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December 22, 2012
Daring scheme shut down Miami's attack in Sugar Bowl
As Alabama took control, running out to a 27-6 lead on Teague's 31-yard interception return for a touchdown with just under 10 minutes to go in the third quarter, the Superdome began to resemble a Crimson Tide home game, with deafening reverberations from cheering fans. TUSCALOOSA | The game plan had its genesis in Chattanooga. It was shaped in Clemson and Memphis and perfected in New Orleans.
Bill Oliver, the University of Alabama's secondary coach, was the architect of the defensive scheme that humbled top-ranked Miami's high-powered offense in the Sugar Bowl and captured the 1992 national championship for the Crimson Tide. The Crimson Tide defense, ranked No. 1 in the nation in every major NCAA statistical category, dominated the Hurricanes and Alabama cruised to a 34-13 national championship victory on Jan. 1, 1993.
Defending national champion Miami came into the national title game riding a 29-game winning streak, having scored 35 or more points in six of its 11 games. Quarterback Gino Toretta had won the Heisman Trophy and was finishing off his second 3,000-yard passing season in a row.
Alabama's defense was the best in all of college football - and many still contend the best of all time - but hadn't been tested by an offense like Miami's.
No matter: The Hurricanes hadn't seen anything like what Oliver had cooked up for them.
"We never ran anything that was like a normal defensive grouping, not one snap in that ballgame," Oliver said, looking back two decades laster.
While he was head coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga, Oliver had schemed up a defense that employed six and seven defensive backs to upset a superior Appalachian State team. In stops as defensive coordinator at Clemson and with the Memphis Showboats of the now-defunct United States Football League, he toyed with the same idea.
For Miami, an 8 1/2-point favorite, he ramped it up.
Alabama utilized schemes with three and four defensive linemen, one or two linebackers and from five to seven defensive backs. Oliver stacked the deck by often having the Crimson Tide defense line up with all 11 players within a couple of feet of the line of scrimmage.
The message to Toretta was clear: We dare you.
"Usually I wanted to disguise our intentions," Oliver said. "I wanted to disguise when we were going to blitz or drop back in coverage.
"Our objective in this game was to show them our intentions. We didn't want to disguise it. We wanted to make (Toretta) nervous."
"We knew early that they were confused," Alabama safety George Teague said. "You always try to glare into the quarterback's eyes."
Teague recalls doing just that and having one thought: "Oh, we've got them now."
Toretta passed for 278 yards without a touchdown and was intercepted three times, with one returned by Teague for a touchdown. Toretta completed just 24 of 56 attempts.
Alabama's coverage enveloped Miami's spread formation, at times double-covering all three receivers with a safety on the tight end and a linebacker covering the running back out of the backfield.
And with all 11 defenders lining up within a foot or two of the line of scrimmage, Miami had no way to read who was going to do what on any particular play.
But as well as Oliver's master scheme worked out, it was designed to be utilized as an adjustment rather than as a primary plan of attack. Alabama scored a quick field goal, which Miami matched. Oliver, concerned that the Hurricanes would get into an offensive rhythm, made an on-the-spot decision that turned the game.
"My plan was to use it for a second-half thing," Oliver said. "Miami went down there and kicked that field goal and I just said, 'Hell, let's go with it.' And we went with it."
Alabama defenders were anxious to show what they could do after a buildup to the game that saw Miami players scoff at UA's use of zone defense, saying the Crimson Tide wasn't man enough to cover their accomplished wideouts man-to-man.
"They were doing a lot of talking," cornerback Antonio Langham said.
Langham sat with ESPN's Chris Fowler as the television analyst read examples of Miami's smack talk to him. UA head coach Gene Stallings had warned his team to let the Hurricanes do the talking and instructed them to not provide Miami with bulletin-board material, but Langham couldn't take it anymore.
"My blood was boiling and I was thinking, 'Give me more, give me more.' But finally I just lost it right in front of the camera and I said, 'Sometimes people's mouths write a check that their behinds can't cash.' That was it," Langham said.
Langham was mildly scolded by Stallings at a team meeting, but got a different reaction when Oliver had the defense together behind closed doors.
"Just between us in this room, what (Langham) said, I feel the same way," Oliver told them. "We're going to give them everything we've got."
Alabama's defense couldn't wait for the call to go with a defensive set called 31-Up. It came for the first time on a third down in the first quarter.
"That particular play, Coach Oliver, out of nowhere, just said forget it and said there was no need in waiting," cornerback Antonio Langham said. "He just threw that defense out there, and we went into that coverage and we had all 11 men on the line of scrimmage.
"And to line up man-to-man? Because they said we weren't real men because we didn't play man-to-man. ... Man, (Oliver) opened up that game plan and we took it to them."
Oliver told Langham before the game that he would be covering Miami's Horace Copeland, a deep threat with 47 catches for an average of better than 16 yards per reception.
"I don't want him to catch one pass," Oliver told Langham.
Copeland finished with two receptions for 21 yards, emblematic of the clamp Alabama put on the Hurricanes' passing game.
The Crimson Tide defense handled the Hurricanes, but it was a special teams play that got Alabama's offense on track. David Palmer, wearing No. 2 and known as "The Deuce," returned a punt 38 yards to the Miami 24-yard line to set up a field goal that gave Alabama a quick 3-0 lead. It was just the second time all season that an opponent had scored first on the Hurricanes.
"I was actually out there on that punt return," said Teague. "Our slogan was always wanting to say, 'The Deuce is Loose.' It was such a burst for our team and our fans. It sparked us."
Alabama's offensive line had motivation of its own from Miami's verbal assaults leading into the game. Miami linebacker Rohan "Rat" Marley, the son of late reggae musician Bob Marley, encountered tackle Roosevelt Patterson in the French Quarter a few days before the game.
"You must be a lineman, you fat, sloppy (expletive)," Marley called out.
Marley's taunt couldn't have played better into Alabama's offensive game plan. If Miami was all flash, the Crimson Tide was all smash. While quarterback Jay Barker went just 4-for-13 for 18 yards passing with two interceptions, Alabama's ground game pounded out 267 yards on 60 carries, with Derrick Lassic earning most valuable player honors with 135 yards and two touchdowns on 28 attempts.
All those yards came against a defense designed by a man who would later go against Alabama as head coach at rival Auburn.
"We trapped them a lot," Oliver said. "What they did defensively, that was Tommy Tuberville. They were upfield, upfield, they were easy to trap."
More important than the yards were the minutes that UA was able to keep Toretta and the Miami offense watching from the sidelines.
"One thing that I think that helped was our offense stayed on the field maybe 13 minutes than their offense," said Mal Moore, an Alabama offensive assistant at the time and now UA's athletic director. "That was very important in the game. Our strength was we could run the ball, and that helped run the clock and kept us on the field."
"It was just electrifying," Moore said. "I think everybody stood the entire game. It was that kind of excitement as the game unfolded."
Dabo Swinney, a senior split end at the time and now head coach at Clemson, marveled as he watched it all unfold.
"That night it all came together," Swinney said. "To experience that, you can't even put it into words."
Only two words mattered that night for Alabama: national champions.
TideSports.com Gift Card Aaron Suttles contributed to this report. Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.