I’m hyped, man. Getting the sweats just thinking about it.
While I was watching from the sidelines as my boys took care of business during the SEC Championship game, Coach Cochran, Bama’s strength and conditioning coach, screamed at me, “Get out there!” I don’t think he realized that was all I could think about the entire game. I was ready to strap on a helmet. All I was missing was some eligibility.
While I know we’re excited to play Michigan State, this team isn’t satisfied just with making the playoff.
Sure, every school says that, but here’s the thing: The rest of the country knows that about us. Everyone holds Bama to a golden standard based on what we’ve already accomplished. When we lose, it’s a national news story. So you can imagine how antsy we feel after having not won a national championship in two years. At some schools, that’s completely normal. At Bama, it’s a drought. So going into this first playoff game, we absolutely aren’t going to overlook the Spartans. We’re going to try to go right through them.
We’re in the midst of a very exciting time for this program, and we all want to keep it going. When I was a freshman, I learned from guys like Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and Mark Barron. These aren’t just NFL players, but really damn good ones. Carrying on that legacy is something that drives every player in that program. It’s almost a burden. But you come to Alabama because you want that challenge. We don’t get recruited here so much as chosen.
So just as I learned from those future pros, I took a lot pride in guiding the guys who came after me. A lot of the stars on this team were freshmen and sophomores when I was still in school, and even then it was clear they were going to do big things. When I watch these boys play, I feel like a proud Papa.
On defense, we’re just nasty. Look anywhere on the field, and you’ll find someone who’s probably going to be playing on Sundays soon.
One of the things that stood out the most to me watching the game against Florida up close was just how vicious the defensive front is. These guys don’t care whether you’re a running team or a passing team. They each dominate their individual matchups and control the line of scrimmage.
In the secondary, you got Eddie Jackson flying all over the place. They asked him to move to safety, and all he did was put on 10 pounds and get named first team All-SEC. Geno Smith has looked solid as well. Then you have those freshmen corners who are already playing at a high level.
The entire unit is playing their best football of the season at the perfect time. I can’t wait to watch them trade blows with Michigan State.
On offense, we have a guy who’s 230 pounds and can either juke your secondary or put his shoulder down and bulldoze over a linebacker. Of course, I’m talking about our quarterback Jake Coker.
I feel bad for SEC defensive coordinators, man. Just when they finally get to stop worrying about Amari Cooper, we get a mini one in Calvin Ridley. Kid is only a freshman and he is Explosive. Capital E.
Oh yeah, and there’s Derrick Henry.
I knew Derrick was special before he even took his first carry at Bama. It has nothing to do with his size — and don’t get me wrong, this guy was huge even then. But I knew he would be great because he just outworked everybody right away. We’d all be dog tired after a two-and-a-half hour practice, and then Derrick would go to the weight room and start squatting unbelievable amounts of weight. There’s no shortage of great athletes at Bama, but that right there left all of us shaking our heads. Kid was motivated from Day 1.
I know he was frustrated early on in his career because he wasn’t being used as the feature back. It makes sense. I mean, he averaged more than 10 yards per carry as a freshman. But like always, Coach Saban knew exactly what he was doing. Derrick was probably talented enough to carry the load right away, but he let the feature back role hang in front of him like a dangling carrot. Seems like that strategy worked out pretty well.
I’m expecting this game to be a slugfest, but we wouldn’t have it any different. Wouldn’t be surprised if Michigan State got off to a quick start. Every team comes out against Bama really hyped and gives them their best punch right away. When you’re a team that’s circled on everyone’s calendar, you’re used to that. But at Bama, we win big games in the fourth quarter, not the first. After a while, our physicality will grind the other team down, until one by one, guys start missing assignments. Then we got ’em.
On New Year’s Eve, before the fireworks start, make sure to grab some popcorn and watch my guys put on a show. We’re ready to end the drought.
Oh, and one last thing: