By Bill Nestor
When Alabama and Clemson met for the National Championship, there was more on the line than the top ranking.
Crimson Tide Head Coach Nick Saban was preparing to further distance himself from all other coaches in the history of collegiate history. Saban, a Marion County native, was on the cusp of collecting his sixth National Championship. His squad was facing a rematch with Clemson in a game that really should not have been a game.
It was a battle of class vs. arrogance for the title. Saban, an old school coach, likes to take a quiet approach, while Tiger head man Dabo Swinney is loud and extremely confident. For residents of the Mountain State (especially those that are within a stone’s throw of Saba’s former back yard) it’s easy and maybe even expected to pull for the legend. The majority of the country, you would expect, would be rooting for the class of the county.
A pair of unfortunates kept Saban from adding to his collection with the first taking place prior to kickoff. The festering train wreck that was offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, finally derailed forcing a change prior to the biggest contest of the season. The second unfortunate was a devastating injury to star running back Bo Scarbrough. Scarbrough was coming off of a 180 yard, two touchdown performance in the semifinal win over Washington. He had already rushed for 93 first half yards and a pair of scores prior to the injury.
Without Kiffin, the offense looked shaky and after Scarbrough’s departure it was stagnant. The Crimson Tide went passive on both sides of the ball and that conservative play ultimately cost them the championship. A close to the vest offense was to be expected, considering the coaching changes that took place. However, the defense wasn’t expected to follow suit. When the Crimson Tide would bring at least one additional pass rusher, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson had trouble staying upright let alone complete a pass, but when they gave him time, he picked them apart. Case in point was the game winning drive where Clemson just slashed through the best defense in the country. The loss was hard to swallow but it doesn’t change the fact that Saban is the best in the business!
If you can’t be #1, the next best thing is to beat #1 and that is exactly what Bob Huggins and his Mountaineers accomplished this past week. WVU demolished Baylor 89-68 in front of a sold out crowd. The 14,000 plus was more than the attendance of several earlier games combined and it proved to be a difference-maker. Winning in Morgantown has long been a hard feat for opponents to accomplish, as the Bears found out the hard way.
Nathan Adrian and Jevon Carter combined to score 39 points. They were joined by Tarik Phillip and Brandon Watkins in double figures with 11 points apiece.
A win of this significance can be diminished if a loss follows. When a team reels in a big win such as this one against Baylor, they sometimes let down and could possibly rest on their laurels. Fear not Mountaineer fans, as a comeback win over Texas on the road was in store for Huggins and company. The 74-72 win over the Longhorns proved that this team not only has talent, but perseverance and the mental toughness which are needed to win in March.
This team can be a legitimate favorite to win the National Championship if they can play their style of basketball without committing an over abundance of fouls. The pressure defense they play has the ability to shut down teams offensively. The issue is when they foul too much or at inopportune times. The entire country knows full well what this team is capable of doing; now all that is left is to do it!
That will do it for now. Until next week…take care and God Bless!