By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Nov. 30, 2013
For the past two seasons, this column has served as a postgame breakdown column, taking five keys – or simply interesting aspects – of the game and fleshing them out.
There will be no such breakdown today, because aside from a scattered few individual players, Alabama didn’t play like it wanted to win the game, and didn’t coach like it, either.
Placekicker Cade Foster, who had enjoyed a brilliant senior season after three iffy ones, crumbled in this game. There is no other way to say it. But Alabama coaches took him out either one kick too soon or a kick or two too late – and given how Alabama was playing, it might not have mattered anyway. Had this game hit overtime, would anyone have seriously expected Alabama to have won it then?
What’s maddening is that Auburn is literally half the team Alabama is. The Tigers have about one-third the defense of Alabama and can’t throw the football consistently. But when teams believe in themselves, don’t show up for games overconfident – not to mention employ a defensive coordinator who has essentially been a career neutralizer of Nick Saban-coached teams – it doesn’t matter how many stars the other team averages in recruiting or what they’ve accomplished in years prior. What matters is 60 minutes on one field and whoever wins at the end of that, wins.
For the second time in four years, Alabama let Auburn get away with a game and now, for the second time in four years, might watch as its most hated rival plays for a national championship. And believe this: If Auburn gets to the BCS Championship Game, you’d better take every possession you have down to a pawn shop, get the cash and run to Vegas to bet on the Tigers.
Were this LSU and not Auburn, it might not be so hard to swallow, although it would still hurt. But this wasn’t supposed to happen after Nick Saban was hired at Alabama. Auburn had been tough for decades but largely irrelevant on the national stage. Now the Tigers have a national title and could very well play for a second during either the greatest or second-greatest period in Alabama football history.
Unfortunately for Nick Saban, he’s about to find out just what kind of sin that is. Because running the Alabama program isn’t just about Alabama’s success, it’s about dominating the state. Someone, at some point this offseason, will ask Nick Saban a question along those lines, and he will probably respond that it’s not his job to worry about Auburn.
Oh, but it is.
This state is unique among all 50 in the way the populace is split, which includes places of business, church membership rolls and even close-knit families. There is no NFL team, no Major League Baseball franchise to gather people together to cheer for a single sporting event. Not even the Olympics do it, because one of the first topics for discussion each Olympic cycle is how many members of the U.S. swim team are Auburn grads.
It seems almost an instance of literary foreshadowing that an article was published earlier this week containing comments from Terry Saban about fan appreciation. The Sabans will be tested on that one this week, and fans will be tested as well to see just how well they can bite their tongues.
Because at some point, someone is going to have to stand up to Nick Saban and pin this game squarely on him. The players deserve plenty of blame in their own right, but a coach’s primary job is to prepare a team mentally for a game like this and that was not done Saturday. Too many mistakes, some small and others large, added up to make Alabama look like anything but the No. 1 team in the nation. The placekicker roulette was just the icing on the cake.
And unlike prior seasons, Alabama’s championship hopes are done. In order for Alabama to have any chance to advance, Duke has to take out Florida State (guffaw) while Michigan State upsets Ohio State. Unfortunately for Alabama fans, the latter is very possible, and if it happens without the former happening, Alabama will be pulling for Florida State – which could yet be without its top two quarterbacks at that point, depending on injury rehab for one and a court case for the other – to somehow take out Auburn, and that will not happen.
Alabama is now 11-1. At most places, that’s the best season in school history. At Alabama, it goes largely unappreciated – because it was, ultimately, irrelevant.
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