By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Nov. 20, 2011
On the Fun Scale of 1-10, with “10” being the best amusement park you’ve ever visited and “1” being a dentist’s drill with no anesthesia, Alabama spent most of Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern wishing it had been more consistent with its flossing.
There was nothing fun about this game, unless you’re the type that finds wonderment in carnival sideshows featuring bald guys who attach chains to various body piercings and suspend themselves from the ceiling. While Alabama was never really threatened by the Eagles, Alabama was also never comfortable. Were it not for a late touchdown, the margin of victory in this game would have threatened to shuffle Alabama’s standing in BCS rankings, were it not for Oregon and Oklahoma flubbing up against Southern Cal and Baylor, respectively.
As it is, the game was damaging enough. Alabama gave up too many points and way too much yardage, no doubt aided by injuries and suspensions that put the Crimson Tide defensive line into A-Day mode. One of the unsung heroes of the day turned out to be little-used redshirt freshman noseguard Brandon Ivory, who finally brought some stability to the position after entering late in the first half.
Behind Ivory and friends, however, Alabama lost a key cog in its defense when senior dimeback Will Lowery was lost with a knee injury, likely for the rest of the year. The 12th game of the season is not the time to be breaking in a new defensive back, but Alabama has no choice in the matter.
The big issue for Alabama is whether it can get this long list of players back – and healthy – in seven days: OL Barrett Jones, WR Darius Hanks, RB Eddie Lacy, DT/E Jesse Williams, NT Josh Chapman, NT Nick Gentry and WR DeAndrew White. Gentry and White were suspended for this game, but the rest of this group was injured. Several others were nicked up against Georgia Southern, including WR Marquis Maze. To put it bluntly, Alabama is beginning to reach a critical point where even its far-above-average depth can’t keep up with the attrition.
There’s also no use dissecting Georgia Southern’s performance; GSU was exactly what they were presented to be. This is a tough team, a championship contender in its division, that could have been bowl-eligible in Division-IA this year given the right conference affiliation and schedule.
GSU got its two cheap touchdowns on offense, then broke a kickoff return for its final score. Other than that, the Eagles rarely sniffed the Alabama red zone, and defensively Georgia Southern had nothing for Alabama. The Tide ran and passed at will and never punted.
And now we come to Auburn week. This game always means the world, but now it means the world plus a few other planets, a handful of moons, a couple of suns and an asteroid belt or two. Auburn, thin as it is and struggling, will enter the game much healthier than Alabama, playing on its home field and trying to play the role of spoiler, a role it nearly played to perfection in 2009 and one that Alabama nearly played in 2010.
The first priority for Alabama is getting Chapman and Jones back at their respective positions. If there’s one thing Georgia Southern proved in spades Saturday, it’s that Alabama struggles against the run when Josh Chapman isn’t in the game.
The second priority is to stop channeling the 2007 season. After a tough loss to LSU that year, Alabama slogged through games against Mississippi State and Louisiana-Monroe, losing both, before coming up short against Auburn. The principal difference between 2007 and 2011 is a lot more talent in the house this time around. But so far, the general pulse of the team has followed the same path as four years ago.
Now is the time to break that trend. Alabama could have a game against Georgia coming up the following week, but more likely, the Tide will be able to (with a win over Auburn) take a month off before facing LSU a second time. If that happens, the most important thing outside of physical health is mental health. Alabama must put the earlier loss to LSU in the past, and concentrate on believing it can win another title in 2011.
Some observers Saturday postulated that Iowa State’s win over Oklahoma State may have done more harm than good to Alabama’s mindset coming into Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern. Whether Alabama was distracted by the ISU-OSU game, a smidge overconfident or a combination of those and other factors, is unclear and irrelevant. The fact is that Alabama needs to display better focus against Auburn and put itself in the position to be rewarded for its resiliency.