University of Alabama

Mark Edwards: O.J. Howard's patience pays off


GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Did Clemson forget that Alabama tight end O.J. Howard is an eligible receiver?

It certainly seems as if the Tigers' braintrust forgot that Alabama was allowed to throw to him. Then again, it's hard to blame them, as the Crimson Tide had forgotten about him for years, until Monday night's 45-40 win in the national championship game.

Alabama went deep, deep into its playbook and rediscovered passing plays to its tight end, and Howard caught enough passes, converted enough yards and scored enough touchdowns to make the difference in the Tide's win over Clemson.

Without Howard on Monday night, Alabama couldn't claim a 16th national championship today

.It's an old joke that the Crimson Tide doesn't throw to its tight end. Decades old. Gene Stallings got bashed 25 years ago for not throwing to the guy lined up tight at the end of the line.

We used to say that if a fugitive wanted to escape from the law, he should just go hide out amongst Alabama's tight ends.

It's a little unfair. Howard has had some good games before, including against Tennessee when he caught seven passes for 55 yards. But on Monday night, he was allowed to turn in the type of game we thought he could when he arrived at Alabama three years ago.

He caught five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. And Alabama needed every catch, yard and touchdown.That's more than half the number of yards he had for the previous 14 games.

 How much could you have won on one of those Las Vegas prop bets if you took the over on whether an Alabama tight end would go over or under 200 receiving yards? Those were his first touchdowns in two years.

Clemson left Howard alone for a 25-yard catch in the first half. Clemson left Howard all by himself for a 53-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter.He second touchdown was part of the deciding turn in Monday's game.

With the two teams tied 24-24, Alabama converted a surprise onsides kick.That play shocked because it's the kind of thing a coach does when he isn't sure his team is better than the other side.

 Saban used it because he didn't think his chances were good in a shootout -- reasonable because before Monday, Alabama was 3-8 since 2010 when allowing 24 points or more.

Then two plays later, Alabama brought out another surprise: a bomb to Howard. Have we seen that in Howard's three years on campus? He sprint down the field -- all alone, naturally -- and Jake Coker found him for a 53-yard touchdown.

Afterward, Howard said he was patient in waiting his turn.

Who has this kind of patience?

He didn't catch a pass against Auburn. He didn't catch a pass against Florida.

But patient Howard proved ready for the biggest stage by producing the biggest results.

Contact Anniston Star Sports Editor Mark Edwards at Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.