The end of the third quarter brings a symbolic gesture to football stadiums all over the country. Extending their arms to the heavens, fans and players alike hold aloft four fingers, insisting the fourth quarter belongs to them.
Alabama fans say the tradition began with Coach Bryant, emphasizing a commitment to finishing the game strong. But over the last several years, holding up four fingers became just another sports cliché for Tide fans, less a mission statement than a show for the cameras, as calculated as dumping Gatorade on the head coach after a win.
That changed with the arrival of Nick Saban.
Entering his third season, Saban has drilled into this team the need to finish. This was evident Saturday night against the Hokies, as a Tide team frustrated by a tough defense was patient, calculated, and gradually wore down its opponent.
Working with a new offensive line and starting quarterback, Alabama struggled in the first quarter, as Greg McElroy tried to find a rhythm. The running game struggled as well, as the insertion of the Wildcat formation failed to produce many yards. Alabama kept it close in the first half with the leg of Leigh Tiffin and a smothering defense.
Alabama trailed at halftime, and failed to find the end zone in the third quarter. But they stuck to their game plan, frustrating Tech’s running quarterback and overcoming typical Frank Beamer special teams. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Alabama’s ground game was clicking, and the worn-down Virginia Tech defense had no answers.
In his post-game press conference, Saban stated he wanted Alabama’s opponents to experience “six seconds of Hell” each time the Tide lined up. Getting to that point has been a process, as Saban likes to say. He has put together the pieces for this hellish attack over the last two years, and it was on display last night in the Georgia Dome.
In its opening game, Alabama took the best shot of a very good Virginia Tech team, and kept the pressure on. The relentless nature of this Tide team figures to be a regular feature of their games this season.
Especially in the fourth quarter. Get your hands up.