At Alabama, the Sky is Not Falling
By: Larry Burton
The day after Alabama fell from the echelon of college football to “just another great team” status doesn’t mean the sky is falling in Tuscaloosa. Saturday’s game with Ole Miss simply exposed to the nation what many of us who really understand football already knew, that Alabama, despite having many perfect parts, isn’t a perfect machine and that other teams are simply on the rise.
If you’re a stat person, or a superstitious one, then Alabama was due for a loss against Ole Miss. Though Ole Miss doesn’t beat Alabama often, it does manage to win one about every ten years and Bama won the last 11, so Ole Miss was due. Also, for some reason, Alabama does not play up to it’s best and has a history of losing games after a bye week and they had one last week. But it wasn’t stats or superstition that caused Alabama to lose.
Blake Sims, for all the progress he’s made, still has trouble throwing a ball accurately more than 6 yards down the field and being consistently accurate. Add to the fact that he proved that when playing great teams, he didn’t rise to the occasion or run the offense without hair pulling delays and using costly time outs. What’s worse is that Jacob Coker didn’t rise to the top as Saban had hoped and that of the two, Sims wound up being the top candidate by default because of it.
Ole Miss simply took the short pass and bubble screen away from Sims and he struggled for most of the day as those of us who studied us knew would happen when you don’t have a great middle or deep throwing threat. Sims usual outstanding passing days come from 4 yards throws that end up getting dozens of after the catch yards. That was taken away from him and he ended up looking bad on a great many middle and deep throws.
For all the great receivers, great running backs and solid lines, today Sims proved that it still starts and ends with the quarterback play. Zero touchdown passes to one interception won’t get it done and he’s very lucky not to have had two more picks. Just as costly was the fumble by a usually sure handed Christion Jones on a kickoff return that gave Ole Miss the go ahead touchdown. Just as frustrating was the drops by usually sure handed O.J. Howard, two misses by a usual sure footed field goal kicker, penalties by various Tide players and lapses in the defensive secondary.
To hang this loss around Sims’ shoulders certainly is not fair, it was a team loss for Alabama as much as a team win for a gritty Ole Miss squad. And it’s fair to think that as much strides as Sims has made, he can continue to improve his middle and deep throws. It’s also not out of the realm of expectations to think that Coker won’t finally come of age. What is not fair is to expect Alabama to win every single game for the remainder of Nick Saban’s tenure. This is the SEC.
So for Alabama fans to dress in sack cloth and ashes and lament the loss to such an extent that they’re writing the season off, let me assure you, the sky is not falling, Alabama is still the gold standard of the SEC and the season is still very much in play for the Tide to be one of the top teams in the nation and make the playoffs.
Don’t forget that one of Alabama’s favorite sons, AJ McCarron also lost one game in each of his championship seasons and that a one loss Alabama team could easily trump any other one loss team in the country when it comes to to making it into the playoffs. So to think that the sky is falling and that the season is over is simply madness. Sims, like McCarron, may just shrug this loss off and let it give him some fire in the belly to do better.
But changes are going to have to be made. Sims can not continue to be a quarterback who seems to throw the ball to the same guy 90% of the time and throw 90% of his passes less than five yards down field. Penalties are going to have to be cut and turnovers have to be eliminated. That’s just fundamental football and are all certainly fixable.
This team has the pieces in place to make these fixes. They have the personnel to fix them both on the team as players and in a great coaching staff. No one loss team in a better position to make the playoffs than Alabama.
Saban has regrouped his troops after losing a game to win to win a national championship three times in his career, once at LSU and twice at Alabama. If anyone can do it again, certainly Nick Saban is one of them.
Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter