Saturday, November 30, 2019

Iron Bowl 2019: It's tough to beat luck like that...

For this Iron Bowl, both the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers laid everything on the field on a perfect Saturday evening at Jordan Hare Stadium. This is the way this annual grudge match is supposed to be.

What seems to set the 2019 apart from the standard fare of the series was the sloppiness. Sloppiness is a symptom of a lack of discipline, lack of experience and poor concentration. Neither team had much of any of that good stuff.

Auburn won this game using their athleticism and incredible luck. But as the old saying goes, luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Auburn was prepared, Alabama was not.

Four plays epitomized Alabama's fortunes in the game:

  1. Auburn's Smoke Monday (is that a name or a play call?) picked off a sailed throw from Alabama's Mac Jones and took it in for a 29-yard touchdown. This is not typical Mac Jones--he's never wild or careless with the ball. It just sailed this time.
  2. After three 1st and Goals, Auburn took a Jones pass that bounced off of Naji Harris's back into his hands and raced 100 yards for another pick six.
  3. With the score 48-45 Auburn's way, Joe Bulova boinked what should have been an easy kick to tie the game. That's pretty much been Bama's poison for a lot of Nick Saban's tenure at Alabama, but anyway...
  4. With Auburn facing 4th and 4-ish with about a minute left, and with everyone in the world except Auburn expecting a punt, AU instead showed a standard offensive lineup. That forced Bama to too-hastily substitute and AU caught'em with 12 men on the field. Automatic 1st down; ball game.
That last penalty was the 13th against Alabama, which is the most ever for a Saban coached team at Alabama. Almost every one of the flags went against underclassmen, every one of them on the field at Auburn for the first time.

In many of the 2019 games, the left side of the defense seemed to always have at least one guy out of position. Opposing teams exploited that weakness repeatedly. Often on 3rd down. Usually for a conversion. Almost always against underclassmen.

Truth be told, Alabama has been cheating lady luck all season. Had this team of uncharacteristically young Sabanites faced up-to-speed and healthy opponents in South Carolina, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Mississippi State, a 10-2 regular season record would have gotten Coach Saban legitimate nominations for SEC and National Coach of the Year awards. The team lost a treasure trove of talent to the NFL after the 2018 season. No fewer than five freshmen started on defense. There were no more than seven seniors starting against Auburn on the whole team. The offense didn't have one senior starter on the field against Auburn. Not one. The defense only had four. The starting lineup for the Iron Bowl consisted almost exclusively of underclassmen, and only a handful will (or should) depart early for the NFL Draft.

All Bama fans want Alabama to win every single game they play. The players and coaches want that even more. But when your team's best players lack big game experience, you're at risk. When you're up against teams in the SEC, and your team's best players lack big game experience, you're really at risk. When you're the Alabama Crimson Tide and every opponent on the schedule has your game circled on the calendar... luck is just about the only thing that gets you through unscathed. Alabama lost to the only two ranked teams it played--LSU in a down-to-the-wire shootout at home, and Auburn in a down-to-the-wire shootout in their corral. 

There is still a bowl game to play and Alabama will be at the top of the list for the SEC's top tier bowl tie-ins. The few seniors and departing juniors still have one more chance to show their stuff.

After that, Alabama will get down to business putting the 2019 season's experience to very good use. Nick Saban never misses an opportunity to use disappointment as a motivator. The 2019 true and redshirt freshmen will come back and work with the rising upperclassmen. Between 25-30 players from this team will be back for 2020. A year older, a year better an a year hungrier.

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity and it's my bet that Alabama will be more than prepared this time next year to take advantage of many more opportunities. And other fans can complain about bad luck.

Bama will be just fine.


seawaters said...

Thank you for your blog. It will make me sleep better tonight. And you are right about it all.

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