ORLANDO, FL — Neither the Michigan Wolverines nor the Alabama Crimson Tide had the seasons they were hoping for in 2019 for very different, yet similar, reasons. Both left the year behind without a conference title and losses in the biggest games they played this past season, but 2020 and the Vrbo Citrus Bowl offered the opportunity to start the year on a high note and write a happy final chapter.
Alabama was the team that was able to pull it off, beating Michigan by a score of 35-16 despite people speculating that they would not be able to get up for this game. The truth of the matter is that both teams came out ready to play and the final score was not indicative of the level of competition, but the statement that was made came from the Tide, not the Wolverines.
Head coach Nick Saban was asked after the game about the type of statement that he felt his team made to finish the year at 11-2.
“I mean, these guys, they have a lot more talent than I do, so you should be asking them some questions,” Saban said. “You know, I think this team had a lot to prove in this game. I think that we have a culture of how we play football at Alabama, with great effort, great toughness, but also discipline to execute and accountability for everybody to do their job. That’s always been the trademark of what we do. And people make decisions based on what’s best for the team.
“And I thought that maybe at the end of the year this year in a couple games that we played, you know, half of the LSU game and maybe at Auburn, we didn’t really do that the way -- to the standard that I would like and to our expectation, and I think the players realized that. And I think they wanted to prove that, you know, this is the culture that was established for a number of years here by a lot of good players, and I think they have a lot of pride in that and I think they wanted to come out today and prove that this is what Alabama football, the culture of Alabama football is really all about.”
The narrative leading up to bowl prep was that this game would not mean a whole lot to Alabama given their recent success on the national stage and competing for national championships. Saban was forthright on the emphasis that was placed and was damned if he was going to let a disappointing year snowball into a bad one for his program. Saban still sees value in bowl games.
“I think that there was a lot of value for our program and our team to be able to come and get a reward, first of all, for having a successful season,” Saban said. “I know most people would think that 10-2 was a good season. That’s not necessarily our standard. The fact that previous to this year we have been in seven of the last ten championship games, eight playoffs out of 10, and we sort of started to develop a little bit of a reputation of if we weren’t in the playoffs, we didn’t play very well in the bowl games. And I think that every player can create value for how he plays and there’s a tremendous amount of value that your team creates by maintaining the culture of how they play in the last game and how they finish the season and how that carries over, that culture carries over into next season, especially with the young players. So I think there’s a lot of value.
“I think that the interest level -- I hope, you, as media folks, you know, who put so much into the playoffs, and rightfully so, that we can continue to have bowl games that are a positive reinforcement because they are important enough for people to be interested in because you all promote interest, you know, for the players and the games.”
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh felt his team competed well, but just did not make enough plays compared to the opponent.
“It was a very competitive game through the half, into the fourth quarter, until, really, until about six minutes left in the game,” Harbaugh said. “Their ability to create the big play was critical in the game and their ability to keep us out of the end zone and through the drives. We had long drives and settled for field goals.
“I think at the end, you know, stopping us when we had a chance out on the interception and then came back and drove the length of the field for 80 yards or so. You know, that was -- that was a huge difference in the game.”