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GLENDALE, Arizona – Before Monday night's national championship game, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin reminded Reggie Bush and Vince Young on Twitter of the epic 2006 Rose Bowl that Young's Longhorns won.
Texas came back from behind to beat USC 41-38 for the national title in what's one of college football's classic games. Kiffin was USC's co-offensive coordinator that night as the Trojans lost a late lead.
"It just hit me earlier today how long it'd been and telling our players you don't know when you're going to get another opportunity," Kiffin said on the field as Alabama was celebrating its 45-40 victory over Clemson.
"It's been 10 years since the last one and I felt I screwed the last one up in that game so much I was just happy to finally get back here."
There was no screwing up in this game as Kiffin helped Alabama break three offensive touchdowns of 50 yards or more as the Tide took control of the game in the second half.
It even had an eerie similarity to the 2006 game, too. In 2006, Kiffin's Trojans led Texas 38-33 with 4:03 to go in the fourth quarter. Monday, Clemson pulled within 38-33 of Alabama with 4:40 to go.
USC's possession after Texas' touchdown to bring the game within five points ended with a turnover on downs inside Longhorn territory when LenDale White was stuffed on fourth-and-2. Alabama reached the Clemson 14 on the second play of its possession thanks to a 63-yard completion to tight end O.J. Howard.
Howard started the play on the right side of the formation. He crossed to the left side after the snap and caught the pass from Jake Coker behind the line of scrimmage. With two blockers ahead of him on two Clemson defensive backs, Howard got the corner. Six plays later, running back Derrick Henry had his third touchdown and had provided the winning margin.
The pass to Howard was a play that didn't exist before the game.
"We didn't even have that play to the left sideline. ... We drew it up at halftime off of some stuff they were doing on defense," Kiffin said.
Howard entered the title game with 34 catches for 394 yards on the season. He had five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns on Monday.
"I think it was one of those games where we knew coming in, it's OK Derrick had gotten the attention in the last game, everyone is going to stop Derrick after the Heisman, after the 90 carries in two weeks," Kiffin said. "And then [wide receiver] Calvin Ridley making the plays last week [against Michigan State] and Jake … they're going to take away that now."
Ridley had eight catches for 138 yards against the Spartans in the Cotton Bowl and Coker was 25-of-30 passing for 286 yards. After that game, Alabama coach Nick Saban said his team had seized the opportunity to match up Ridley in the slot against a safety when the coaching staff saw how Michigan State was playing its coverages.
While Kiffin applauded his players' ability to execute new plays presented to them, he also deserves credit for finding the new plays and figuring out when to use them. He admitted he's a better playcaller now because of his ability to simply focus on offense over the past two seasons.
"He's definitely different than any coach I've ever been around," Coker said. "I think he kind of wings it, you know, and he's so smart. He thinks so quickly that he can do that. He says what he thinks and that's how it goes. And I appreciate that, and I appreciate the way he's handled me this last year and last year. I can't be more appreciative of what he's done."
Kiffin's hiring before the 2014 season at Alabama brought all the requisite jokes that had sprouted from the three head-coaching positions (Tennessee, the Oakland Raiders, USC) he'd held since he was the Trojans' offensive coordinator in that Rose Bowl game. But his tenure with the Tide hasn't been a joke.
Not only is Alabama the only team to make it to the College Football Playoff twice, it's done it with different quarterbacks in Coker and Blake Sims. And while Alabama brought back Henry, the offense had to replace the production of wide receiver Amari Cooper, who left for the NFL.
"I can't imagine writing a better story the past two years," Kiffin said.
"The two quarterbacks having just one year to play and seeing them grow and doing so well. The Biletnikoff [for Cooper in 2014] and the Heisman [for Henry in 2015], it's been really exciting."
With Saban entrenched at Alabama, that excitement ultimately leads to wondering where Kiffin's coaching future leads. With the way Kiffin has grown as a playcaller in the past two seasons, it doesn't seem a matter of if he gets another head-coaching shot, but when.
It may not be until 2017. Kiffin said before the Cotton Bowl that he'd love to be back for a third season at Alabama, and the college football coaching carousel has pretty much stopped for this season. But whenever it will be, Kiffin said he's learned from Saban and won't be his team's primary playcaller when he's in charge.
"Yeah, I would do it like he does," Kiffin said. "I would be involved in it, know the terminology, help with the calls, game planning … be the CEO like he does it."
For more Alabama news, visit TideSports.com.
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