HURT: Bottom line is Alabama didnt play like Alabama
If it does nothing else, Saturday's Alabama-Texas A&M game proves one thing.
The main thing is not the manner in which you choose to pursue your goals. It is how well you perform once you have chosen.
That has been the real reason for Alabama's success in recent years. It isn't a matter of having craftier schemes or pulling more surprises. It is a matter of making few mistakes, of "performing to a standard." No one has instilled that more effectively in his program than Nick Saban. But that only made Saturday's 29-24 loss more puzzling and painful for the Crimson Tide.
Texas A&M's fast-paced offense is a far cry from Alabama's attack and its make-the-other-team-quit ethos. Philosophically, the teams are miles apart. Yet in many ways, Texas A&M beat Alabama at its own game. The Aggies were prepared and emotional from the beginning. They didn't turn the ball over, not once, while Alabama turned it over three times. Texas A&M stuck with what they do best.
Alabama, meanwhile, struggled to find its own identity at times, even as Texas A&M remained true to itself.
"Texas A&M outplayed us," Saban said. "I want to give them a lot of credit for what they did. But we are also going to see that we made mistakes that contributed to that."
Those are fair words, but the confusion goes deeper. Alabama fans can be mightily frustrated by fumbles, or penalties, but most rational thinkers understand that such errors happen. They can accept that a fine opponent, led by a great young quarterback, came into Bryant-Denny Stadium and played well. But they don't understand why, when it was time to knock the other team out of the box, Alabama turned into a team that didn't quite look like Alabama.
They wonder why, with four minutes left at the Aggie 6-yard line, Alabama didn't simply choose to run right at Texas A&M. Yes, it is what the Aggies expected, but part of the Alabama aura has been that it will play tough, physical football, even as the rest of the college football world softens, even at the end of a brutal stretch of SEC play. It is entirely possible that lining up and running the ball four straight times would have failed. Saban didn't specifically address the entire series, which included just one called run (McCarron had to scramble twice.) He did address the fourth down pass call -- McCarron was intercepted -- but focused on the power of hindsight.
"I wish we had run it because passing didn't work," Saban said. "But if we had passed it (and that did not work), you would be asking me about that....I'm not going to criticize the call."
Any decision is open to second-guessing. And Saban certainly has earned the right to make whatever calls he wants to make, a thousand times over. But if the Aggies had stuffed UA on four straight runs, that might have been more palatable. Losing would still hurt for Alabama fans, but at least their team would have gone down in familiar fighting fashion. That doesn't mean that McCarron should never throw again. Obviously, he hit three huge bombs in the fourth quarter (and one running play resulted in a T.J. Yeldon turnover). But ultimately, that team thrived on its toughness, not on conceding that four runs would not net six yards.
As Saban said, his team can still accomplish great things. But first, it has to re-establish a firm grasp on its own identity.
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Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.