Why this Alabama football team reminds me of a certain reptile | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

This Alabama football team resembles a chameleon, which is to say that if you examine the Crimson Tide throughout multiple weeks, you might see a different-looking team each time.

Alabama beat LSU and Auburn thanks to suffocating defensive performances led by linebacker Will Anderson Jr. In between, quarterback Bryce Young fueled a high-scoring triumph over Arkansas with a record-breaking performance, and he dazzled again in the SEC Championship. Alabama’s defense came back in style for the Cotton Bowl, joined by a renaissance run game.

This is a most unpredictable Tide (13-1). Its most consistent trait is its ability to find new ways to win.

No. 1 Alabama’s path to the national championship game (7 p.m. CT Monday, ESPN) in Indianapolis is in contrast with its opponent, No. 3 Georgia (13-1).

The Bulldogs have a clearly defined calling card, their No. 1-ranked defense, which limited every opponent other than Alabama to 17 points or fewer.

Alabama escaped Georgia’s fist by using speed, tempo and a standout performance from Young to upset the Bulldogs 41-24 on Dec. 4 in the SEC Championship in Atlanta. After inflicting so much punishment to previous opponents, Georgia looked too slow in the ring with Alabama.

So, which is better – adaptability or a dependable calling card?

Recent national champions embodied the latter.

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Alabama wasn’t a shape-shifter in 2020. It was a race car that scored at least 31 points and topped 400 yards in every game. The trio of Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris became dependably unstoppable. Consider, Jones completed at least two-thirds of his passes in every game last season, a remarkable show of consistency.

Jones’ 2020 season came after Joe Burrow led LSU to the 2019 national championship by topping 275 yards passing and completing more than 63% of his attempts in every game. Burrow benefited from reliable wingmen such as wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

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The SEC’s past two national champions were predictably unstoppable offensive juggernauts, but Alabama has won via other means. Its 2011 team won the national championship behind maybe the best defense in college football history, a unit that dominated from tstart to finish without a hiccup.

So, yes, a calling card is useful to winning the national championship.

But, maybe Alabama’s adaptability is its calling card this season.

“It’s a mentality that we have,” Anderson said of this team’s ability to win in variety of ways. “I think sometimes just mentally, for us, we know what type of game situations we get in, and as the game goes on, we know how we have to play the game and how we have to finish the game. So, I think it’s all about our mental energy.”

That adaptability makes Alabama difficult to prepare for, too.

Beating the Tide isn’t as simple as containing Young, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Although that would be a good start, Alabama can pivot.

Alabama’s defense smothered LSU in a 20-14 victory Nov. 6. The Tigers gained just 295 yards, allowing the Tide to prevail despite a poor day from its offense.

Two Saturdays later, defensive exploits took a day off while Young threw for a school-record 559 yards to lift Alabama past Arkansas. A week later, defense was back in style, and Alabama won the Iron Bowl in four overtimes despite punting a season-high seven times.

Alabama’s ground game was mostly window dressing throughout November, but then Brian Robinson Jr. rushed for a career-high 204 yards in a 27-6 victory over Cincinnati on Friday in the Cotton Bowl behind an offensive line that became formidable late in the season.

Young’s athleticism and midrange passes, coupled with wide receiver Jameson Williams’ speed, were key ingredients to Alabama beating Georgia in December.

Will Alabama follow the same recipe in a rematch?

“Players are always going to have to adapt,” Tide coach Nick Saban said.

This Alabama chameleon knows how to do that.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.