The 1945 Army Cadets were the greatest college football team of all time. There is no serious debate. Red Blaik’s squad beat four top-10 teams by a combined 169-20, using liberal eligibility rules to put an all-star squad together.
On December 1, 1945, however, Army met its match. Eventually. From my second book, The 50 Best* College Football Teams of All Time:
What might have been the best ever Navy team battled this incredible Army team to a draw for three quarters. The Midshipmen proved resilient and became the first team all year to score on Army’s first team.
The problem: Those three even quarters were the last three. Army had already taken a 20-0 lead in the first 15 minutes. The Cadets took the opening kickoff and took seven plays to set up a Blanchard touchdown. Then Blanchard scored again. Then Davis went 51 yards. From that point forward, Navy outscored the Cadets 13-12. And that really was an achievement of sorts. They got to within 20-7 and 26-13, but they couldn’t get any closer.
On Saturday night in Hard Rock Stadium, Oklahoma and Heisman winner Kyler Murray played the role of 1945 Navy to Alabama’s Army.
In quarters two through four, the Sooners outgained Alabama by a 34-24 margin and out-gained the Tide, 447-328.
Heisman winner Kyler Murray got rolling, throwing for 308 yards and rushing for 109.
Receiver CeeDee Lamb caught eight passes for 109 yards, and the Sooners gained 471 yards, the most allowed by Bama since Clemson’s performance in 2016’s national title game.
The Sooner offense eventually lived up to the hype.
None of it mattered, however, because the score was already 21-0 Bama after one quarter.
We only see Truly Angry Bama now and then.
The Tide are putting together one of the best runs of all time, winning the national title in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, and 2017 and coming damn close in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2016. But it’s only once or twice per year that we see an Alabama team that truly has a point to prove.
From the moment OU’s Kyler Murray won the Heisman, we saw Bama becoming Angry Bama. Defensive players tweeted their displeasure, perceiving disrespect shown to Bama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and they finally got a chance to express their disapproval on Saturday evening.
The early damage was absurd. In the game’s first 17 minutes, Tagovailoa completed eight of eight passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns, while Murray completed one of five with two sacks. Tagovailoa’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Josh Jacobs, which concluded with one of the nastiest hits of the postseason, made the score 28-0 Bama.
From there, OU very much rebounded.
The Sooners outscored the Tide 34-17 and got to within 528-471 in total yardage. Considering the plus-176 yard start in the first quarter, that’s not bad.
But nobody overcomes a 28-point Alabama advantage, not even Oklahoma.
A team like Oklahoma defines a game in a new way. It’s not about game state or game flow. It’s simply about the number of stops you make.
Not including end-of-half possessions, OU scored on five of nine drives, while Alabama scored on seven of nine. That made the difference in a 45-34 win, but it didn’t say much about the order of scores. Bama scored four TDs on its first four chances, while OU went scoreless on its first three drives before going off.
In a game like this, against an opponent like the Sooners, this became like breaking serve — you’re only going to do it a few times. But most of Alabama’s service breaks came at the beginning, and it prevented the Tide from ever dealing with serious worries.
There are plenty of serious worries to come.
Clemson awaits in the national title game in Santa Clara on Monday, January 7. The Tigers will present a different sort of challenge — far more dominant defensively, but not as dominant offensively. We could see true game flow and the things that come with it, like stops, field goal attempts, field position swings, etc.
But to get there, Alabama had to survive a pure shootout. Most of Bama’s shots came early on, but they counted all the same.