AUSTIN, Texas – One of the greatest things about Alabama Football that I detested as a kid growing up in New Orleans and pulling for LSU, yet grew to admire in my early 20s as Coach Bear Bryant was finishing, is its dogged dependability.
Few fan bases historically other than Bama’s realistically feel as secure in knowing their team will be national contenders or close to it just about every year. It has been that way since Wallace Wade and Frank Thomas were coaching in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, followed by Bear from 1958 through 1982, Gene Stallings from 1990-96 and Nick Saban from 2007 until God knows when.
Even short term coaches like Bill Curry, Ray Perkins and Dennis Franchione had one really good or great season. Even bad coaches like Mike DuBose and Mike Shula had a diamond year amid the losing ones.
And unlike perhaps any other program in nearly every season, Alabama seems to have a patent on pulling games it doesn’t deserve out of its freakin’ you know what.
This happened yet again on a wild and crisp Saturday afternoon here at DKR Texas Memorial Stadium. Alabama 20, Texas 19. The Longhorns outplayed Alabama almost all day and just looked better prepared and sharper with only five penalties for 30 yards to 15 for 100 by the Tide.
If Texas starting quarterback Quinn Ewers does not strain his left clavicle (collarbone) late in the first quarter and leave the game for good, the Longhorns win this game. Maybe Alabama’s defense would have solved him eventually, but he was putting on a clinic. Ewers, a redshirt freshman transfer from Ohio State and a Southlake, Texas, native, hit 9 of 12 passes for 134 yards before the injury.
Backup Hudson Card, a sophomore from Austin who won the starting job for the opener last year, did not find Alabama’s defense very troubling either. He hit 14 of 22 passes for 158 yards and could have done better, but he played despite suffering an injury that limited his movement.
Still, with all that, Texas wins if it can just stop Alabama’s last drive. That was a clinic in its own right by quarterback Bryce Young that covered 61 yards in nine plays and 79 seconds for a 33-yard field goal by Will Reichard with :10 left for the win – Bama style.
If blitzing defensive back Ryan Watts slows up just a bit and gathers himself, he sacks Young near midfield with less than 30 seconds to play and puts the Tide out of field goal range. Instead, Young escaped Watts’ grasp after nearly going down and scrambled for 20 yards to the 17-yard line to set up the field goal.
Also, if an official had seen what America has seen – Alabama right tackle JC Latham obviously holding defensive end Ovie Oghoufo just as Young rushes by – Texas probably wins.
But that’s Alabama. I was pointing this out early Sunday on Facebook, and a knowledgeable Alabama fan directed me to the Tide’s 1992 season. Alabama won the national championship that year under Stallings at 13-0 with several close calls. This was the year its proverbial rabbit out of its butt style got a gold plate put on that patent.
The Tide beat Southern Mississippi 17-10 that year and Louisiana Tech 13-0. That one was 6-0 in the fourth quarter before David Palmer returned a punt for a touchdown. There was a 17-10 win over Tennessee and a 28-21 win over Florida in the first SEC Championship Game, courtesy of a pick six by Antonio Langham in the final moments in classic Bama form.
Lucky wins. They’re not always so lucky when it is actually your lore.
“When it’s time to step up in those crunch time moments, that’s what we’re made for,” Young said Saturday on cue. “It’s not the ideal scenario.”
But it’s Alabama’s scenario … right out of central casting.
“I don’t, I couldn’t tell you,” Young said when asked about his game-saving scramble. “There was someone (Ryan Watts) hot off the edge. That was my fault. I need to make sure we slide our protection to there. I didn’t get us in the right protection. That’s on me. We shouldn’t have had to deal with that.”
But even when they mess up, they make it work.
“It was just instinct,” Young said. “Obviously, it was a big moment, big play. I knew I couldn’t get sacked. Couldn’t afford to go down, so was just trying to do whatever it took to keep the drive alive.”
Texas coach Steve Sarkisian called it a “Houdini” move. I had already looked down to write the sack details.
“At the end of the day, there’s a blessing in us being able to win a close one like this,” Young said.
The blessing the keeps on giving as the rest of the country keeps on cursing it.
“We didn’t want it to be close, but when you win a close game like that, it’s always awesome,” Reichard said.
“We train for moments like this and games like this,” said Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr., who got called for offsides three times early in the game. “That’s why you come to Alabama.”
And that blasted train just keeps going, even when you think it’s about to be stopped.