TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama hasn’t steamrolled opponents with quite the same relentless regularity as some of its recent national championship teams.
Instead, the top-ranked Crimson Tide has survived fourth-quarter threats against the likes of Mississippi State and Auburn, beaten LSU in overtime and eked out a one-point victory over Arkansas.
It’s a different, more treacherous path into contention than Alabama took in winning three of the last five national titles. That kind of experience in nail biters could come in handy on New Year’s Day against No. 4 Ohio State in the College Football Playoffs, or in the championship game if the Tide makes it that far.
“We’ve just been saying we’re not going to leave that field not getting what we want, we’ll not be denied,” Alabama quarterback Blake Sims said. “We’re going to convert on third down as an offensive team, on defense we’re going to convert on third down. An offensive player goes to every defensive player and says get the ball back for us and if you do, we’re going to get a touchdown and I think our defense believes in that.”
Alabama is 6-1 in games decided by 14 points or less this season, with the lone loss coming 23-17 against No. 9 Mississippi on Oct. 4.
Last year’s team, which fell short of the BCS championship game, went 2-2 in such close games. The 2012 title team only had three games come that close, going 2-1.
In 2009, Alabama won all four close calls.
The 2011 team didn’t sweat out any of its victories, winning 12 games by an average of 29.2 points. The only tight game was a 9-6 overtime loss to LSU, and Alabama avenged that with a 21-0 win in the national championship game rematch.
Tide safety Landon Collins feels a loss to, say, LSU or Arkansas could have “broke our season right there.” But winning those games made for an interesting ride.
“This has been totally fun,” Collins said. “We’ve been through a lot of adversity and it just made us closer. I mean, you get closeness like that, you can just talk about anything and be familiar with each other. It definitely made us closer and we had tremendous times.”
Alabama found different ways to prevail in the close contests.
A blocked extra point and late interception helped the Tide preserve a 14-13 win over Arkansas, overcoming four special teams fumbles and a season-low 227 total yards.
Adam Griffith’s 27-yard field goal with three seconds left in the fourth quarter against No. 22 LSU forced overtime after a swift drive downfield. A short game-winning touchdown pass from Sims to DeAndrew White in overtime finished off a 20-13 win.
Against then-No. 1 Mississippi State, the Tide picked off Dak Prescott three times and summoned a decisive fourth-quarter touchdown drive with several big third-down plays. The result: A 25-20 win.
Alabama won a 55-44 shootout over No. 19 Auburn in the regular-season finale with 28 points over the final 18 minutes. The Tide had trailed by as many as 12 points, its largest deficit of the season.
Alabama did make a costly last-minute mistake that haunted them in a 23-17 loss to No. 8 Mississippi. Sims was intercepted in the end zone.
That was the only really big misstep in all those tight games. The high number of such games by Alabama standards is a mixed bag for coach Nick Saban.
Saban would prefer his team to be consistent enough to avoid those scenarios even if he likes how the players have handled them.
“Our team has always played the next play, focused on the next play, not getting frustrated in a game,” Saban said. “I think that’s important in being a good competitor. I think that speaks a lot to their competitive character to overcome adversity, make plays when they need to make them.
“And our team has been able to do that all year long.”
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