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Sunday, December 6, 2009
Getting Saban twice just doesn't happen

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- As somebody said outside the Alabama locker room Saturday night, the worst thing you can do with Nick Saban is give him a road map.

His road map in the SEC championship game came in the form of a bitter 31-20 loss to Florida in last year's title game.

You might beat him once. But beating him in back-to-back years?

It’s only happened once since he’s been in the SEC.

“You’ve got to give our coaches credit. The game plan was unbelievable, and we felt like going in that this was one of our better game plans of the season,” Alabama linebacker Cory Reamer said. “We did a great job executing it, but we were so prepared for this game.”

Indeed, Alabama looked one step ahead of Florida the whole way in ending the Gators’ 22-game winning streak with a 32-13 demolition of the defending national champions in an SEC championship game that was even more anticipated than the one a year ago.

Nick Saban
Nick Saban kept Alabama one step ahead of Florida the entire game.
“That game burned inside us for a whole year, and I know it burned inside coach Saban,” Alabama running back Roy Upchurch said. “I could tell in his speech right before we came out for the kickoff that this team wanted it ... and we were ready.”

In his stints at LSU and Alabama, Saban is now 14-1 in rematches with teams after losing the first game the previous season or earlier that season. At LSU, he lost to Tennessee in the regular season in 2001, but beat the Vols in the SEC championship game. The only time he’s lost two in a row was to Florida in 2000 and 2001 when Steve Spurrier was coaching the Gators.

“I think when you play someone that you haven’t played before, you learn a lot about how to play them and what you need to do to have success,” Saban said. “We had a completely different philosophy in how we played defense this game compared to the way we played it a year ago.

“But I think that’s what we learned from playing last year. We would rush four guys and play pattern match, and Tim (Tebow) would run for a first down about three times. We didn’t do that very much today.

“We sort of learned our lessons and made good adaptions.”

When it was over, you could almost see Saban exhale on the sideline. He took that loss a year ago as hard as anyone, getting that close after winning 12 straight regular-season games and simply not getting it done in the fourth quarter.

But as the final seconds ticked down Saturday, he walked up the sideline, shaking hands with several of his assistants.

And then came a chest-bump with sophomore running back Mark Ingram.

Saban showed some hops, too, getting off the ground and meeting Ingram in mid-air.

“Coach Saban is the best,” Alabama redshirt freshman offensive guard Barrett Jones said. “He’s the best motivator. He’s the best at getting guys ready, and when it comes to X’s and O’s, nobody’s close.

“That whole experience last year helped all of us. We wanted to be champions.”

Upchurch, though, said Saban mentioned very little to the team prior to the game about making amends for last season’s loss or exacting any kind of revenge on the Gators.

"No, he talked about going out there and dominating our opponent,” Upchurch said.

And that’s what the Crimson Tide did, piling up the most yards ever (490) against an Urban Meyer-coached Florida team and also rushing for the most yards ever (251) against Meyer’s Gators.

Now Saban takes his shot at another first next month in Pasadena against Texas in the BCS National Championship Game.

Since the Associated Press poll era began in 1936, no coach in college football history has ever won national championships at two different schools. Saban won one at LSU in 2003.

“We’re happy about this (SEC) championship, but we all want to accomplish bigger things,” Ingram said.