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Title win puts exclamation point on Bama's decade of dominance

From ESPN - January 9, 2018

ATLANTA -- The Nick Saban Decade began in Atlanta in August 2008 with a 34-10 victory over No. 9 Clemson so one-sided that Tigers coach Tommy Bowden came out and said his team had been "whipped about every way you get whipped" -- a remarkable thing for a coach to say.

The Saban Decade ended in Atlanta, five national championships and 124 victories later, with a 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia that defied belief, logic and everything we have ever been taught about what it takes to win in college football.

It takes experience. Down 13-0 at the half, Alabama fought back to win thanks to the play of six freshmen on offense, including quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

It takes ball control. Georgia held the ball for nearly 34 minutes and converted one long third down after another.

It takes mistake-free football. The Crimson Tide took three points off the board in the first quarter because of a false start penalty. Andy Pappanastos missed that field goal -- and another one that would have won the game at the end of regulation, one he badly hooked with a national championship at stake.

Tagovailoa threw an interception on a running play.

Trailing Georgia 23-20 in overtime, he took a 16-yard sack on first down.

On the next play, Tagovailoa inserted himself in the Tide history books.

"How did we win?" Alabama special-teams coordinator Joe Pannunzio asked after the game.

Who changes quarterbacks at halftime of the final game of the season? And wins? This was not the buy-a-victory game against Mercer the week before the Iron Bowl, when you are trying to rest your starters. This was the game with everything on the line, and Alabama was down two scores.

"The younger guys worked their tail off all year," said Tide strength coach Scott Cochran. "Frustrated, disappointed. And they put it in these three, four weeks that we had to get ready for that first playoff game, and they just kept fighting. They got their shot and dominated."

A win that defied belief ended a decade that defied history. How do you measure how dominant Alabama has been over the past 10 years? There are the numbers. The Tide played for six national championships, winning five. Only six other schools have won five national titles in the poll era.

Alabama won 125 games in the past 10 years, 13 more than second-place Ohio State. If you average 12.5 wins a season, that's pretty dominant.

The Saban Decade has been marked by flawless, relentless performances and all the drama of a thresher going through a wheat field. You pretty much know the outcome. Yet Alabama did not lead Georgia on Monday night until DeVonta Smith, another freshman, caught that 41-yard strike from Tagovailoa.

You can make the case that any coach who loses the Kick-Six, who loses a national championship game with 1 second to play, deserves to win a game like this. But even Saban sounded a bit mystified after the game.

"It is hard," Saban said. "We knew it would be a hard game. ... If you ca not overcome hard, you are never going to have any great victories in your life."

Hard is overcoming the loss of nearly 50 starters to injury. Hard is seeing your starting quarterback stymied and asking a freshman to come in and take over. Hard is seeing left offensive tackle Jonah Williams go out with an injury in the third quarter and replacing him with a freshman, Alex Leatherwood.

The victory gave Saban his sixth national title -- do not forget he won one at LSU in 2003 -- and that tied him with Alabama legend Paul "Bear" Bryant for most national championships in the poll era (since 1936).

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