Time for Alabama Fans to Face the Ugly Truth
By Larry Burton
Alabama is not the 400 pound gorilla in college football. Under the Saban era, they won their first national championship with a little luck and a last second blocked field goal against Tennessee to get them there and then they had luck in the back-to-back last two championships by having teams in front of them fall from the ratings, allowing them a second chance.
That is not in any measure not saying they weren’t the best teams in college football those years, but that like all champions, it just shows that you need a little luck to get there and this year for Alabama, the ball bounced the other way and other problems reared their ugly heads.
But it was far more than just “bad luck”.
In today’s world of high scoring, wide open offenses, teams either have to have lock down corners or simply resign themselves to having to win a track meet every game. Alabama doesn’t have lock down corners and that fact has been obvious for most of the season and things aren’t looking good toward having them next year either.
Alabama’s defense overall is not the same Crimson wall it once once in defending the rush either. Most of that comes from no one being able to fill Terrance “Mt.” Cody and Josh Chapman’s shoes.
Yes, statistically Alabama is still one of the top defenses, but they only look that way when they’re playing a team with a low power offense. The 42 points they gave up to Texas A&M and the 34 they gave up to Auburn should have been a better indication to Tide fans that Oklahoma would have no problem with the Tide.
SEC fans like to say that while conferences like the Big 12 and Pac 10 may score a lot of points, it’s because nobody in those conferences know how to play defense. Oklahoma’s 45 points against Alabama was the most points they scored against anyone but Iowa State and Tulsa, both three win teams. Alabama fans can now scratch their heads and wonder now just how Alabama stacks up, since all those “pansy” defenses in the in Big 12 gave up less points to Oklahoma than Alabama did.
For Alabama fans, it’s time to re-evaluate the way the look at the defense. Despite the stats, they are hurting everywhere. They can’t get opponents off the field on third down anymore to any acceptable degree, they get ripped for big plays and they have almost no pass rush.This wasn’t a prime Alabama defense this year.
Now for the offense.
When I interviewed AJ McCarron following the Capital One Bowl Game in Orlando on New Year’s Day, 2011, the Tide had just finished a three loss season and McCarron said that team “Didn’t do all the little things everyday” that they did the year before in winning the national championship and he’d work hard to make sure that never happened under his leadership.
But it did.
This was supposed to be a great offensive line, but they they could not protect AJ McCarron against a team with aggressive, quick pass rushers. In fact if this last game was Cyrus Kouandijo’s application to leave early for the NFL, he may want to reconsider, given the way it was pointed out time and again how he got whipped by “one of those conferences that can’t play defense”.
To pass the blame around, Amari Cooper looked like he phoned in this season after his breakout year in 2012. In fact, far too many receivers dropped far too many balls and lastly, TJ Yeldon is a good back, but he is no Eddie Lacy, Trent Richardson or Mark Ingram. In fact, in yards per carry average he is simply third on the team and he just doesn’t have the excitement factor than any of the other above named backs had.
This offense quit doing what it used to do best. Beat down teams with a one-two punch at running back. Saban said Kenyan Drake was delegated to third string because of ball control issues, but Yeldon has fumbled more. Sure he’s had more carries, but fumbles are fumbles. What happened to developing players? Drake has the ability to break runs that Yeldon just doesn’t have and he’s had a higher yard per carry average than Yeldon all season long in both rushing and receiving. Also in last night’s game, freshman Derrick was clearly better than Yeldon, averaging over twice as many yards per carry, but Yeldon got the lion’s share of the running plays.
But since we’re passing blame, why not bring in the play calling? Against say, LSU, Alabama ran the ball 36 times passed 14 times and kept the LSU offense on the bench. They should have learned a lesson. With Derrick Henry averaging over 10 yards a carry, why not wear out the Sooner defense with him more than they did? He only had eight carries. Why abandon the running game and attempt to keep the opposing offense on the bench a little longer?
When Alabama did throw and complete it, they did well, but only when McCarron wasn’t risking life and limb to deliver it. Then there was the two interceptions. One was clearly McCarron’s fault alone and the second was half his and half Amari Cooper’s for not coming back to the ball. Though he set a personal high in yardage, the interceptions and Yeldon’s fumble cost Alabama the game.
Cade Foster continued his poor play kicking field goals and only Alabama’s punter, Cody Mandell was anything special on the special teams.
Perhaps it was better for Alabama to epically fail on a lesser stage than be beaten in the biggest game of the year against Florida State, who given Alabama’s performance in the last two games, would have beaten Alabama much worse than Oklahoma did.
While most Alabama fans could console themselves with the theory that Auburn was lucky, clearly, the game against Oklahoma opened their eyes. The Sooners didn’t just win the game, they whipped Alabama all night long. Alabama was never in command of the game at any point.
From a talent standpoint, this is one of the, if not the best team in the nation, but from an execution standpoint, they clearly are just a good team. Whether they were resting on their laurels as two time, back to back national champions, or just going through the motions without the necessary drive, this team simply wasn’t as good as Alabama fans wanting to think they were.
Now that we’ve done with the brow beating, let’s look forward.
Alabama still has one of the most talent rich and deepest high quality players of any team in the nation and they are bringing in another top recruiting class this year to add to it. They still have Nick Saban, signed to a new extension and a nice raise, but most of all, they have an easy schedule next year to break in a new quarterback and some new faces in various spots on the team.
Nick Saban and his staff will have to roll up their sleeves next year and tinker with both the offense and defense as personnel changes and the ever changing offenses and defenses of their opponents will dictate those changes. This season, Alabama wasn’t showing anything new on either side of the ball and teams became too accustomed to what and how Alabama did things. So change is coming and needed and sometimes, change can be a good thing.
Plus, it’s always nice to have a team with all that talent a little hungry, a little upset and with a chip on their shoulder.
Yes, this year was a year of could have been and should have been that ended with an Alabama team embarrassed by a team they should have beaten. But it is also a team with the brightest future of any team in college football. Enevitably, just like mother earth, the Tide comes in and the Tide goes out. They were out this year, but they will rise again.
Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter