Wow. It’s been a busy week here at the ole ranch, and between work, play and the PennState coverage (hey – did you hear Joe Paterno got fired?), it’s been difficult to get around to doing an LSU write up. If you are looking for cutesy references to songs, women, or penile implants then you’ve come to the wrong place this week. Yep – I’ve been pretty bummed out. To be perfectly honest with you all, Saturday night was the first time in a very long time that I found myself too disappointed for words. Yeah, I hear ya, last year’s Auburn game was incredibly crappy but Alabama wasn’t playing for the West, the SEC or National Championship. Saturday night, everything was on the line. Bama had the home field advantage and what most say Nick’s very best team that he’s had since coming to the Capstone, so everything lined up to a big Bama win and another run at a National Championship.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to championship number fourteen. Nick Saban turned into a desperate version of Les Miles while “The Mad Hatter” became a stoic, by the book coach of the #1 team in the country. WTF? It was like we were living in an alternate universe where home field advantage went to the visitors, Nick became Les (sans the hat, of course), and kickers were more important than the Honey Badger and T-Rich combined. Yep. In my wildest dreams, I could not have given you a scenario where we would outgain LSU, pick off two Lee passes, convert more third downs and still lose the game. How in the name of Bryant Denny did it happen???? Well, I don’t think you are going to like my answers.
If you are a Bammer, a pure outright homer and if you are looking for sunshine to be pumped up your backside, it won’t be happening here. I’m a straight guy (so I won’t be pumping anything up your backside) and a straight shooter. There were three areas where Alabama lost the game in my opinion: coaching, physical mistakes and mental mistakes. Physical and mental mistakes are simply a part of the game and stuff happens so, honestly, at the end of the day, you have to say coaching lost the game for us Saturday night.
I know, I know – this is blasphemy territory, right? The great Nicktator has no peers in the coaching world, right? Hell, he has his own statue right there next to Stallings and Bryant so believe me when I tell you that I know this is an unpopular sentiment. But, while unpopular may mean going against the grain (like firing Paterno), unpopular doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
- Offensive plan: Honestly. Two weeks of preparation and game planning resulted in…what exactly? Can you tell me what the plan of attack was? It’s like they ran out of ideas sometime in the first quarter and then had nothing else to offer up. Were we play calling by spinning the Wheel of Misfortune? The blocking schemes were ineffective even though we outmanned the Tigers up front by 40 pounds per player on average. The passing game seemed to be something along the lines of chuck, duck and pray. We expected a five wide hurry up look but preferred a power downhill running game and we got neither. OT was a cluster. Awful.
- Substitutions: In the last two critical games at Bryant Denny (AU and LSU), Alabama has committed 12 men in the huddle penalties at least six different times. Inexcusable. It’s like the Alabama coaching staff has a widespread panic along the sidelines – I thought the LSU guys were supposed the ones getting high!
- Kicking Panic: As we wrote in the W2W4, Cade Foster wasn’t inspiring any confidence in me coming into the game. So, when he missed two kicks, Saban panicked, sending in Jeremy Shelley for a 49 yard attempt. For the last two years, Foster has attempted all of these long kicks and there’s a reason for that – Shelley simply doesn’t have the leg. So, when Shelley trotted out there for a 49 yarder, I nearly threw up. We KNOW he doesn’t have the leg for it. Shelley knew he didn’t have the leg for it. So, the result was predictable. In order for him to drive it that far, he’d have to kick it lower and, thus, it was blocked. This, simply put, was a stupid decision.
- Red zone panic: Every time we reached the red zone, we went backwards. Sacks, illegal substitution penalties, lost yardage on runs and two trick plays blew us up inside the red zone. Did you know Trent didn’t have a single carry from the 25 on in? After sledgehammering the ball to the LSU 28 with Richardson, we called the ill fated wildcat throw from Maze. After a TV timeout due to an LSU injury, we chose that point in time to line up in a formation we hadn’t shown, put a receiver in motion who is never, ever in motion in the wildcat, and put the ball in the hands of a wide receiver who had a badly sprained ankle. Instead of riding your big horse inside the red zone, we once again inexplicably went with a trick play that blew up in our faces. Our MO has been to pound our opponents into submission and, after three quarters of a very physical game, it appeared that we were finally establishing ourselves at the line of scrimmage. Instead of pounding with #3, we got cute and, as a result, we lost the game. Yes, I know, it was a tough call. Could have gone either way. I hear you. My point is that it was a stupid, stupid, stupid play call. It wreaked of desperation. It’s simply not our style. Nick panicked and tried to go all Les Miles on Les Miles. Sigh.
In every game there are going to be physical errors. It happens. With a Nick Saban coached team, though, you don’t expect to see as many as what we saw Saturday night. Now, again, these things happen. But, I wanted to point out several plays that could have made all the difference in the world.
- Hanks in the end zone: AJ aired one out to the end zone and the ball hit Hanks in the hand between a couple of defenders. Tough catch? You bet. Catchable? You bet. Gawd I miss Julio.
- Bell in the end zone: Credit Mr Bell for making a ridiculously phenomenal move just to get to the ball thrown to the end zone in the first place. AJ probably should have never thrown the pass as it was into double coverage, so the shear fact that Bell got his hands on the ball was a minor miracle. However. He did make the move. He did get both hands on the football. The ball was incomplete. Gawd I miss Julio.
- Trent on the circle route: What a tremendous play call to get Trent out of the backfield and down the sidelines as he was matched up on a linebacker in coverage. This was Secretariat against Gus the kicking mule as Trent raced free down the sidelines. Unfortunately, AJ missed a wide open Trent and the big gainer was not to be.
- Maze on the punt: After throwing the interception at the 1, we were set to get the ball back in excellent field position. Unfortunately, Wing booted a low line drive and as Maze turned to chase it down, he stopped. The result was a 72 yard punt and it also resulted in me feeling that we were not destined to win this game. Folks, it didn’t hit a guide wire. I think when he turned to chase the punt his ankle tweaked on him. Honestly, he shouldn’t have been back there. Crushing blow right there kids. Crushing blow.
- Find a happy place: When you are struggling just to elevate the damn ball on a FG, the last thing you want to do is make it tougher for your kicker(s). AJ’s curl into the fetal position in overtime was unforgivable. This sack made a slightly possible FG become the impossible and was the final nail into the Bama coffin. Throw the damn thing away. Run back towards the line of scrimmage. FIGHT! Anything but plop your scared ass on the turf. Pitiful.
- Josh Chapman’s block in the back: It was blatant. It was obvious. It was the right call. It was also unnecessary. Chapman didn’t need to do this and there was nothing subtle or close about it. It was just a bad play.
- Blown coverage: LSU’s only big play was a blown coverage against Russell Shepherd. Thankfully, the ball was thrown behind him and that allowed Milliner to come over and tackle him. Not sure who’s responsibility he was but that big play cost us three critical points.
- Lacy bouncing outside: Did we mention that LSU has some sick speed on D? Bouncing the run outside isn’t really the way to go. Even if Maze hadn’t fallen down on the inside reverse, he would have been thrown for a loss anyway. And when Eddie Lacy bounced outside and turned a 1 yard loss into a six yard loss, he made a long FG even more difficult.
The list below details the negative plays that cost us time and time again. Think about these. If we had not had just one of these, perhaps a FG is good and we win the game. When you look at this list, you just get angry, sad and disappointed in the outcome. It’s why writing this review is so painful.
1. 5-yard loss on first down leads to long field-goal attempt (missed).
2. Substitution penalty and 6-yard loss lead to long field-goal attempt (missed).
3. Senior wide receiver Marquis Maze tripped on reverse for 6-yard loss and sack lead to long field-goal attempt (blocked).
4. McCarron doesn’t see wide-open senior Brandon Gibson, leads to field-goal attempt (Good, 3-0).
5. Three-and-out (punt).
6. Three-and-out (field goal, 6-3).
7. McCarron interception.
8. Maze interception.
9. 6-yard loss followed by 3-yard loss lead to punt.
10. Time expired.
11. Substitution penalty, two incompletions and a sack lead to long field-goal attempt (missed).
Sorry this write up is devoid of my usual good humor and good cheer – it’s just not a lot of fun to relive Saturday night’s game. I’ve long said that I sincerely thank Mike Dubose and Mike Shula for curing me of caring too much about a game in which 18 year old kids chase a funny shaped ball called a “pigskin.” Life is just too short to have a day, a week, a month or a season be dictated by the results of football games. Mike & Mike got us used to losing and made us understand it was a very real possibility each and every Saturday. But, Saturday was different. Honestly, this defense is better than any I’ve seen in a long time. I think this defense could easily have us in the running for the NFC West or AFC South. I’m not kidding. This is a team perfectly constructed to win a championship this season and, after working thru the pain I detailed above, you have to know that Saturday night was a helluva missed opportunity. Win that game and you can make plans for New Orleans. Lose that game and….
So as I ready for the Mississippi State game this evening, I realize that I now must also pay close attention to the Oregon v Stanford game tonight and the Oklahoma v Oklahoma State game in a couple of weeks. If Stanford and OklahomaState lose, then Alabama will find itself perfectly situated for a rematch with LSU in New Orleans. Additionally, should those crazy Cajuns stumble against Arkansas (seemingly a yearly occurrence for the Hat), then Alabama will find itself in Atlanta in the SEC Championship game by virtue of a three way tie with LSU, Arkansas and Bama. Alabama would assuredly be the highest ranked BCS team between the three and, therefore, would be stomping the brains out of some really bad SEC East team in Atlanta. So, there are two very real possibilities for Alabama to still be in the hunt for #14.
This is where I have tremendous difficulty, though. We shouldn’t be hoping and wishing for the Quack Attack to crap on the Stanford Tree. We shouldn’t care about the Bedlam game between two schools in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma, but now we have to. Woo Pig? Yep. We’re officially fans of the Razorbacks, too. GO BACON! Clearly, there’s still a path for Alabama to get to New Orleans and while we haven’t been booted from the train, we are clinging to the caboose. So, it’s not unthinkable that Alabama could still find its way into the National Championship game but, after Saturday night, I’m just not convinced we deserve to. We came. We saw. We imploded. From the players to the coaches to, possibly, the referees (depending on your take of the catch/interception play) – we screwed the pooch Saturday night and now we have to hope others can take care of the business that we couldn’t finish. And, if it’s a rematch you want, remember it will be in New Orleans and we’ll get to play a team that, after two weeks of offensive preparation, we developed little in the way of a game plan. Will an extra two or three weeks make a difference? Hopefully we may get to find out…