University of Alabama

Special teams come up big for Alabama

MARK EDWARDS sports@ledger-enquirer.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Special teams made for a special night for Alabama in its 45-40 win over Clemson in Monday night's national championship game.

In the fourth quarter, the Crimson Tide turned in two of the biggest kickoff plays in school history.

The first was an onsides kick that set up the go-ahead touchdown. The second was a kickoff return by Kenyan Drake that gave Alabama valuable breathing room.

With about 10 minutes to go and the game tied 24-24, Alabama's Adam Griffith punched his onsides kickoff to the right side of the Tide line. Alabama's Marlon Humphrey grabbed it at the 50-yard line before a Clemson player could lay a hand on the ball.

Humphrey told reporters later that he has dropped a lot of those kicks in practice.

"We have all the confidence in the world in Marlon," Saban said, who added that he called for the onsides kick because Clemson had "squeezed" its alignment to return the kickoff.

"We carried that play in, and we could call it any time they lined up like they did," Saban said. "We called it then because we were tied (24-24), and our defense was tired. We needed something to change the momentum."Saban said he felt good about recovering the kick.

"We get it in practice most of the time," Saban said. "I had trust in my players. ... If we didn't get it, they would've gotten it on the 45- or 50-yard line. So it wouldn't have been the end of the world."

Two plays after Humphrey's recovery, Alabama's O.J. Howard scored on a 51-yard pass reception.

"It was a great kick (by Griffith). He put it in the right place," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "Then we followed it up with a bust on the kickoff."

Swinney and his coaches complained to officials for not waving off the Tide's recovery. He said he tried the same kind of onsides kick against South Carolina last year and got the same result from the play -- but the officials didn't award his team the ball.

"We were told we didn't give them the opportunity to catch the ball," Swinney said. "We argued against the call (Monday), but it didn't get overturned."

After Clemson responded with a field goal, Drake took the kickoff and sprinted down the left sideline 95 yards for a touchdown, giving Alabama a 38-27 lead with7:31 to play.

Drake's touchdown was Alabama's first on a kickoff return this season. He never returned a kickoff more than 40 yards this year.

Drake finished with 196 yards on five kickoff returns Monday after gaining 309 kickoff returns in 14 previous games.

"Kenyan's been through a lot," Saban said. "We thought he would have a tremendous breakout season. Kenyan has sort of fought all kinds of injuries. ... I enjoy seeing seniors in our program do something special that they'll always remember, and that kickoff return was something special."

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