Nov. 14, 2008
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The 1978 National Championship team will be back on campus this weekend celebrating its 30th anniversary season. The only Alabama team to start and finish the season with a No. 1 national ranking, the 1978 Crimson Tide will be recognized on the field at the Alabama-Mississippi State game Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The Crimson Tide finished the 1977 season with an 11-1 record and a sound 35-6 thrashing of Ohio State in the 1978 Sugar Bowl, which coupled with No. 1 ranked Texas' loss in the Cotton Bowl, meant the Tide had a legitimate claim to the national championship. The Tide was denied as pollsters leap-frogged Notre Dame, a 38-10 winner over Texas, from fifth-place into the national championship.
So, when the polls were released prior to the 1978 season, Alabama found itself the preseason No. 1 team in the land. And if the pressure of being No. 1 was not enough, the Tide would face one of the most daunting schedules in history, playing Nebraska, at Missouri and Southern California, plus its grueling Southeastern Conference slate.
The Crimson Tide opened the season on Sept. 2 against No. 10 Nebraska in a nationally televised game (ABC Sports) at Legion Field. Alabama dominated Nebraska with a 20-3 win, never looking back after the offense churned out a 19-play, 99-yard drive in the second quarter to take a 7-3 lead while the defense held the high-powered Huskers to 174 total yards.
After an open date, Alabama traveled to Columbia, Mo., to face the No. 11 Missouri Tigers on Sept. 16. The Tigers led 20-17 at halftime, but Ricky Gilliand's 35-yard blocked punt return in the third quarter gave the Tide the lead for good at 24-20. Alabama added two more second half scores for the 38-20 win.
Another clash-of-the-titans meeting took place on Sept. 23 when Alabama hosted No. 7 Southern California at Legion Field. Charles White and the Trojans were too much for the Tide on this late September afternoon, piling up 309 rushing yards in a 24-14 win. White had 29 carries for 199 yards, including a 40-yard TD run in the first quarter.
Alabama slipped to No. 7 in AP rankings after the loss to USC and then reeled off eight straight regular-season wins. The journey began with a 51-28 win over Vanderbilt in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 30, 1978. The Tide held a slim 24-21 lead entering the fourth quarter before erupting for 27 points and a 51-28 victory. The Tide racked up 569 yards of total offense, including 448 rushing yards in the win. Tony Nathan led all rushers with seven carries for 163 yards and 63-yard TD run in the third quarter. Quarterback Jeff Rutledge also added two rushing TDs.
The Crimson Tide was back on the road the next week with a game against the Washington Huskies in Seattle on Oct. 7. The No. 8 Crimson Tide trailed 10-7 at halftime in its first trip to the state of Washington and rallied for a 20-17 win.
Alabama then won back-to-back SEC games with Florida and Tennessee. Billy Jackson had 147 rushing yards and one TD in the win over the Gators on Oct. 14 and Tim Travis added two rushing TDs in the win over the Vols on Oct. 21.
The third-ranked Crimson Tide played its final non-conference game on Oct. 28 and posted a 35-0 homecoming win over Virginia Tech. The Tide had actually had more passing (233) yards than rushing (211) yards in the win over the Hokies as Rutledge threw for 160 yards and two TDs. Keith Pugh had his best game of the season with five catches for 148 yards and one TD.
The Tide closed the year with three straight win over Mississippi State, LSU and Auburn. Alabama beat Mississippi State 35-14 on Nov. 4 with two rushing touchdowns from both Ogilvie and Nathan. In the 31-10 win over LSU on Nov. 11, Alabama piled up 467 total yards and got two more TDs from Ogilvie.
Alabama moved back to No. 2 in the AP rankings and closed out the season with a 34-16 win over Auburn on Dec. 2 at Legion Field. Rutledge threw three TD passes in the win, including two scoring strikes to Bruce Bolton, who finished the game with four catches for 84 yards.
After the win over Auburn, No. 2 Alabama accepted a Sugar Bowl invitation to play No. 1 Penn State for the national championship. The Tide took a 7-0 halftime lead when Rutledge threw a 30-yard TD pass to Bolton in the second quarter. Penn State tied the game on 17-yard TD pass from Chuck Fusina to Scott Fitzkee in the third quarter. Ogilvie put the Tide back in front with an 8-yard run later in the third quarter,
The game however was decided just inches from the goal-line in the fourth quarter, when Alabama, led by linebacker Barry Krauss stopped Penn State's Mike Guman twice from inside the 1-yard line cementing this team's place in Crimson Tide football lore.