In a cliche-cluttered postgame interview session, Alabama coach Nick Saban uttered all the compliments expected of a coach whose No. 1 team had been upset 42-35 in a game as big as the Sugar Bowl. He said the Buckeyes "were a very underrated team by everybody." He gave both their team and their coaching staff "a lot of credit." He said "Ohio State played a really, really, really good game."
In a cliche-cluttered postgame interview session, Alabama coach Nick Saban uttered all the compliments expected of a coach whose No. 1 team had been upset 42-35 in a game as big as the Sugar Bowl.
He said the Buckeyes "were a very underrated team by everybody." He gave both their team and their coaching staff "a lot of credit." He said "Ohio State played a really, really, really good game."
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The interview was nearly over when Saban lowered his guard and made an unsolicited observation about the Buckeyes. It is worth remembering, both in the run-up to OSU's meeting with Oregon in the national-championship game and in the run-up to next season, when the coaches try to funnel three talented quarterbacks - Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller - into one skinny spot.
"The one thing that the new quarterback does is he has a tremendous arm," Saban said. "And they have some very talented receivers. And the two things that were very apparent is those things became very apparent in the last two games because of the quarterback.
"Now, they were a little different and the quarterback was a great runner when 16 (Barrett) was playing, and he was a good passer. But it wasn't so obvious when you watched the film all season long that they had these great skill players that could really make plays down the field."
Putting aside Saban's generic mention of Crimson Tide-killer Jones simply as "the new quarterback," this qualifies as rare insight from a guy who rivals former OSU coach Jim Tressel in his practiced ability to use a mouthful of words to reveal next to nothing.
It came when a questioner noted that Oregon had won "by about 40" against Florida State and wondered what "kind of chance" Saban gave the Buckeyes against the Ducks. Saban sidestepped that with, "We didn't play Oregon," but the question seemed to fester, and his exasperated expression said what was he was about to say in a different way: Don't you see that this Ohio State team is better than you dopes realize? Can't you understand that the team that beat us with Jones at quarterback isn't the same team that lost to Virginia Tech and struggled against half of its schedule?
Saban had probably watched enough tape to make his eyes bleed, and he didn't see this Ohio State team on the screen because he hadn't seen that speed. But suddenly, here was this kid with a cannon arm - a third-teamer who was supposed to find Alabama's No.1 status intimidating and its changing defensive looks befuddling - launching aerial bombs that exploited the Tide defenders.
Jones did show some of that expected skittishness early. He got sacked three times and appeared tentative on several plays, especially when the Buckeyes were backed up near their end zone. For a while, he looked like the inexperienced third-stringer that Saban and his Alabama defense had expected, completing five of his first 13 passes; the last of the 13 was intercepted, setting up a touchdown that gave Alabama a 21-6 lead.
But Jones followed up by leading touchdown drives of 71 and 77 yards before halftime, then started the second half by completing four of five on a drive that concluded with a 47-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith. After that fateful first-half interception, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore completed 13 of his next 18 for 182 yards and a touchdown, leading OSU to its biggest victory in 12 years on the biggest stage of his life.
As unlikely as it seemed when both Miller and Barrett went down, Jones has changed this team for the better. His big arm has given the Buckeyes' speed burners a chance to hit home runs, a threat that Meyer has sought since he arrived on campus for the 2012 season.
"The new quarterback" obviously isn't just another new quarterback. It is a development that bears watching, both against Oregon and in the fall, when Jones might be the Buckeyes' only returning quarterback whose resume includes a national championship.
Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.