Nick Saban Not Shy About Calling On Heisman Contenders

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Nick Saban
File photo. Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Head coach Nick Saban has always believed in the idea of a complete team. At the same time, he is also not afraid to use the overall strength of a statistically dominant player to carry the team to victory. Alabama has been a historically successful program before Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. One of the holes in the program resume, before Saban, was the lack of a Heisman Trophy winner. By design, Saban tries to create his teams to match the impact of all of his players. Occasionally, there will be that one player for Alabama where they will have the full capability to carry team to a championship caliber level.

Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry Carried Young, Inexperienced Offense

Mark Ingram was the program’s first-ever Heisman Trophy winner in 2009 thanks to the team’s determination to consistently run the ball. He was not the top rusher in the nation as he was fourth in total rushing yards (1,658). Ingram was more than a statistics maker. He was more efficient in his runs and was clutch at the right moments. Ingram and the Tide eventually beat the Texas Longhorns in the 2010 BCS National Championship, their first since 1992. Fast forward to 2015 when Derrick Henry exploded his way to a historic season. He led the nation in total rushing yards (2,219) and rushing touchdowns (28). That year, the Tide were also national champs in a 45-40 thrilling victory over the Clemson Tigers.

The significance of both Ingram’s and Henry’s fantastic Heisman trophy winning seasons was not based on statistics but based on their leadership. In the 2009 and 2015 season, the Crimson Tide had a young, inexperienced quarterback leading the offense. The 2009 season was the first for Greg McElroy and 2015 was the first and only starting the season for Jacob Coker. Saban called upon both of these star running backs not to make an impression for Heisman Trophy voters but to lead the team to a high-volume of success on offense. The end result was the best case scenario in both seasons as the Tide came out a Heisman Trophy winner and a National Championship.

Tua Was Challenged To Excel In His First Year

Ever since Tua Tagovailoa arrived in Tuscaloosa, fans knew he would be a star. The likelihood of his success was so high, he would overshadow Jalen Hurts as the starter. Tagovailoa had the potential to be a great starter for a high-power offense. He possessed a strong arm, pinpoint accuracy, dual-threat capabilities, and the mental processing to make excellent throws. He was given the spotlight immediately once he was named as a starter. This was despite a slate of experienced running backs including senior Damien Harris. Saban made a clear focus of his team to be consistent in all areas offensively. It was clear, however, that the Tide would focus on the passing game in 2018. Last season, the Tide were sixth in the nation in passing yards per game (323.6).

Starting Tagovailoa was not a risk for Saban. But having well over the majority of Alabama’s offense led by his arm alone was a big risk but it was one that Saban needed to take a gamble on. Alabama also had good, reliable receivers that turned out to be elite future NFL prospects. Tagovailoa concluded 2018 with 245 completions (out of 355 attempts) for 3,966 yards, 43 touchdowns, and six interceptions. He was highly explosive yet consistent in his throws and playmaking abilities. Even when he suffered an ankle injury in the middle of the season, he still played efficiently. The rise of Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and his high-velocity statistics gave him the final vote for the Heisman Trophy. Tagovailoa finished second.

It’s Tua’s Time – part two

The 2017 season was the start of something special for Tagovailoa and his career with the Crimson Tide. Last season was an excellent showing of the highly-explosive offense Alabama can be with Tagovailoa completely leading the offense. Tua and the Tide suffered shortcomings near the end of 2018 due to injuries and inconsistent play at certain positions. The continuing assistant coaching turnovers also derailed the momentum of the highly-productive offense. Alabama finished second in the nation after their 44-16 loss to the Clemson Tigers in the 2019 National Championship game. This off-season is going to show the real competitive nature of Tagovailoa similar as to when he won the starting job from Jalen Hurts.

Tagovailoa lets his preparations and training do the talk for him. Saban has the same mentality as Tagovailoa. Naturally, these two will focus on this upcoming season and not let themselves be distracted by revenge seasons. Once again, Saban, under a new offensive coordinator in Steve Sarkisian, will rely on the absolute strength of the Crimson Tide offense. Not only does Tagovailoa have a full season of experience starting but he has an elite wide receiver corp as his arsenal. He will be competing with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence in the Heisman race throughout the entire season. The main goal for Saban, Tagovailoa, and the team is to win their program’s 18th national title. That won’t stop them from attempting a potential final Heisman campaign for Tagovailoa if the season goes well.

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