Alabama’s loss at LSU was a huge reality check for the University of Alabama program. Many of the players on this roster don’t know what it is like to lose more than once in a season. Many of these players don’t know what it’s like to not be in contention for a BCS National Championship.
In the last three seasons (counting this year) Alabama is 0-1 in games played when the national championship wasn’t a very clear, reachable goal in front of them. The one game was the January 2009 Sugar Bowl loss to Utah 31-17. In that game, Alabama played disinterested.
Many of the current players weren’t a part of that Sugar Bowl team that didn’t handle the lack of a big prize to play for. There’s no Andre Smith distraction situation currently, but there is unchartered waters for so many of these young players that contributed to Alabama being out of the national championship picture.
Alabama’s coaches are now faced with that rare scenario of getting a group of talented (many four and five-star recruits) motivated to play for pride, the team and personal improvement.
What's wrong with Alabama?
There are 5 things that Alabama must improve on to avoid a late season collapse. Losing 4 of the last 5 games (Miss State, Auburn and a bowl game after the LSU loss) isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Do I see that happening? No way. Did I see Alabama out of the national championship picture with two losses before the season? No way. It’s something previously unimaginable that now is with-in reason.
1.Play with intensity & energy – The two times Alabama hasn’t come out with energy and never found it during the game, it’s lost. LSU wanted it more in the 24-21 Tigers win. I never saw the urgency that Nick Saban wants in that LSU game.
2.Play to your strengths – It shouldn’t matter who carries the ball for Alabama. There should never be a hesitancy to run the football because the defense dictates they don’t want you to.
There have been some running back issues to consider. Trent Richardson went down with an injury in the LSU game and wasn’t used to run after that. Mark Ingram looked pretty good but not dynamic. In my opinion Ingram is not even 70% of the running back he was last year. He goes down quicker after contact, doesn’t have the consistent devastating cuts, he’s not explosive through the hole and he’s not playing with the emotion he did in his 2009 Heisman Trophy campaign.
Despite those things, even if you have to go to Eddie Lacy or Demetrius Goode or Jalston Fowler, don’t you have confidence that Alabama would still be successful running the football? I do.
When Alabama doesn’t run the football from the start and establish the physicality of run-blocking in the offensive line with an aggressive approach, it plays into the hands of the defense. When Alabama passes more than it runs, it’s more difficult for them to wear down opponents like they used to do.
Passing when they load the box and run when they don’t is a flawed reactionary strategy. The offense should dictate to the defense what it wants to do rather than being passive.
3.Throw the ball down the field and convert big play opportunities – Alabama had a few more throws down the field vs. LSU but it didn’t convert them into explosive game-changing plays like LSU did. The passing game just doesn’t threaten and loosen the defense enough. Alabama’s passing game selection, whether it’s game-planned, called from the coaches’ box or checked out of by McElroy on the field doesn’t compliment the running game well enough.
4.More effective, influential leadership has to emerge – I think many of us underestimated the impact of the veterans on last year’s national championship team. We looked at the talent combined with the coaching and assumed that newer versions of those players lost would form on this season’s team. What we didn’t account for was the hard times that those players had previously experienced.
Those trials and tribulations, some dating back to the Mike Shula era, had hardened some players and given them the drive to seize every moment in 2009. Those players demanded that every younger player follow their lead. That “demand” for greatness is missing from this year’s team.
The veteran leaders on this team, Greg McElroy, William Vlachos, Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Mark Barron, Dont’a Hightower and Marcell Dareus are, for the most part, great players that lead more by example. Ingram and McElroy would be exceptions, although I’m not sure how vocal Ingram has been since the Florida game and G-Mac isn’t an intimidating figure that you feel you better follow, or else.
Someone from this group or outside of it, needs to turn up the volume and turn up the intensity in leadership.
5.Get the return game going again – For an area that looked to be so dynamic on paper has turned into a huge drop-off from the record-setting Javier Arenas era. Other areas of special teams have been solid but this unit was depended on to offset some youth and deficiencies in other areas.
Julio Jones, Trent Richardson, Marquis Maze and talented players blocking should have created more game-changing plays in the return game than it has.