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Sugar Bowl curse ends improbable run for one of Alabama’s most likable, inspirational teams

Blake Sims makes a play call at the line of scrimmage during the Sugar Bowl Jan 1, 2015 (Photo: Alabama Football)
Blake Sims makes a play call at the line of scrimmage during the Sugar Bowl Jan 1, 2015 (Photo: Alabama Football)

NEW ORLEANS — Maybe the Sugar Bowl is cursed.

As Blake Sims hurled a last-ditch effort toward the endzone, Alabama’s title hopes were up in the air until Ohio State cornerback Tyvis Powell came down with the ball, ending the game with a final score of 42-35. Alabama is now 0-3 in the Sugar Bowl under head coach Nick Saban, excluding the 2011 title game against LSU, which also happened to be played in New Orleans.

Alabama just wasn’t itself Thursday night, in so many ways.

The Tide finished the Sugar Bowl 2 for 13 on third downs after coming into the game third in the nation in 3rd down efficiency.

After offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s season-long resurgence as one of the nation’s premier offensive minds, the play-calling was subpar by all accounts. The “run the ball, Lane” tweets were flowing steadily, especially as Derrick Henry racked up almost 100 yards rushing on just 13 carries.

Biletnikoff Award winner Amari Cooper was well-covered the entire game. He only nabbed 71 yards receiving with two touchdowns, and was visibly frustrated after several plays when errant passes flew by well out of reach.

And quarterback Blake Sims threw three interceptions, including one pick-six and one on first down near the Red Zone just as momentum seemed to be shifting in Alabama’s favor after a terrible Ohio State punt.

On the defensive side of the ball, Alabama’s secondary — a sore spot throughout the year — was gashed by Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, both by multiple long passes and by his physicality when he broke into the secondary on designed runs and scrambles.

Even the Tide’s usually reliable run-stoppers up front had a tough night. Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott went off for 230 yards and two touchdowns and averaged an eye-popping 11.5 yards per carry.

New Orleans’ Superdome, located much closer to Tuscaloosa than Columbus, Ohio, felt like a surprisingly hostile road environment for the Tide and got louder with every positive Ohio State moment.

“They came to play today,” Alabama wide receiver DeAndrew White said of the Buckeyes. “They had a lot of momentum and had the fans behind them.”

It was as if Ohio State watched the Iron Bowl, took notes, but was able to score touchdowns where Auburn could only muster field goals.

“They executed well against us,” Saban said. “We gave up far too many big plays in the game, which has been a problem for us toward the end of the year.”

With the final result, it seems as though many Alabama fans on social media have already stepped back to reflect on what can only be described as an improbable season for the Crimson Tide.

Facing a seven-point deficit with 80 yards to traverse in 90 seconds on Thursday night, this team made Tide fans believe they were never out of it. It looked like just another opportunity to do what they had already done at LSU and Auburn earlier in the season. After all, a former running back and safety led them to an SEC championship as a quarterback. It welcomed in a drastically different offensive style but managed to maintain its defensive identity. It led the country in standing ovations for a punter. Even taking into account the perennially high expectations, Alabama overachieved this season, and did it all motivated by chemistry and kinship, instead of the pressure to defend a title from the previous year.

“I certainly feel as a coach that if we don’t play well, it’s my responsibility,” Saban said after the loss. “I just wish, especially for this team that had great team chemistry all year, worked so hard, had great senior leadership, you know, very little divisiveness and selfishness on this team, and this was a really fun team to coach and (I) really wanted to see them do well.”

White, a fifth-year senior, was solemn and reflective.

“We’re pretty close,” he said, adding that coming to Alabama was one of the best decisions he’s ever made. “I hate to leave my brothers like this for my senior year in my last game. I can’t ask for nothing better than this team that I have right here.”

Ohio State is now headed to the national championship game after Buckeyes’ head coach Urban Meyer evened up his head-to-head record against Saban to 2-2. This likely won’t be their final matchup.

But this is hardly a referendum on the state of the Alabama program, Nick Saban, or the SEC, in spite of the national media’s incessant desire to build a narrative. This was one very motivated, well-coached team beating another. This was what we love about college football.

“I don’t really think that we’re going to change our philosophy in terms of how we do things,” Saban said. “That philosophy has helped us win a lot of games, and hopefully it will continue to do the same thing in the future.”

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