Alabama 2009 Season Review: A Drought Ended

Six years ago, Alabama was under a tough probation that crippled the program for the time being, even taking away scholarships that hurt the future of the program as well. The future was looking dark as Mike Shula patrolled the sidelines of Bryant-Denny Stadium, and Alabama was nothing more than a middle-tier SEC school. A promising 2005 season saw Alabama start 9-0 and finish 10-2, and once again a glee of light began to peer into the program. But, that was nothing more than false hope as the Tide regressed

Mike Shula wasn't able to lead Alabama back to prominence

the next year going just 6-7 along with a fifth consecutive loss to arch-rival Auburn and that spelled the end of the Mike Shula era in Tuscaloosa. Then, hope arose through as Mal Moore made a lucrative offer to lure a former National Championship winning coach in Nick Saban to the Capstone. You could see the excitement by a fan-base that hadn’t had anything to cheer about since 1999 as over 92,000 people showed up for the A-Day game.

The 2007 season was a roller coaster season for the Tide as they started off 6-2 before faltering down the stretch with four consecutive losses including an embarrassing loss to Louisiana-Monroe and a sixth consecutive defeat at the hands of Auburn. Bitterness arose from Alabama fans as they were being extremely impatient, I even overheard another “fan” say that Saban was a waste of money.

That chatter quickly stopped as Saban reeled in the Nation’s #1 ranked recruiting class and more optimism began to arise in Tuscaloosa and the Nation began to take notice. Alabama came into 2008 though with high expectations, but they far exceeded

Nick Saban got a rockstar welcome to Tuscaloosa

what was expected. The Crimson Tide ran through the SEC finishing 12-0 in the regular season including big wins over Clemson, Georgia, LSU, and breaking the six game losing streak by blowing out Auburn 36-0. The season didn’t end like most had hoped as Alabama was defeated by Florida in the SEC Championship game, derailing their National Title hopes, and losing to Utah in the Sugar Bowl to cap Saban’s second year with a 12-2 record.

The thought of a National Championship hadn’t peered into Alabama fans heads in a long time, and even at the start of the 2009 season, many didn’t expect this to be the Tide team that did so, with Tim Tebow returning for his senior season in Gainesville. Most expected Alabama’s season to end the same way it did in 2008, with a loss to Florida in the SEC Championship game, but hopefully they could have a better showing in the Sugar Bowl.

There were a ton of question marks for Alabama this season with the biggest being the three new starters on the offensive line along with a new QB in Greg McElroy taking over for a three year starter in John Parker Wilson. Still, Alabama began the preseason in the top five as a date with Virginia Tech in the Chick-Fil-A College Football Kickoff in the Georgia Dome, the same venue that they began last season with a 34-10 win over Clemson that paved the way to an unbeaten regular season.

Game by Game Reviews:

 

Date: September 5th

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Opponent: Virginia Tech

 

Alabama opened the 2009 season at the same place they opened the 2008 season, and the result was the same. Alabama wasn’t clicking on all cylinders as Alabama found themselves down 17-16 headed into the fourth quarter. Alabama’s offense began to click

Alabama started out 2009 the same way they started 2008

in the fourth quarter as a long pass from Greg McElroy to Marquis Maze led to a Mark Ingram touchdown run that put Alabama ahead following a two-point conversion 24-17. After an Alabama field goal and a touchdown run by Ryan Williams of Virginia Tech, Alabama would put the game away with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Greg McElroy to Mark Ingram to give Alabama a 34-24 win. Mark Ingram’s 150-yard game was a good start to what would be a memorable season for the sophomore RB.

Date: September 12th

Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Opponent: Florida International

 

Just like last year, following a big win in the Georgia Dome, Alabama came out flat in their home opener. Last year, it was against Tulane as Alabama held on to a 20-6 win with a poor offensive performance. Alabama actually fell behind 14-13 in the second quarter before a Mark Ingram touchdown run that gave the Crimson Tide a 20-14 lead at the half. Alabama really didn’t feel comfortable in this game until Trent Richardson broke off his second touchdown run of the day, this time from 35 yards out to push the Alabama lead to 33-14, and they would go to win 40-14. Alabama put together over 500 yards of offense in the win, led by a great performance by Greg McElroy and Trent Richardson, two new stars.

Date: September 19th

Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Opponent: North Texas

 

Once again, Alabama took a page out of their 2008 book with a dominating performance in the third game of the season. Alabama put together a complete performance in a 53-7 win over North Texas led by another good performance by Greg McElroy and three different RB’s had over 75 yards rushing. The Tide had pitched a shutout until North Texas scored a touchdown with under 3-minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Crimson Tide had two tune-ups prior to their conference opener against Arkansas looming in the next week.

Date: September 26th

Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Opponent: Arkansas

 

For the second straight year, Alabama opened their conference schedule against Arkansas and got a similar result with a blowout

Dont'a Hightower's injury was a tough blow to the defense

victory. Alabama beat Arkansas 49-14 in 2008 and 35-7 in 2009. Alabama had a 14-0 halftime lead thanks to a strong 52-yard touchdown run by Trent Richardson that saw him break four tackles en route to the endzone and a trick play out of the Wildcat that saw Greg McElroy get the ball back and find Julio Jones for a 50-yard touchdown. Arkansas would get back into the game with their first drive of the half to cut Alabama’s lead in half, but the Tide controlled the game the rest of the way led by Greg McElroy who had a season high 3 touchdown passes. Alabama suffered a tough loss in this game as Dont’a Hightower was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

Date: October 3rd

Location: Lexington, Kentucky

Opponent: Kentucky

 

Alabama was getting a serious challenge out of Kentucky as they held just a 7-6 lead and Kentucky was providing a physicality that Alabama was struggling with. That was until Alabama put up two touchdowns in a 19 second span that took the air out of the wildcats. After a long drive, Greg McElroy found Colin Peak for a touchdown, and then Courtney Upshaw returned a fumble 45-yards into the endzone to stretch Alabama’s lead to 21-6 heading into the half. Alabama would put up 10 more points early in the third to give Alabama a 31-6 lead but they would struggle the rest of the way finishing with just a 38-20 win. Alabama’s defense struggled a bit without Dont’a Hightower for the first game.

Date: October 10th

Location: Oxford, Mississippi

Opponent: Mississippi

 

Alabama headed to Oxford to face off with who was supposed to be their biggest competition in the SEC West. Alabama’s defense swarmed the Rebels holding them to just 212 total yards with a 22-3 win. Alabama completely shut down Jevan Snead who was supposed to throw all over Alabama. He went just 11/34 passing for 134 yards and threw 4 interceptions. But this week would be the beginning of a three game stretch where Alabama’s passing attack would struggle because of inconsistent play from Greg McElroy. He went 15/34 for 147 yards in this game, but at least didn’t turn the ball over.

Date: October 17th

Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Opponent: South Carolina

 

The game couldn’t have started better for the Crimson Tide as Mark Barron picked off a Stephen Garcia pass and returned it 77 yards into the endzone to give Alabama a 7-0 lead just one minute into the game. Greg McElroy put forth is worst game of the season though, completing 10/20 passes for just 92 yards and two interceptions, his first two picks since the season opener against Virginia Tech. The offense was saved by Mark Ingram who thrust his name atop the Heisman board as he ran for 246 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. Alabama led just 13-6 in the 4th quarter when Ingram took over. Alabama went on a six play touchdown drive of over 60-yards all runs by Mark Ingram out of the wildcat other than his 4-yard touchdown run out of the backfield that gave Alabama a 20-6 victory.

Date: October 24th

Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Opponent: Tennessee

 

Alabama was weary as they entered eighth game without a break. Alabama was pushing toward a bye week and got their biggest scare of the season from rival Tennessee. Alabama caught Tennessee right as they were beginning to play their best football, while

Terrence Cody's blocked field goal saved Alabama's season

Alabama was playing their worst. The offense continued to struggle as they played a very conservative game, not allowing Greg McElroy to throw the ball down the field. He completed 18/29 passes but for just 120 yards. Alabama had to rely on four Leigh Tiffin field goals and held just a 12-3 late in the fourth quarter. The Tide had the ball and looked to ride their Heisman candidate to the bye week. But then, the improbable happened as Mark Ingram was stripped and lost his first fumble in his career. Tennessee would score the lone touchdown of the game by a Jonathan Crompton touchdown pass to give the Vols new life. With a two point lead at 12-10 and just over a minute remaining, Alabama just needed to recover the onside kick and the game would be over. But, Tennessee recovered and looked to get into field goal range to set up Daniel Lincoln for a game-winning try. And they would get just that with a 23 yard pass from Crompton to Luke Stocker. At the 28-yard line Lincoln would line up for a 45-yard field goal that could end Alabama’s run at a perfect season. But, Terrence Cody broke through the line and made a memorable moment in Alabama history by blocking Lincoln’s kick and saving the Tide season.

Date: November 7th

Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Opponent: LSU

 

Alabama came into the third edition of the “Saban Bowl” with clinching the SEC West and a date with Florida on their mind. They had a fight on their hands with LSU as they always do. For the second time this season, Alabama trailed going into the 4th quarter, down 15-10 to LSU. After a Julio Jones penalty forced Alabama into a field goal, which Tiffin put through to pull the Tide within two at 15-13, Julio made up for his error with a little screen pass that he took 73 yards into the endzone to give Alabama a 21-15 lead with 10-minutes left in the game. A controversial non-interception on Greg McElroy where it looked like Patrick Peterson got a foot down, Leigh Tiffin banged through a 40-yard field goal to clinch a 24-15 Alabama win and clinching the SEC Western Division.

Date: November 14th

Location: Starkville, Mississippi

Opponent: Mississippi State

 

After a few weeks of hard fought games in the SEC, Alabama finally had a comfortable win against the Bulldogs in Starkville. Alabama took a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter, and after Mississippi State started a small rally with a field goal to pull within fourteen, two big plays sealed the deal for Alabama. A 48-yard touchdown pass from McElroy to Julio Jones and a 70-yard touchdown run by Mark Ingram who had another big day on the ground for the Crimson Tide to give Alabama a 31-3 win. Alabama shut down Mississippi State and it was just the win the Tide faithful were looking for to give them confidence that this team could be on to something special.

Date: November 21st

Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Opponent: Chattanooga

 

Senior Day in Tuscaloosa went just as planned as they got basically a scrimmage against Chattanooga and the starters got much needed rest with a short week coming due to a Friday game with Auburn looming. The Crimson Tide completely dominated the FCS Mocs and held them to just 84-yards of offense as Alabama pitched a shutout on Senior Day with a  45-0 win as Alabama coasted in the second half after piling 35 first-half points on Chattanooga.

Date: November 27th

Location: Auburn, Alabama

Opponent: Auburn

 

Last year’s Iron Bowl was about ending the losing streak that Alabama had faced of six straight losses to the Tigers in this game.

Roy Upchurch's touchdown gave Alabama the win over Auburn

Alabama did so with a resounding 36-0 win over Auburn to put an exclamation mark on an undefeated regular season. This year, it was about survival and starting their own streak. Alabama found themselves in a 14-0 hole early on in the Iron Bowl as Auburn used some trickery early on. A Trent Richardson touchdown run and a Collin Peak touchdown reception from Greg McElroy to tie the game at 14 going into the locker room. I fully expected Alabama to blow it open in the second half, but Alabama got caught on a corner blitz that left Darvin Adams one on one in a safety and that led to a 72-yard touchdown pass from Chris Todd to give Auburn a 21-14 lead. Two Leigh Tiffin field goals cut Auburn’s lead to 21-20 heading into the fourth quarter. Alabama’s perfect season was looking like it was over as Auburn moved into Alabama territory but the Crimson Tide defense stood strong and got the ball back. Alabama went on a 15-play 79 yard touchdown drive that took over 7-minutes off the clock that was capped off by great play action fake from the four yard line as Roy Upchurch slipped out open for the go ahead touchdown. Alabama would hang on to win 26-21 and clinch a second consecutive undefeated season as their attention now turned to the rematch with Florida.

Date: December 5th

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Opponent: Florida

 

Since last season’s loss to Florida, Alabama has had a sour taste in their mouths and been itching to get another crack at the Gators.

Alabama got revenge on Florida in the SEC Championship Game

 It was a heavyweight bout. Undefeated vs. Undefeated. #1 vs. #2. The winner would punch their ticket to Pasadena for a shot at the National Championship. Alabama turned the rematch in a rout as they dominated Florida. Alabama took a 19-13 lead to halftime, but were yet to feel comfortable, because they could remember Florida’s comeback in the fourth quarter to beat them in this game last year. A Greg McElroy to Collin Peak touchdown pass gave Alabama a more comfortable 26-13 lead. Then, Alabama put together a Championship drive that started with 7:36 to go in the third quarter. The drive would last into the fourth quarter and would be 17-plays 88 yards eating up 8:47 of the clock. Mark Ingram capped the drive with a touchdown to put Alabama in complete control of the game 32-13. Florida would work fast to get the ball down the field, but Tim Tebow was intercepted in the endzone by Javier Arenas. A failed 4th down conversion with 7:28 to go ended Florida’s chances as Alabama ran the rest of the clock out and celebrated their SEC Championship win as they got their revenge on the Gators and clinched a spot in the BCS National Championship Game on January 7th.

Date: January 7th

Location: Pasadena, California

Opponent: Texas

 

The Crimson Tide headed into Pasadena as the #1 ranked team in the country, and the majority of the Nation expecting them to beat

Alabama capped off the season by beating Texas in the National Championship Game

Texas and take home the crystal football. The game started out as bad as it possibly could for the Crimson Tide as they faked a punt that was intercepted and that led to a Texas field goal, and failed to recover a kickoff that Texas did and led to another field goal to give the Longhorns a 6-0 lead. But before that happened, Marcel Dareus hit Colt McCoy and knocked him out of the game, completely changing the outlook. Alabama’s one-two punch, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson punched in touchdowns to give the Tide a 14-6 lead. After a Leigh Tiffin field goal gave Alabama a 17-6 advantage, Mack Brown tried to get Texas into range to attempt a bomb to the endzone, but a shovel pass couldn’t be handled by his running back and it was intercepted by Marcel Dareus and taken to the endzone to give Alabama a 24-6 lead going into the half. The mood in the locker room for Alabama was the same as it was after the SEC Championship win, and they came out flat in the second half and allowed Texas to claw back into the game with two Garrett Gilbert touchdown passes to Jordan Shipley and suddenly Alabama led by only three at 24-21 and Texas had the ball. Eryk Anders blitzed off the edge and nailed Gilbert and forced a fumble inside the five yard line. The Tide recovered and Mark Ingram punched in a touchdown to seal the deal for Alabama. Trent Richardson added another touchdown after a Gilbert interception to give Alabama a 37-21 win and the program’s 13th National Championship.

It was a dream season for the Crimson Tide. They accomplished everything in Nick Saban’s 3rd year in Tuscaloosa. All 32 million was well worth it as Saban delivered the first National Championship to Alabama in 17 years. It was the first National Title since 1992 when they defeated Miami to cap a 13-0 season. Alabama joined the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes as the only other National Championship winning team with a 14-0 record.

Not only did Alabama get the National Championship, but Mark Ingram brought home the program’s first Heisman trophy on

Mark Ingram won the first Heisman in Alabama history

December 12th, a well deserved award to a guy who truly understood the meaning and had an amazing season. He set the single season rushing record for Alabama with 1,658 yards along with 17 touchdowns. He averaged 178 yards per game against ranked opponents in his Heisman run. Ingram’s Heisman quest seemed to end after struggling mightily in a win over Auburn where he rushed for 30-yards on just 16 carries. He reasserted himself into the Heisman picture after a big performance against Florida where he rushed for 113-yards and 3 touchdowns on a team that had only given up three rushing touchdowns all season long. Also, Colt McCoy struggled in the Big XII Championship game against Nebraska.

We also saw Rolando McClain take home the Butkus Award as the Nation’s top linebacker, and Kirby Smart win the Broyles Award as the Nation’s top coordinator. The Crimson Tide also placed an NCAA record six players on the All American 1st team.

Alabama’s rise to the top has been amazing to watch as most of my time growing up was spent watching an Alabama football team that was rather mediocre. Other than the 1999 season, where Alabama won the SEC Championship and lost in the Orange Bowl to Michigan on the infamous missed extra-point in overtime, I hadn’t got the chance to really see the tradition that had been laid out years before I was born. Finally, Alabama got to the top of the college football world thanks to a balanced attack and this truly was a team. Alabama never relied on one player to win them games. If Greg McElroy was struggling, then Alabama would win games thanks to their running game and defense, and if the running game struggled McElroy proved he could do what John Parker Wilson couldn’t do, and that was lead Alabama to a win.

Alabama has a bright outlook for next season as well, and will likely start out the 2010 season as the preseason #1 team in the Nation. The Tide will have to replace some good players on the defensive side of the ball, with the biggest hole being Rolando McClain who is forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. But, with Nick Saban as the coach, Alabama no longer has to worry about a rebuilding year. Before Saban, the Tide would have to rebuild for a few years following a strong season, but not anymore. When one guy leaves, there is a talented player ready to take over in his spot. The Crimson Tide are returning all of their offensive firepower including Heisman trophy winning RB Mark Ingram and his talented backup Trent Richardson, and I believe that the two will both rush for over 1,000 yards next season.

I shall enjoy this season as long as I can with the memories off all the key moments bouncing around inside my head, because you never know how long it will be before you get to see it again. The Crimson Tide bring back a team that is ready to compete again next season, and has a great shot at repeating, but I’ll worry about that another day. As for now, I will savor the drought that was ended by the National Championship run in 2009.