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A 37-43 loss to Mississippi last week has Alabama at a crossroads.

It still controls its own destiny in the Southeastern Conference, but an identity must be claimed Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe. Positive energy was on display at practice this week, but it must be channeled effectively on the field. Alabama can’t allow the Warhawks to hang around.

Much shade and negativity has been thrown at the SEC. Alabama, in particular has bore the brunt of ridicule from mainstream media this week. The next two weeks should provide this year’s team with an opportunity to silence its critics and work together as a unit.

Senior center Ryan Kelly has been lights out, but his comrades have been average to say the least. Sophomore left tackle Cameron Robinson and right tackle Dominick Jackson can build some consistency this week. Redshirt freshman Ross Pierschbacher is young; however, he has the skill set and size to be effective. Alphonse Taylor has played in 23 career games.

He has yet to mesh completely with this group, but Saturday needs to be a turning point for Alabama’s front line.

Defensively, Alabama spent this week formulating the best rotation to generate pressure. Affecting opposing quarterbacks entails more than just sacks, nevertheless, the Crimson Tide has to finish plays. Regardless of Jonathan Allen’s production (three sacks), Alabama needs more than one guy to constantly harass a signal-caller. Outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi rotated Denzel Devall, Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams and Rashaan Evans throughout different packages in practice. One of them has to emerge as a sack specialist.

Alabama’s secondary is young, but improving.

It entered last week’s game against Mississippi, causing four of five turnovers. Facing the ball and making tackles are both focus points this week and next week for the defensive backfield.

Obviously, coach Saban wants Alabama to run the ball well, but these next two weeks can bode well for senior quarterback Jacob Coker to lock down primary receiving targets.

Calvin Ridley, Cameron Sims and ArDarius Stewart are among the young players that will see an increased role. Richard Mullaney has shown to be a threat in the slot, and despite some injuries, Chris Black is healthy and needs to make himself available on offense.

A loss to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007 (14-21) caused Alabama to think. After a moment to reflect, Saban and company dominated college football from 2008-12. It was close but no cigar for the Crimson Tide in the last two seasons. Alabama’s meeting with Georgia is the marquee, yet its season hinges on how well it can focus against the Warhawks Saturday at 3:00 p.m. CT.

Stephen M. Smith is a senior analyst and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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