Under Nick Saban, Tide offense has never had a turnover in title game

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Under Nick Saban, Tide offense has never had a turnover in title game

It’s one of those statistics that will cause an initial reaction of “No way,” but when you stop and think, it makes a lot of sense.

During the five national title games the University of Alabama football team has played under Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide have lost just two turnovers.

Both were against Texas in the 2009 title game, and both were by special teams, including an interception of a ball thrown by punter P.J. Fitzgerald.

That’s 342 offensive snaps while playing for the national title without having lost a turnover.

It’s also an area that might work to Alabama’s advantage against Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

The Crimson Tide led all SEC teams in turnover margin this season at plus-13, while the Bulldogs were fourth at plus-5.

On the national level, Alabama is second in fewest turnovers lost with nine, just one behind LSU.

Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts has had just one pass intercepted, against Arkansas on Oct. 14. At the time, he had the second-longest streak of pass attempts without a pick in school history with 206. His current streak is up to 121.

It’s not just a point of emphasis since Saban arrived in Alabama in 2007, but a strong indicator of his success.

Overall, in the 124 games since the start of the 2009 season, Alabama has turned the ball over just 137 times, an average of 1.1 per game. It works out to an interception every 58.5 passing attempts and a fumble every 160.6 carries by the Crimson Tide’s top two running backs.

This season, Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough have yet to lose a fumble, and neither lost one in 2016, either.

Prior to the botched handoff against Clemson on the first play of the second half, of Alabama’s six lost fumbles this season, two were on special teams (Henry Ruggs III and Xavian Marks). The others were by senior wide receiver Robert Foster at Texas A&M, junior running back Ronnie Clark vs. Mercer, Ruggs against Mercer and Hurts at Auburn.

“He is on us every day about ball security,” Harris said about his position coach Burton Burns. “That’s the No. 1 thing that you take pride in as a running back is having good ball security and taking care of the football.

“One thing they always tell us is, when you get the ball in your hands, you have the whole team in your hands. So you want to protect it at all cost.”

Incidentally, Hurts had 11 fumbles, with five lost, as a freshman last season, and nine interceptions — all but one of which was against an SEC opponent. Yet he didn’t have any during the SEC Championship Game or the College Football Playoff.

Meanwhile, junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley has played in 43 games for Alabama, with 1 fumble that was recovered. The two players he gets compared to the most statistically, Amari Cooper and Julio Jones, touched the ball a combined 442 times without having a single fumble.

“I have to be fast off the ball and get into my route quickly, so I can get open so they don’t create turnovers,” Ridley said.

Alabama hasn’t had quite the same turnover success in four College Football Playoff semifinals, but did have a 2-1 edge against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. If junior defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne’s interception combined with his touchdown a few plays later wasn’t an emotional backbreaker to Clemson, the subsequent pick-6 by sophomore linebacker Mack Wilson was.

“Mack Wilson has filled in tremendously,” senior linebacker Rashaan Evans said about Shaun Dion Hamilton’s replacement. “I expect him to have another big game this upcoming game.”

 

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