Maybe you were surprised when you heard Lane Kiffin would not coach Alabama in the national championship against Clemson on Jan. 9.
Well, so was Damien Harris.
“I heard it when everybody else heard,” the Alabama running back said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “That’s something that Coach Saban thought was best for our program. He thought it would give us the best chance of being successful in the game this week. So he just kind of told everybody at the same time. Everybody found out at the same time. I don’t think he wanted to let it out early to have a chance of it spreading or anything like that. He just kind of made his decision and went with it.”
When asked what his reaction was, Harris, who rushed for a team-high 1,016 yards this season, said he “didn’t really have much of one.”
“Whatever Coach Saban says is kind of what we fall back on,” Harris said. “But I think Coach Kiffin did a great job while he was here and he helped us be very successful in the three years that he was here, and I think Coach Sarkisian will do the same.”
Alabama (14-0), which has won 26 straight games, will face Clemson (13-1) in a national championship rematch. If the Tide lose, Nick Saban will likely be criticized for dismissing Kiffin at the eleventh hour.
“It’s definitely different not having offensive meetings with Coach Kiffin anymore, not seeing him on the field anymore,” Harris said. “It’s definitely different. But like I said, Coach Saban, it was his decision. He thought that was what was best for us. He only did that because he thought it gave us the best opportunity to be successful in the game. He thought that would help us have the most success and prepare us best for a great Clemson team. Right now we’re trying to adapt and we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to make this work. He’s done a great job so far. He was at practice yesterday and he was real hands on, very vocal, did a great job with the offense. So I think we’ll be okay and he’ll give us the best chance of winning.”
Alabama advanced to the championship after beating Washington (12-2) in the Peach Bowl on Saturday. The defense was spectacular, as usual, limiting Washington to 194 total yards and holding the Huskies scoreless for the final three-and-a-half quarters. Still, Alabama’s offense left much to be desired. That unit accounted for just two touchdowns, including one on a 68-yard run by Bo Scarbrough.
“There was a long time in between the SEC Championship and the first playoff game, so we kind of knew we might come out a little rusty,” Harris said of the offensive struggles. “But the challenge was, how can we overcome that? Could we continue to put our heads down and try to make plays, try to have progress, try to have successful plays even when we didn’t have successful plays. The next play, could we focus on coming back and trying to improve and try to get a rhythm regardless of the circumstances of the game?”
Either way, it’s on to Clemson, which Alabama beat 45-40 last January.
“They never quit, they never backed down, they applied pressure the entire game – it took a full 60 minutes of football to beat them,” Harris recalled. “We know that it’ll be the exact same way this year. They’re a great team, they’re play very fundamentally sound and we know it’s going to take a great game plan and a lot of effort, a lot of toughness, a lot of discipline – everything that Coach Saban preaches to us every day. We’re going to need all of that to win this game.”
Even if the offense can’t score 45 points again against Clemson, it’s likely that the defense won’t give up 40.
“It’s almost like a security blanket,” Harris said of the Alabama D. “They do such a great job of holding opponents to little to no points and forcing tough situations for opposing offenses, which puts our offense in better position. That way, whenever we don’t have a good drive or we have a turnover, we know that we can count on the defense to give us another opportunity to go out there and put points on the board.”