Alabama should ignore Michigan State’s pledge of hitting Derrick Henry “harder than we’ve ever hit anyone else”
Here’s Exhibit A as to why pre-game quotes should not warrant heated snap reactions, at least before digesting everything in full context.
As the walk-up to MSU’s Cotton Bowl clash with Alabama — the second national semifinal on New Year’s Eve — Spartans defender Jon Reschke offered this reality-based statement about containing Henry, this year’s Heisman Trophy winner (1,968 rushing yards, 23 TDs).
“We are going to have to hit him harder — harder than we’ve ever hit anyone else,” Reschke recently told 247Sports.com. “It’s a challenge we are accepting.”
That prompted another effusive, but vague comment from Michigan State defensive coordinator Mike Tressel.
“We need to prepare for a 15-round fight and we need to prepare to take blows and deliver blows right up to the very end,” Tressel said. “That has to be our mindset. It has to be our mindset that we are going to need to want to tackle and want to tackle physical every single snap.”
Moving forward, the football-office interns at Alabama will probably use the relatively tame comments as bulletin-board material for the Cotton Bowl — even though the 12-1 Crimson Tide (SEC champions) shouldn’t require any external motivation against the Spartans (Big Ten champs).
(For the season, Michigan State’s defense has allowed three outings of 150-plus team rushing yards and five games of multiple rushing touchdowns.)
In the two-year history of the College Football Playoff, Alabama stands as the only program to reach both semifinals. By extension, Nick Saban was the only head coach to field ‘Playoff disappointment’-themed questions two weeks ago in Atlanta, in advance of a year-end-awards event at the College Football Hall of Fame.
“I think it was our first time to go to a bowl game that was really a ‘playoff‘ game. So, maybe that experience will now help us a little bit in the future. Be able to do a little better job with our players,” said Saban on Dec. 11, while flanked with the other Playoff coaches — Dabo Swinney (Clemson), Bob Stoops (Oklahoma) and Mark Dantonio (Michigan State).
“It’s really my responsibility, and all of us in the (Alabama) organization who affect the players, to try to get them to play as well as they can play in a game. I think, if you don’t feel that your team plays great, you always feel like you need to do a better job as a coach, and that’s certainly how we felt last year,” added Saban.
Translation: Don’t expect a repeat of Alabama’s nightmare finish from last season.
A week after Ohio State knocked off top-ranked Alabama in last year’s semis (rallying from a 21-6 deficit), the Buckeyes then stifled a high-octane Oregon club (starring Heisman winner Marcus Mariota) in the championship game, justifying their hotly contested inclusion into the four-team Playoff.
It was a devastating setback for last year’s ‘Bama squad; but that letdown has likely served a purpose for this championship go-round, which might explain why Saban hasn’t been busy organizing stadium-sized pizza parties or amusement-park rentals for his players in the last few weeks.
In Saban’s world, Alabama has entered into an all-or-nothing proposition to capture a national title. With or without the need to find extra motivation from vague, and not necessarily leading comments from the opposition.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Spor