Motivation wasn’t the problem for Alabama in its 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl; Alabama was beaten by a better team.
Oklahoma came in with a game plan to rush Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, play up-tempo and throw the ball over the top of the Crimson Tide’s questionable secondary, gaining 429 yards on offense and scoring 45 points—the most points allowed by a Nick Saban defense since 1999. The Sooners won the turnover battle, capitalized on their opportunities and were the better-coached team on Thursday night, or maybe Alabama just doesn’t like playing in the Sugar Bowl.
“They were fired up and ready to play, like most teams we play,” Saban said. “Everybody’s got something to prove when they play Alabama.”
Bob Stoops and his team presumably watched the Iron Bowl as it happened, and then watched it on repeat as an instruction manual for beating Alabama, using formations and plays that were mirror-images of Auburn from one month earlier. The mystique of “If you give Nick Saban enough time to prepare, he’ll shut any team down” has been shattered this season by Auburn, Oklahoma and even Texas A&M. The increasingly bejeweled coach’s traditionally stout defenses have been exhausted and confused by these speedy teams whose tactics have gone from gimmicky to genius.
With its two losses to close out the season to Auburn and Oklahoma, Alabama’s coaching staff needs to sit down this offseason and think about how it plans to deal with these teams. The tides of college football (pun-intended) have changed, with hurry-up offenses like Auburn and Florida State playing for a national title, and Alabama has to adjust its strategy. A total culture change isn’t necessary for Saban’s prolific teams, but adjustments need to be made as more of Alabama’s opponents play in this hurry-up style. But before you endorse FireNickSaban.com, maybe let the Process do its job and see what the perfectly coiffed coach can cook up for next fall.
But it wasn’t simply a confused defense that felled the Crimson Tide; it was an entire team effort.
“It’s not just a one-man team,” Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood said. “We all win and lose together.”
The offensive line folded in front of McCarron, who threw two costly interceptions and was sacked seven times. But some of the blame has to fall onto key members of the Alabama coaching staff. In a crucial part of the game, Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier apparently lost the section of the playbook that involved Derrick Henry, after Henry had already rushed for 100 yards on seven carries. Pass plays were continuously breaking down and key offensive linemen were being overrun by Sooners, but the play-calling never adjusted and Alabama lost the game.
With a crop of highly touted freshmen recruits moving to Tuscaloosa very soon, a new year will begin in Alabama. Spring will thaw the ice on Bryant-Denny Stadium, Auburn will have either won or lost the national championship by then, and focus will turn to next season. The Crimson Tide will say goodbye to many of its battle-tested, championship-winning stars like McCarron, C.J. Mosley—and to a lesser extent kicker Cade Foster, whose departure may be more jubilant than bittersweet. The spring will welcome these new amateur athletes into the fold of the craziness. But regardless of who turns pro a year early or which quarterback ends up being awarded the starting position, the end of this season will need to spur change for the assiduous coach who decided to end his career at Alabama.