Alabama Has Never Looked so Unprepared and Outmatched Under Nick Saban
Sure, the Alabama Crimson Tide have lost plenty of games under Nick Saban. But, to be utterly and completely demolished the way the Clemson Tigers did last night? It is literally the worst loss the Tide has ever suffered under Saban. Clemson’s 44-16 drumming of the Tide belongs in the same company as the 2009 Sugar Bowl (vs. Utah) and the 2014 Sugar Bowl (vs. Oklahoma), but there’s no real debate. This one is the worst of them all – it was one of the rare occasions when Saban’s team looked completely unprepared, totally flat, overwhelmingly out-manned and outmatched, and out-coached.
So, what the hell happened?
You can call it a confluence of disaster. It felt like absolutely nothing could go right for the Tide. But, first and foremost, credit where credit’s due – Dabo Swinney had his guys ready to play. They capitalized on the moment and completely buried Alabama. “Buried” might not actually be a strong enough word. Clemson beat Alabama to death with a baseball bat and threw their carcass out of an airplane. Tua Tagovailoa threw a pick six and the ball game was over. This game was over with 13:26 left in the first quarter. It was unusual, and to me, it just felt like destiny taking hold. The Alabama offense was moving the ball just fine, and then BOOM – a touchdown heading the other way. That wasn’t very Bama-like, and it was our first clue that things weren’t exactly going to go Alabama’s way.
Then, Tagovailoa threw another interception. That one was awful – he forced it into three Tigers defenders and six yards away from his only target in the vicinity, Jerry Jeudy. Both of Tagovailoa’s interceptions were thrown where only the defensive back could receive it. Again, very unusual. The Tide defense was manhandled, giving up bombs on third down, a situation in which they just couldn’t get off the field last night. Somewhere in there, Alabama missed an extra point attempt (Alabama kickers, am I right?).
Questionable calls marred this game – going for it on 4th from their own 35, the fake field goal. Those were awful decisions that demonstrated a panic from Saban and his staff. It’s like every member of this organization was frazzled, from the top down. The mainframe was fried and the machine had no idea how to respond. Alabama was decked in the mouth repeatedly – haymaker after haymaker. And, their reaction was a glassy-eyed deer-in-headlights gaze. You can make any number of metaphors that you’d like.
But in a single sentence, Clemson bent Alabama over on national television and gave ’em the whole tip and shaft. I know Saban said that some of the best learning experiences come from losses like this. But, it’s hard to take away anything positive from such an evisceration.
Defensive/Defensive Coordinator Turnover
It’s attrition. You just can’t keep a revolving door of defensive coordinators and assistants and expect to maintain an elite defense over time. Kirby Smart is at Georgia. Jeremy Pruitt is at Tennessee. So on and so forth. Clemson hacked apart the Tide defense. If not for jumping out to a 28-0 lead, who knows what would’ve happened against Oklahoma?
I don’t know how you combat that, though. It’s a pretty interesting phenomenon….has Alabama achieved too much success? So much success that it’s impossible to sustain? What should they do? Suck more so that people stop plucking their coaches away?
We need to hold Tagovailoa accountable. His play nearly cost them the SEC Championship, and it sure played a key role in the unraveling that occurred last night. At times, he held the ball way too long, the Tigers pass rush rattled him, and he made some bad throws. Everyone was high on Tagovailoa from the moment he engineered the comeback against Georgia in the 2017 National Championship game. But since then, he’s played his worst football in Alabama’s biggest games.[INSERT OBI-WAN “YOU WERE THE SUPPOSED TO BE THE CHOSEN ONE” MEME]
Perhaps the masses were too high on him. Maybe the expectations that follow entering a National Championship and engineering a comeback were too unrealistic to begin with. But, there’s work for him to do. There’s work for the offense as a whole to do.
Remember when analysts called this the best Alabama team of all time? Remember hearing some pundits claiming it was the greatest college football team of all time? We ignored glaring issues because Tagovailoa and the Alabama offense enamored us all. But, that wasn’t good enough.
Where do you go from here?
The rumblings are already firing up – “is this the end of the Alabama dynasty?” As a Tide fan who has watched this team for the last decade, my knee jerk reaction was to shrug it off. We heard that after the ‘Kick Six’ Iron Bowl….after the 2015 Sugar Bowl…hell, after the loss to Clemson in the natty two years ago. Somehow, the Tide has always risen. But, this game was different – this game was the direct result of some troubling trends. Namely, that someone else played Tide football better than Alabama did.
But, the question remains – how does Saban improve the carousel of coaches? How does this team get back to dominant defensive performances in crucial moments? Earlier this year, Swinney made the switch from Kelly Bryant to Trevor Lawrence specifically for a game like last night’s.
There’s definitely some soul searching to do. That loss was uncharacteristic of Saban. Maybe a bit of his control over the program is beginning to loosen up a bit. Maybe his message is starting to fall a little flat. Whatever the case, as Kirk Herbstreit said, Clemson was like a “virus to the computer” of Alabama last night. While they definitely need to become a more balanced team, it could be entirely plausible that a man has finally come along and solved the Crimson Tide puzzle….a man named Swinney.
Moving forward will undoubtedly be the biggest test of Saban’s tenure at Alabama. Props to Swinney, Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers.
Is it September yet?
Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD and #BeBetter. “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Alabama Crimson Tide football, the WWE, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley