As in Alabama football, Nick Saban’s season was ruined

As in Alabama football, Nick Saban’s season was ruined

BATON ROUGE, La. — It was too loud and too chaotic in Tiger Stadium to hear a shot Alabamaseason on late Saturday night. The crash happened so quickly and so unexpectedly that it was difficult to grasp in real time. LSU Coach Brian Kelly wouldn’t dare go for two, would he? After taking a timeout to think a little more, he would surely change his mind, kick the extra point and play a second overtime. Is not it?

But it didn’t. Kelly thought he had the perfect play to expose Alabama’s erratic defense, and he took it. Quarterback Jayden Daniels he rolled to his right and found an open target in the tight end Mason Taylorwhich fell into the end zone for the score.

What happened next was a scene Alabama has come to know this season: an eruption of noise, followed by thousands of fans rushing onto the field. Nick Saban and his players, once again, were left to deal with the bedlam and retreat to the safety of the visitors’ locker room.

Three weeks earlier, Tennessee fans did the exact same thing when the Vols won on a field goal in regulation. But instead of the cigar smoke that hung in the air in Knoxville, fog surrounded the stadium in Baton Rouge. And, thanks to well-placed security, the goalposts weren’t ripped out and thrown into the Mississippi River.

When Saban sat down with the media to try to explain how his team lost to LSU 32-31, it felt similar to the Tennessee loss. The same resigned quality was in the 71-year-old’s voice. He strained to hear the questions put to him; instead of “Rocky Top” blaring through the concrete walls, there were chants of “LSU!” And he had the same explanations: too many defensive lapses, too many penalties, no consistency in the running game, not enough offense around the star quarterback Bryce Young.

The most noticeable difference from Saban was the lack of hope. Because it’s gone. To reach the SEC Championship Game, Alabama would have to beat No. 11 Be Miss and Auburn And we’re hoping for an LSU collapse with losses at unranked Arkansas and Texas A&M.

“Look, I can’t blame the players,” Saban said. “I’m responsible for all these things. So if we didn’t do it right, it’s my responsibility.”

Kudos to Saban for not throwing his offensive or defensive coordinators under the bus — or any of his assistants. But frankly, everyone is responsible for what has been a failure of coaching this season.

Alabama had the talent to win a national championship, let alone beat an LSU team that was still finding its way after a coaching change. Young and outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr. are two of the three to five best players in college football. Recruiting has remained strong thanks to more than ten straight five signing classes, so the depth should be there. What’s more, Saban owned the transfer portal last offseason, signing all-conference players and Power 5 starters at multiple positions.

Saban himself said: Last year was a season of renewal, not this year. Complacency — that old saw — couldn’t be blamed after the Tide blew up in the national championship game vs Georgia in January. Veterans Young, Anderson and safety Jordan Battle have convinced themselves during the summer that this team is different. They said the players were focused and paying attention to the little things in a way they hadn’t before.

So what exactly was missing if not buy-in or talent?

Development, that’s what.

The receiver dropout lately has been glaring. After producing a flurry of first-round NFL draft picks (including current stars Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle), Alabama struck gold last season with Jameson Williams. But the moment Williams was ejected — first against Auburn and then in the national title game — the passing game collapsed.

Maybe that was too much to ask Jermaine Burton to be another savior like Williams. But take Burton out of the equation (and the other transfer Tyler Harrell) and it is a wonder that among Isaiah Bond, I’m Corey Brooks, JoJo Earle, Traeshon Holden and Kobe Prentice, no one was capable of becoming a playmaker. Moreover, they were unreliable as a team, with 21 dropped passes — fifth most among Power 5 schools.

Jahmyr Gibbs, a running back, quickly became Young’s most trusted receiver. But as good and versatile as Gibbs was, along with his support Jase McClellanneither has proven to be the type of between the tackles Alabama’s running back desperately needs. Roydell Williams, who works with strength, has just 38 carries this season. As a team, 22.9% of Alabama’s rushes went for zero or negative yards.

So, without the ability to play smashmouth football and without a receiver to stretch the field vertically, the offense became one-dimensional and opposing defensive coordinators could blitz at will.

The result was hardly the offense Young signed up for — the kind of dynamic offense that benefited his predecessors at quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones. Playing behind a shaky offensive line, Young had to run for his life. He was contacted on 22% of his downs this season and was pressured on 44% of his pass attempts against LSU.

Strip out the drops and throws, then adjust for air yards, and Young’s adjusted completion rate of 78.0% is the best in the SEC. In other words, he’s playing up to — and maybe even surpassing — his performance from last season, when he won the Heisman Trophy.

But even he can’t overcome a flawed team like this one. He can’t make up for a defense that made a habit of giving up big plays, whether it was in a close game at Texas or road losses to Tennessee and LSU — not to mention a near loss at home to unranked Texas A&M (albeit without Young). And it definitely can’t beat a team that has the tied number of penalties (78) in the FBS.

Let that go for a moment. Saban, a fan in every sense of the word who rages on the sideline against self-inflicted fouls, oversaw 671 yards in penalties, an average of 74.6 yards per game. There is no way to describe this Alabama team other than sloppy and undisciplined. Even after Saban said he thought his team was sharp, the Tide committed nine penalties, including two key pass interference in the fourth quarter.

After the loss, Saban said his players were disappointed by the “underestimation.” It’s the first time since 2010 that Alabama has two losses before facing Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Saban said they are capable of more, but “sometimes we beat ourselves and that’s kind of hard to overcome.”

Saban asked his team to “check their ‘blank’ card” because they want to finish the season well. The players had their own inventory to consider, he said, as well as reaching the goal of winning 10 games.

That last comment was weird. Alabama talks a lot about playing to a standard, but that usually means a championship, either SEC, national, or both. While winning 10 games would be a nice feather in the cap, it’s hardly what anyone in or around the program expected. Remember, this is a program whose strength coach once destroyed the runner-up trophy.

Crimson Tide fans will want nothing less than to return to the playoffs next season. But is it even possible? Young, Anderson and a handful of NFL draft prospects will likely move on. And staff departures seem likely. Saban didn’t specifically call out offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, but he’s been asking for more balance for some time and hasn’t gotten it. Saban said he wouldn’t question the offensive game plan against LSU, but then added, “Whatever we did, we put ourselves in a position to do it and we just came up short.” It’s not exactly sound support.

Regardless of who goes and who stays, something has to change. Georgia is threatening to win a second national championship and become an SEC powerhouse, and Tennessee and LSU appear to be serious contenders again after going through coaching changes. To get back on top, Alabama must regain what has made it so successful over the past decade and more: being a team that not only refused to beat itself, but a team that prided itself on overcoming being beaten opponents and forced them to give up.

Perhaps this means going back to what has become a lucky strike to re-establish a more physical style of play in the trenches. Perhaps that means a culture change on defense where the hard-nosed edge that defined the era of Roland McClain, Ryan Anderson and Mark Barron is all but gone.

During his radio show in September, Saban hinted at how this team’s mentality has changed lately, which was evident at Tiger Stadium.

“We played better on the road than we did at home because we had some fierce competitors in our team,” he said. “And when they played on the road, they were mad at 100,000 people, not the 11 guys they were playing against. And they wanted to prove something to everybody.”

Not only does this current incarnation of Alabama football allow itself to be pummeled by 100,000 screaming fans rather than the other way around, but it has made a habit of losing and giving those same people a reason to rush onto the field and celebrate.

The danger for Alabama is that losing will become so normal, fans won’t bother leaving their seats to go anywhere but home. That’s when you’ll know the dynasty is over.

We are far from it, but this season should serve as a warning that the foundation is eroding and work must be done.

#Alabama #football #Nick #Sabans #season #ruined

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