We are all shocked; but maybe we should not be.
I am a realistic Alabama fan, I am not one of those yahoos who thinks Alabama is the best team on earth when they are 6-6. When Alabama stinks, I call them on it. I love my team and I love, for the most part, its faithful fan base. What I do not like is that some of my fellow fans have unrealistic expectations about winning a National Championship every year. So much so, that some of the trolls have started bashing Nick Saban for losing two games. Yes, Nick Saban, who was greater perhaps than “the Bear” before the Sugar Bowl, is now maybe only slightly better than Mike Shula.
Give me a break…losing two games is all it takes for these fans to get restless? They obviously do not remember, as I do, the “dark age” between 1992-2009; almost twenty years of pitiful mediocrity. They too have forgotten the Manning-Martin days, where we would lose to Tennessee consistently and badly. Also, they seem to have forgotten the Tuberville hand…the ignoble sign of arrogance that symbolized those six straight losses to our archrival Auburn.
Real fans have not forgotten this, and none of them want to toss Saban out for a college football lottery of coaches.
So, what happened? Why did we trounce Notre Dame so effortlessly last year and get humiliated by Oklahoma this year?
Here’s my take:
1. We were never the best team in the nation.
I said at the beginning of the season that I did not think that we were as good as the two previous years. Thank God that news never reached some of our rivals earlier in the season. We were, alas, overrated the whole season. We played a cake schedule against some crumbling SEC powerhouses. Our biggest games were against teams that were above average, but not exceptional. All it took was Gus Malzuhn looking at the A&M game to figure it out, after that it was all over for us.
2. Oklahoma was a better team than we want to admit.
I was hoping after the first drive that it would be a run away win…boy, was I wrong. Oklahoma only lost two games this year; they were not by any means a terrible team. In our smugness we kind of underestimated their capacity to change; should have known that Bob Stoops would use his month wisely to get ready for us. He is not a bad coach and Oklahoma, while kind of mediocre or above average lately, is not a terrible team. Their defense was second in the nation for scoring off of turnovers; we learned the hard way why that is the case.
3. The offensive line is young, inexperienced and needed to be humbled.
The offensive lines of the last two seasons were phenomenal, the coaching exceptional. This year, something happened; I am not sure if it was just that most of the line was new, or the K. brothers were assumed to be pros before playing a snap, or if the new o-line coach was just a bust. For some reason, the o-line was mediocre at best and disastrous at worst. If Alabama is going to win games at all for the next two years, it is going to need to improve that o-line.
4. The defense was depleted, slow. and lacked a pass rush.
The defense was a big problem this year; more so than the o-line. We have some talented players, but for the most part it was just a shadow of its former glory. The main issue in my mind was the depleted and at times inept secondary. The best one out there was Landon Collins, and he is still very green. The second issue was the lack of a pass rush, a beef I continue to have with Kirby Smart’s defenses. In the past, people have been awed by our discipline; now they just laugh at our inability to create chaos and how slow we are. We need a pass rush to deal with option-minded offenses, otherwise they will outmaneuver our turtle speed defense every time. This has to be corrected this off season or we are in big trouble next year. We will definitely be missing C.J. Mosley, who by far, was the best defensive player on our team.
5. T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper cannot hold on to the ball.
Yeldon and Cooper, who had a stellar freshmen years, both suffered sophmore slumps. Yeldon still managed to get to 1,000 yards; but he did so against pathetic teams. In games where it truly counted, Yeldon was largely ineffective. Cooper has been struggling with injury, but beyond that his focus has been off for most of the year (though he did show up for the last two games). These two guys, other than A.J. McCarron, are the stars of the offense; if they do not produce then the the burden falls on the untested players. There were too many times when we went with Yeldon when we should have gone with Drake, or even Henry. Let’s not even begin to talk about the fumbles; Yeldon is notorious for issues with ball control, which is something we are not used to since Ingram, Richardson, and Lacy very rarely fumbled the ball. Turnovers are devastating to any team seeking a National Championship.
6. Saban is no god.
The coaching job of Nick Saban has been overall phenomenal; however, this year there were key moments where he reminded me more of Les Miles than himself. His inability to recruit a decent kicker is bothersome, if not slightly arrogant. Cade Foster has done an “ok” job overall, but in critical game moments he has choked. The new kicker he has may or may not be the answer, but my question is why was he not kicking more often? I know Alabama has not been in a lot of field goal positions, but I still think we should have been giving the new kid a chance to build his confidence. There were other calls and other strategies that were just odd, and I wonder if Saban was having a slump himself at times. For the most part, he was the same great “St. Nick” but there were moments of humanity in his play calling.
7. A.J. McCarron is a legend.
I do wish that his time at Alabama had ended better; the Sugar Bowl was not the best showing of A.J.’s abilities. However, A.J. knows how to win, when he is protected well, he is the best QB in college football. No, he is not a terrific scrambler and yes, he has had benefit of a steel o-line for most of his time at Alabama; yet, I still think that A.J. could be, with some time and sharpening, and excellent NFL QB. We will miss A.J., there is uncertainty at our QB position in the future; the game plan will have to change and we will have to be patient and adjust.
8. We are running back factory.
There are certain schools that are known for producing great running backs; Alabama is among the best. Yeldon, Drake, Henry, and the promising guys behind them all demonstrate the talent that the Alabama football program produces at the running back level. Now, that does not mean they all do well in the pros (Ingram, Richardson are struggling; Lacy is having a break out season); however, when it comes to putting yards up on opponents, few schools do it better than Alabama.
9. The offensive stepped it up.
The reason we did well at all this year is that the offense was able to counter-balance some of the poor defensive play. Even though the o-line was mediocre and untested, the team as a whole played well together. The stars were lacking when it counted; the other players, Norwood, Howard, Drake, Henry, White, Jones, and others stepped up and kept at least the perception of a championship alive. We owe them as fans a lot of gratitude for this not more being more disappointing than it could have been.
10. The SEC is in decline.
Auburn may or may not win the National Championship this year. However, even if they do, the glory days of the SEC are over. There is a new age of teams that are coming up that are bringing down the dominant teams, making the SEC less top heavy, more dynamic, and less likely to produce a national champion. Offense dominated the SEC this year; this has never happened before. There was a time where the SEC was superior by far to the other divisions, but that is changing. Alabama’s schedule featured some great teams of the past, but avoided a lot of the great teams of the present. If we are not to go into decline overall, then we too will have to start changing and playing the teams of today.
There were many things to be proud of this season; there were many moments of pride and glory as an Alabama fan. Yet, there were also those moments of bewliderment: How could Johnny Manziel make our defense look like chumps again? How could we struggle against a MS State team that was soundly defeated by most other teams in the league? How do we lose to Auburn, like that? How did the Sooners, 15-pt. underdogs, come in and manhandle us by 14 pts? The offense overcame a lot of its difficulty; the defense looked like old, tired men were trying to play college football. Saban looked like a genius and then he looked confused. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. The record inflated our perception and our ego; we were not near as good as our 11-1 suggested; if we had played better teams, we would likely have gone 10-3 or maybe 9-4. It was a great year, but not because we were the best, rather, because we were not..and yet we still ended up on the winning end…even one game away from another National Championship.
At least we actually fought Oklahoma and did not roll over like we did against Utah.
The Tide is dead. Long roll the Tide!