2018 CFP: Buggs has breakout game against Clemson
By Tim Gayle
ATLANTA — Isaiah Buggs, considered by some as last year’s No. 1 junior college player in the country out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, flew beneath the radar early in the season, part of a group of defensive linemen that seemed average by Crimson Tide standards.
Finally, in a College Football Playoff semifinal against defending national champion Clemson, the Tide defense returned to form by holding the Tigers without a touchdown and to just 64 rushing yards in the 24-6 victory.
That win propelled the Tide back into the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday night against Georgia and the question is whether the defensive front can build on last week’s dominating performance.
“Most definitely, we’re going to repeat that same intensity,” Buggs said. “That’s what ‘Bama is built off of – we’re going to stop the run. The tricky thing is, I think Georgia is going to try and come out with a different game plan, not so much to run the ball a lot because they know what we do best. They’re going to run it here and there, but they’re going to try and switch it up to get us off balance and we’re been practicing all week for that.”
Buggs, along with fellow linemen Raekwon Davis, Da’Ron Payne and the rest of the Tide defense tied a CFP record with five sacks against the Tigers in the Sugar Bowl as Clemson became the first team held without a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl since 1984.
The junior from Ruston, La., had a quiet first half of the season before a breakout game against Texas A&M (10 tackles) and another two weeks later against Tennessee (seven tackles).
“I still had to find my role,” he explained. “Once I found my role, I knew I was going to be a great player. That’s what I’ve been doing, being a great player.”
Maybe, but head coach Nick Saban always likes to talk about his defense’s ability to impose its will on opponents, a trademark that was missing for much of October and November before taking center stage during a surprising beatdown of Clemson in New Orleans.
“That’s our main thing, being able to set the tone and crush their spirit before they get a little bit of hope,” Buggs said. “That’s what we did to Clemson from the time of the kickoff until the finish, keep our foot on their neck and play Alabama football.”
The performance of the defensive line caught the attention of Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.
“I think they played with a large amount of confidence in that ball game,” Chaney said. “They were very physical. They flew around. They hit Clemson hard and they did a lot of really good things. They took away a lot of things that Clemson was trying to do. They did it with scheme, they did it with out-and-out hustle and physical play and that’s what they built their defense on.”
One of the common themes in Saturday’s media day at Phillips Arena was the familiarity of former Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart with Monday’s opponent. Buggs scoffed at the notion that Smart would have any advantage because he coached many of Alabama’s defensive players two years ago before leaving to become the head coach of the Bulldogs.
“It’s all about us,” Buggs said. “Everybody always wants to have insight on the greatest coach in the world, Coach Saban, but to me, personally, I don’t feel like anyone can outcoach him. He’s been in this situation and that’s an advantage between us and Georgia. We’ve been on this stage, we know what it feels like. That gives us an advantage.”
It’s been a strange week of preparation for the biggest game of the season as both squads had less than a week to prepare but Buggs said the Tide was ready to play.
“We got off the plane Tuesday, had our little break then, and the next day we came in and got straight to work,” he said. “It’s been difficult to practice, coming off the big win and getting everybody back fresh at practice. But it was the same thing for Georgia. They had to come back from (the Rose Bowl in) California.
"It’s a big turnaround but that’s the most important thing, that each team is locked in and focused.We’re locked in, most definitely. We came up short last year and that’s not going to happen this year.”