In Nick Saban’s own words, Alabama was having trouble containing the Clemson offense led by Deshaun Watson. So he took an uncharacteristic gamble.
"We weren't playing very well on defense," Saban told reporters after the game. "It was a tie game. I thought we needed to do something that was going to change the momentum of the game. That certainly did."
What the five-time national championship coach is referring to is the turning point in Monday night’s CFP National Championship Game. A surprise onside kick from Alabama that caught Clemson napping and altered the course of the game for good.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) January 12, 2016
As ESPN’s Bomani Jones pointed out, the play crucially denied the Tigers a possession in the final quarter. It allowed the Crimson Tide an opportunity to take the lead without having to give the ball to a Tiger offense that wound up accumulating 550 yards and 40 points.
know what “momentum” that onside kick gave alabama? they shorted clemson a possession. that’s your “momentum.” it’s math.
— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) January 12, 2016
Alabama kicker Adam Griffith had just tied the game at 24 with a 33-yard field goal with 10:39 on the clock. The ensuing kickoff was well-executed by Griffith, bouncing up into the air and landing in the arms of special teamer Marlon Humphrey in-stride as if he was the intended receiver of an over-the-shoulder throw. Two plays later Jake connected with O.J. Howard for a 51-yard touchdown and 10 points in a 49 second span.
“This guy [Deshaun Watson], in my opinion, is the most dynamic quarterback since we played against Cam Newton in 2010. And he certainly didn’t disappoint,” Saban said. “I felt if we didn’t get ahead in the game at some point in time that we couldn’t just trade serves with ‘em.”
His gamble paid off. It gave the Crimson Tide a lead they wouldn’t relinquish and helped win Saban his fifth national championship as a head coach.
According to Griffith, the kick is something the team has worked on all season.
“We practice it every week, once a week,” Griffith said on the field following the victory. “Before the game we talked about doing it, you know, sometime during the game, I don’t know when. But the score was pretty close, coach Saban called it, And [we] went out there and did it.”
The play even forced Saban to crack a rare in-game smile:
Alabama HC Nick Saban with the sly smile after a successful onside kick recovery by Marlon Humphrey in the 4Q. pic.twitter.com/lxrZjUtK5u
— Alex Byington (@abyingtonTD) January 12, 2016
Alabama went on to win the game, 45-40, securing their fourth national title in seven seasons.