HE IS THIS
intriguing blend of New Age and Old School. But with kickoff against
ninth-ranked Clemson looming last Saturday night in the Georgia Dome, Nick
Saban dispensed with the psychobabble and channeled the Bear. "If we're
going to win this game," Alabama's glowering second-year coach told his
charges, "our defensive line is going to have to whip their offensive
line." � Having issued that challenge, the man with the perma-tan watched
his D-line, anchored by SUV-sized noseguard Terrence Cody, rise to it. While it
was the Tigers who came into this Chick-fil-A College Kickoff with arguably the
nation's top tailback tandem in James Davis and C.J. Spiller, ' Bama outrushed
Clemson, 239 yards to ... zero.
matter how good they are," noted Crimson Tide linebacker Brandon (Knock You
on Yo') Fanney, "if they got no hole to go through." The 34--10 score
barely hints at Alabama's soup-to-nuts domination of a squad thought to be the
class of the ACC. It is also an indication that Saban has this storied program
on track to return to the grandeur that many of its fans still consider their
in the Georgia Dome was the lowlight of a rough weekend for the ACC, whose
teams failed to win a single meaningful matchup. Virginia was overwhelmed 52--7
by a USC squad whose offense, directed by first-year starter Mark Sanchez,
rolled up 558 total yards. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer looked on in
disbelief as East Carolina used a bit of Beamerball—a blocked punt returned 27
yards for a touchdown with 1:52 left—to upset his 17th-ranked Hokies 27--22.
Feeling Beamer's pain was Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, whose Big East team took a
No. 25 ranking against Bowling Green and was dealt a buzz-killing 27--17 loss
at home (box, page 35).
No upset was more
shocking than the Beatdown in A-Town. After a summer of hearing how loaded they
were at the skill positions and how superb their chances were of winning their
first ACC football title in 17 years, the Tigers were simply outhit and
outclassed in every phase of the game. "We got whipped about every way you
can get whipped," coach Tommy Bowden acknowledged afterward.
"Obviously, we're not the ninth-best team in the country."
FOR THOSE born too
late or those who weren't paying attention in the 1960s and '70s, when Bear
Bryant--coached ' Bama was collecting SEC and national titles with numbing
regularity, this is what Alabama football is supposed to look like:
? A physical,
swarming defense, which intended to do more than keep Clemson off the
scoreboard. "We wanted to get into their heads," said Fanney. "We
wanted to intimidate them." Added All-SEC free safety Rashad Johnson,
"A lot of what they tried to do, we'd seen on film. If 28 [ Spiller] and 1
[ Davis] were on the field at the same time, we knew 28 would run a flare and 1
would stay in. We adjusted our pressures accordingly."
? An offensive
line, led by senior center Antoine Caldwell, blowing huge holes in a front
seven composed, apparently, of paper Tigers. "We thought we might have an
opportunity to be the more physical team," said Caldwell, laboring to be
diplomatic. "They have such great speed on defense that all you can really
do is run straight at them."
? Two tailbacks,
each of whom refused to go down on a single hit. Time will tell whether junior
Glen Coffee (90 yards on 17 carries) and freshman Mark Ingram (96 on 17) are
that good—that tough—or if Clemson's defenders all had, on the same night, the
poorest tackling games of their careers.
What's certain is
that the Tide established its identity in Week 1. "Nobody's a star,"
Coffee said. "Everybody's down and dirty, gritty. We want other teams to
With the ground
game going strong, it wasn't long before third-year quarterback John Parker
Wilson began dialing up play-action passes. The bulk of those went to senior
tight end Nick Walker, who had a career-high seven receptions for 67 yards,
including a 21-yarder on third-and-two that kept a scoring drive alive. Making
a great show of blocking down on the defensive tackle, Walker suddenly released
from the scrum and in three strides was alone in the middle of the field, where
Wilson had no trouble finding him. "They like to bite on that," said a
smiling Walker, whose four-yard touchdown catch capped the 14-play drive, which
devoured 8:16 and gave ' Bama a 20--3 lead midway through the second