with a concussion, broken wrist, and an ankle injury.
In May, reserve offensive lineman Aaron Douglas was found dead on a balcony the morning after attending a party in Jacksonville.
Despite all that, and a 9-6 overtime loss to LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 5th, Alabama managed to reach the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans, where it dominated the rematch with a 21-0 victory.
“I've never coached a team that was more determined, more dedicated to overcoming adversity than this group of guys,” Nick Saban said. “I've never seen a more dominant performance than what they did in the national championship game against LSU.”
Although running back Trent Richardson was a Heisman Trophy finalist who set the Alabama single-season rushing record, and after moving from right guard to left tackle Barrett Jones became the third Crimson Tide player to win the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman), the defense put itself on the short list for best-ever consideration.
Alabama finished the season by leading the nation in pass-efficiency defense (83.69 rating), pass defense (111.46 yards per game), rushing defense (72.15), scoring defense (8.15 points), and total defense (183.62 yards per game) – in addition to third-down defense, red-zone defense, first downs allowed and three-and-outs – and all by a wide margin.
It pulled off the first shutout in BCS history, never mind the title game, and the Tigers crossed the 50-yard line only once.
Meanwhile, with AJ McCarron passing a lot on first down he became the first sophomore quarterback to lead his team to victory in the BCS title game and was named the offensive MVP.
“We knew coming into the game somebody else had to step up, and coach just gave me an opportunity,” said McCarron, who completed 23 of 34 attempts and 234 yards and had no turnovers. “I don't think I did anything special.”
If so, he was the only one.
“Tonight, he was on a whole other level, he actually blew me away,” center William Vlachos said. “He talked to us at halftime, he talked to us pregame, he’s on the stage getting offensive MVP. The guy is unbelievable.”
Finally, with 4:36 remaining, Alabama scored the one-and-only touchdown between the two teams in eight quarters and one overtime, when Richardson recorded his 21st rushing touchdown of the season by bouncing outside on a 34-yard run.
“That was probably the most fun touchdown I’ve ever scored,” Jones said. “Two games of frustration of not finding the end zone, just to seal the deal, that was a great feeling.”
In addition to winning its second crystal football in three years, Richardson won the program’s first Doak Walker Award (best running back), Jones collected the ACA Sportsmanship Award and Wuerffel Trophy, and Alabama was also presented with the Disney Spirit Award that annually goes to college football's most inspirational player, team or figure.
Tinker accepted on behalf of the Crimson Tide roughly a month before the championship.
“It’s awesome,” Tinker said between hugs and falling pieces of crimson and white confetti at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. “There are no words that can describe this. Just a lot of work paid off. Everyone here faced some kind of adversity, and just to see how they all came out of that is a great thing.”
But that didn’t keep the Crimson Tide from relishing the finality of the moment and all it had accomplished. For example, after playing in his final game for the Crimson Tide, Vlachos refused to let go of the game ball, even in the locker room, while offensive coordinator Jim McElwain walked arm-in-arm with his family off the field and subsequently stepped into his new job as the head coach at Colorado State.
Everyone else headed back to Tuscaloosa where the rebuilding continued but another crown jewel would be prominently displayed, and a championship like none other celebrated.
“It means a lot, we went through a lot this season, last year,” Richardson said. “The tornado, we lost a teammate, it was big for our team. We needed this here and we’re glad to bring it back to Tuscaloosa, and try and bring hope and faith back to our town.
“That accomplishment is big. You dream of stuff like that, some dreams don’t even be that big, but when stuff like that happens it’s incredible. That tells you about the program we have here and the kind of program we built here, and we’re still building. We’re not done yet.”
The 2011 Crimson Tide
12-1, national champions
Date, opponent, location, W/L, score
Sept. 3: Kent State, at Tuscaloosa, W 48-7
Sept. 10: at Penn State, at State College, Pa., W 27-11
Sept. 17: North Texas, at Tuscaloosa, W 41-0
Sept. 24: Arkansas, at Tuscaloosa, W 38-14
Oct. 1: at Florida, at Gainesville, Fla., W 38-10
Oct. 8: Vanderbilt, at Tuscaloosa, W 34-0
Oct. 15: at Ole Miss, Oxford, Miss, W 52-7
Oct. 22: Tennessee, at Tuscaloosa, W 37-6
Nov. 5: LSU, at Tuscaloosa, L 9-6 OT
Nov. 12: at Mississippi State, at Starkville, W 24-7
Nov. 19: Georgia Southern, at Tuscaloosa, W 45-21
Nov. 26: at Auburn, at Auburn, W 42-14
Jan. 9: LSU, at BCS Championship, at New Orleans, W 21-0
Total points: 453-106
Coach: Nick Saban
Assistant coaches: Burton Burns, Mike Groh, Jim McElwain, Jeremy Pruitt, Chris Rumph, Kirby Smart, Jeff Stoutland, Sal Sunseri, Bobby Williams. Strength and conditioning coach: Scott Cochran
Captains: Mark Barron, Dont’a Hightower, Trent Richardson
Ranking (AP): Preseason No. 2; Postseason No. 1.
Leaders: Rushing _ Trent Richardson (1,679 yards, 283 carries); Passing _ A.J. McCarron (219 of 328, 2,634 yards); Receiving _ Marquis Maze (56 catches, 627 yards).
Major Awards: Trent Richardson; Doak Walker Award; Barrett Jones: Outland Trophy, Wuerffel Trophy. All-American: First team _ Mark Barron, safety; Dont’a Hightower, linebacker; Barrett Jones, offensive lineman; Dre Kirkpatrick, cornerback; DeQuan Menzie, cornerback; Trent Richardson, running back; Courtney Upshaw, linebacker. Second team _ William Vlachos, center. Academic All-American _ Barrett Jones.
All-SEC (first team): Mark Barron, safety; Dont’a Hightower, linebacker; Barrett Jones, offensive lineman; Dre Kirkpatrick, cornerback; DeQuan Menzie, cornerback; Trent Richardson, running back; Courtney Upshaw, linebacker; center William Vlachos. SEC Offensive Player of the Year: Trent Richardson. Jacobs Award: Barrett Jones.
Some of this post originated from "100 Things Crimson tide Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," published by Triumph Books