Sunday, November 7, 2010

Denial is no longer a river that runs through the Alabama Crimson Tide

When the 2010 season started, a lot of Alabama fans, pundits and sportswriters weren’t terribly worried about an Alabama Crimson Tide defense that had to replace nine starters from the 2009 BCS National Championship Game.  Despite replacing Rolando McClain at LB and Terrence “Mount” Cody at NG and losing a ton of experience in the secondary, the incoming defense was stocked with enough talent to overcome the lack of experience and pick up where the 2009 defense left off. Everybody was talking about how “great teams like Alabama don’t rebuild; they reload.”

Those folks—myself included—were whistling past the graveyard.

In the first regular season loss in three years against South Carolina, Gamecocks’ coach Steve Spurrier and QB Steven Garcia exposed a young, inexperienced secondary and lit the defense up for 35 points. In yesterday’s Mad Hattery, LSU’s trick plays and simple execution exposed the entire defensive unit as a group that just doesn’t play with the confidence and experience that a national title contender needs on that side of the ball.

To their credit, the Alabama secondary is at the top of the nation in interceptions, and Marcel Dareus and Dont’a Hightower have turned in workmanlike performances. But the unit as a whole needs to grow. A lot. And soon.

Games like the losses to South Carolina and LSU are stern educators. When the 2011 defense takes the field, it will be a much more battle-tested group of warriors, with another year of experience and conditioning under their belt. Such defenses are not as easily fooled by the trickeration of Les Miles, or victimized by the scheming of Steve Spurrier.

In yesterday’s post-game comments, Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban said:

“This whole year, everyone around us has been very concerned about the results in comparison to what was accomplished a year ago, and that has not been the best thing for the development of this team. They have become too results-oriented, and we never have developed to become as good a team as we can be.  How we respond to [this loss] will show us what kind of character we have and what kind of pride we have.”

Which, translated to non-coachspeak is that we have a very young group of players here, who are more worried about how they stack up to last year’s team than they are being the best team they can be this year. Instead of focusing on fundamentals, executing assignments and not getting caught flatfooted and out of position, their youth and lack of experience has them worried about how they will be compared to last year’s team.  They need to grow up a little, and practice some of the wisdom that comes from having seen it before.

Experience teaches even the greatest talent that if you take care of the little things, the big things take care of themselves. This team is still learning that lesson.

The LSU Bengal Tigers deserve all of the credit in the world for yesterday’s win. They did execute their coaches’ game plan to near perfection. They found every weakness in an otherwise very good defense and exploited them masterfully. I have many friends and colleagues who are LSU grads and fans. I know they’re delighted this morning. Enjoy it, Tigahs. 

We’ll see you in Tuscaloosa next year.


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