The Superdome scoreboard read Oklahoma 45, Alabama 31. But the message was much clearer than the 14-point victory the Sooners enjoyed over the reigning National Champs.
Alabama again struggled in the secondary, struggled in pressuring the quarterback, struggled in securing the middle of the defensive line, and struggled to get stops on third down…at one point yielding a 1st and 30 situation when getting the ball back was at its most critical point in the game.
On offense the Tide could not contain the Sooners’ quicker defensive ends, as all who were watching in Crimson felt a bit more indifferent about left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio’s upcoming decision to make the leap to the NFL. This fact was crystalized with the game’s final sack and subsequent points, concreting the Oklahoma upset in the making.
And the rushing game, bent on giving the ball to a runner who seems indecisive at best and who fumbles with the kind of regularity in pivotal situations that makes one want to check his cell phone’s address book to see if the bag man is on speed dial. Whatever stubbornness exists on the Bama offensive coaching staff needs to die a grisly death upon evaluation of what Derrick Henry can do with the ball in his hands.
At 11-2, the Tide’s 2013 campaign came to a close. But the message was just getting clearer. The message?
Keep up with the times or get left behind.
In football’s ever changing evolution, the game at the top is becoming a scorefest. The read option, spread and hurry-up-no-huddle philosophies haven’t taken the place of hard-nosed football, or else Oregon wouldn’t struggle with Stanford and Auburn wouldn’t have to depend on luck and bad officiating to beat Alabama. The HUNH is still a sucker-punch, cheap excuse for football, depending on slight of hand and the wearing down of middle-aged officials as much as it is of opposing defenses.
But offenses have got to be built to score points, and lots of them. Like, every time you touch the ball. For your first six possessions. If a game isn’t in the upper 30’s by halftime it’s in question, regardless of the point ratio on the scoreboard. Creativity is the name of the game, disabling a defense from run blitzes to stop the absolutely predictable, stubborn between-the-tackle dives that kill drives and energize an opponent.
This is not to say this Tide team didn’t have flaws all year. The Tide did not possess a tough runner. TJ Yeldon, while shifty, is no Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson or Eddie Lacy. And the offensive line, while serviceable, was not the fortress Bama has had the past two seasons.
On defense, cornerback play had been spotty all year, to say the least, and as already mentioned, without the presence of a true nose guard Bama could not put up the wall it had in recent years.
But Thursday night Nick Saban was on the receiving end of the lesson he had been dealt before. Change, adapt, or get left behind. Still one of the greatest minds in the game, we’ll see what he does with it.
The Sooners were hungrier, and tired of the SEC aura of superiority and dominance. Its not like the lesson was new to the Alabama head coach. He’s preached it himself to anyone who would listen behind countless podiums at countless press conferences.
You don’t win because you walk on the field. You win because you pay the price to do what it takes to put yourself in the best position to win, then execute to make it happen. The Tide did neither Thursday night.
You also don’t win just because you have top talent. Whispers of bad attitudes and players not buying-in plagued this team. With another top class on the way, the reckoning of reality that’s coming will lead some of these step up or step out to play at UNA or Jacksonville State very soon.
11-2 is cause for celebration at most schools. Now riding six seasons in a row with double-digit win totals, 11-2 with nothing to show for it at Alabama means time to go back to the drawing board to get where it wants to be.
The last time Bama found itself in this position, Saban reinvented the Tide for back-to-back National Championships. Here’s hoping this lesson again hits its mark.