The final game of the 2020-21 college football season represents a lot for players, coaches, and fans. In a year that didn’t pull its punches, college football even taking place was at one point not a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless, the stage was set in Miami for a great matchup between blue bloods Alabama and Ohio State.
SEC juggernaut Alabama, led by coaching legend Nick Saban, entered the 2021 College Football Playoff national championship at 12-0, coming off of a 31-14 win over No. 4 Notre Dame in the Dallas edition of the Rose Bowl. They also won the 2020 SEC championship by defeating Florida 52-46 in Atlanta. Ohio State, the also-unbeaten and four-time defending champions of the Big Ten, obliterated Trevor Lawrence and No. 2 Clemson to get to the Sunshine State. The Buckeyes’ quarterback, Justin Fields, had played through pain all the way to an incredible six-touchdown night. It was a truly emphatic Sugar Bowl performance, from an individual and team standpoint. Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith would now have a Heisman Trophy on his resumé for this game. Prior to kickoff, it was announced that Jaylen Waddle, the sensational Crimson Tide wideout and return phenom who went down against Tennessee with a fractured ankle, was medically cleared and would be playing as well. Ohio State beat Alabama the last time the two danced, and then won the national championship for the 2014-15 season.
Alabama won the coin toss, with injured captain Landon Dickerson dressed in full uniform as he declared the Tide’s decision; they deferred. The first Buckeye drive featured an Alabama defensive stop, but there would be more to it than that. Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon, who has been on an absolute tear during the past several games, was injured on the very first play and ruled out for the game with what is presumed to be a collarbone injury. Alabama took the ball methodically down the field and were met with a third down deep in Ohio State territory. It was here that Waddle got involved; quarterback Mac Jones pitched him the ball and he ran out to the edge to secure a first-and-goal scenario. He came up limping following the play. Najee Harris ran it in for the first points of the national title game, giving Alabama the early lead. Ohio State responded in kind; after getting into the red zone with a dazzling pitch-and-catch between Fields and Jeremy Ruckert, tailback Master Teague III scored their first points to even up the contest. Alabama kept the pedal to the metal on the ensuing drive and got Devonta Smith the ball for a touchdown in the opening moments of quarter number two.
The first drive of the second frame for Ohio State was another three-and-out. However, their defense changed the game on the very next play. Their pressure got to Jones and he lost a fumble, setting the Buckeyes up in the red zone. After a pass interference penalty against the Tide gave Ryan Day’s team first-and-goal, Teague broke through and scored again, giving his team key points off of a turnover and notching the game at 14. Alabama did not let up, and it was more of the same during their next drive. In addition to more involvement from Smith, Najee Harris hauled in a Mac Jones pass thrown under duress and took it all the way into the end zone. Ohio State scored on their next drive, but only a field goal. They had made it into the red zone again, and moved further along owing to a targeting penalty when Ruckert got the worst of a Jordan Battle hit. The Alabama defense was able to hold strong with their backs against the wall and almost nabbed a pick. The Buckeyes, down in the kicking department for this pivotal game, were nevertheless able to get the chip-shot field goal through. In a game like this one, however, it is ideal to answer touchdowns with touchdowns, lest the other team hit paydirt on the next go-around. The Crimson Tide exhibited this when Devonta Smith logged his second receiving touchdown of the game, which put his team up by 11 after the PAT. After another Tide defensive stop, their offense got the ball back, and Smith reacquainted himself with the end zone in short order. The catch cemented over 200 yards receiving for him and over 300 yards passing for Mac Jones. Alabama stopped Ohio State once more before the half and went into the break up 35-17.
The Crimson Tide opened the third quarter with the ball and a considerable lead. They then proceeded to eat up half the quarter en route to their first field goal of the game, with Harris being the main contributor and Jaylen Waddle making a second reception to move the team into Buckeye territory. Smith left the game with an injured finger after an incomplete pass at the beginning of the drive. He would not return. Justin Fields got Ohio State back into the scoring column in barely over a minute with a picture-perfect drive that featured a long run from him and a touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson. Mac Jones, however, is an exceptional quarterback in his own right, and orchestrated a drive that led to his fifth touchdown pass to that point. A crucial third down catch by Jahleel Billingsley and hard running by Brian Robinson (as well as a first down run by Jones) were the keys to this drive. Waddle remained in the game and recorded his third catch of the night as well. Alabama stood up Ohio State and made them turn the ball over on downs during the very next drive. Christian Barmore, who has played great football defensively for the Tide of late, made the tackle on Master Teague with just over a minute left in the third. Alabama closed the quarter with the ball (as they had also done in the first quarter) and up by three more than they were at the half.
Najee Harris scored his second rushing touchdown, and his third on the night, at the 13:15 mark of the fourth quarter. Will Reichard added the extra point to extend the lead to a seemingly insurmountable four touchdowns. Fields and the Buckeyes came up just short in their quest for an answer, as their next drive came to a close on the Alabama six yard line. After stalling the Tide deep in their own territory, Ohio State got the ball back on a punt for what was presumably their final offensive series of the season. They punted right back to Bama after a stagnant drive. Mac Jones checked out of the game with three minutes to go, closing his night with 464 yards passing and the five touchdowns. This marked the end of one of the greatest seasons ever for an Alabama quarterback. The Crimson Tide kept the ball through the end of the game. Landon Dickerson got the chance to check in for the final victory formation. This was just one aspect of another wonderful championship moment for the Alabama program. As another cherry on top of this fantastic season, kicker Will Reichard is still perfect- he didn’t miss a single kick all season long.
With the 52-24 win, Alabama became the kings of the 2020 college football season. The 2020 team is the first Saban championship unit since 2009 to win it all and go undefeated while doing it. Saban has his seventh national championship as a head coach, his sixth on the Capstone, and the most ever for a head coach. Alabama fans, some of the most passionate in sports, are sure to have high expectations following this win, but they will now be able to relish another great performance to culminate a championship season.