Reality Comes Crashing Down: An Alabama Fan's Painful Recollection
I believe when someone is wrong, the first step to righting the wrong is admitting it.
So here goes: I could not have been more wrong about the Sugar Bowl, in every imaginable way. I won't be the first or the last to say it, but congratulations to Utah and its fans.
The Alabama faithful were forced to watch what I can only describe as a "clinic" of sound football. The top five (or higher) final season ranking you've earned is well-deserved.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article detailing the reasons why I felt Alabama would not fall into a "trap" against Utah.
Looking back, I feel like an idiot, like the person I warned Alabama fans not to be. The entire premise of the article was my idea that Alabama would not be lulled to sleep by an "inferior" or "boring" opponent.
Not only was Utah not inferior, they were not even equal. They were better, plain and simple.
I would love to make the standard argument that Alabama was "not ready to play" or that Andre Smith's suspension cost Alabama the game.
I would gladly write about how the distractions were more than any team should have to cope with. I would like nothing more than to pen an article laying out the reasons that these ideas are true.
The problem is, they are not.
Here are the reasons that Alabama lost, as much as it pains me to put them into print.
1) For 13 games, Julio Jones performed like an All-American, not the teen-age freshman that he is. We were all sucked into believing that he is a no-mistake-making robot. In my recollection, he dropped one pass in the first 13 games.
He dropped two key passes in New Orleans, one on an important third down on the opening drive. This doesn't lessen his talent in my eyes, it just proves that he is human.
We are fortunate he went this long without having an "off" game. I don't fault him for this. I still believe that he will go down as the greatest receiver to wear the uniform, but he wasn't on that night.
2) The offensive line brought back the long-buried memories of the Auburn "honk if you sacked Brodie" game (sorry, I had to pause for a vomit break). The smaller, quicker ends on Utah's defense consistently blew past our tackles and chased down Wilson.
I do think that the shuffling of the line due to Smith's suspension had something to do with that, but it doesn't change the fact that Utah attacked with a speed rush that we were not able to defend. They found a weakness and exploited it. Kudos to them.
3) John Parker Wilson, in the few attempts when he was not running for his life, was very much off. He missed several open receivers and threw key interceptions. This is not earth-shaking news.
Utah defended the deep routes softly because they were not afraid of Wilson beating them down the field. Again, I chalk this up to a sound game plan on their part.
4) The Alabama defensive backfield forgot how to tackle. I shudder to think how many times in the game a gain that should have been minimal turned into a big play due to a missed tackle.
Utah's plan was to get balls to their receivers in space, and hope that they could shake one tackle and break the play open. They did, consistently.
5) Alabama was shaken by the no-huddle pace of Utah's offense, especially early. The defense did not appear to be lined up or even looking in several instances when the ball was snapped, leading to gaping holes and wide open receivers.
It pains me to admit it, but our defensive backs were no match for their skill players in one-on-one situations. I could chalk this up to lack of preparation, but it looked much more like a disparity in talent.
6) Alabama was never a team built to come from behind, especially by a 20+ point margin. The Tide's game plan was shot when Utah scored the second touchdown.
7) Leigh Tiffin did not kick the ball well. Again, this is not a surprising headline. He has struggled before, and he certainly did that night.
8) Utah's offense rendered Terrence Cody, a stalwart in the middle throughout the year, into becoming a complete non-factor. I believe Utah knew that Cody could not keep pace with their style, and, proving them right, he spent the majority of the game on the sideline.
So, in retrospect, Alabama was beaten soundly by a team with a better game plan and better execution. I hesitate to include better players in that statement, although it certainly looked like Utah was the more talented team.
Now, here is what troubles me more than the game itself. Alabama's weaknesses, while very well-hidden throughout the year, were exposed in a very public way. Teams in the SEC struggled all year to come up with a plan to attack Alabama.
Kyle Whittingham and Utah have written the "How To Beat Alabama For Dummies" book and sent a signed copy to the teams in the SEC. It's time to make some adjustments.
After a few days to process what happened, I can look to the positives.
While some of the Nick Saban aura was tarnished in New Orleans, I still believe that he is one of the most intelligent coaches in football. I believe he knew Alabama's soft spots better than anyone, and did one hell of a job masking them with superior planning and utilization of the talent on hand.
He knows as well as anyone that teams will mimic Utah next year, and I have to believe he will be ready. I've also heard that Alabama is building another stellar recruiting class, filling the holes that were so blatantly exposed in the Superdome.
Unfortunately, the Utah game, being the last one played on the biggest stage, will be the one that most people remember from the 2008 season. I can't argue that this bitter pill will stay with me for quite a while.
Remember, though, that National Signing Day is less than a month away. There is a fresh crop of talent waiting to don the Crimson and White. The spectacular class from last year will be seasoned. At last count, Alabama is losing only 10 scholarship players. Most importantly, Nick Saban has another year to massage the "process."
Let us all remember the expectations for 2008, that for most were exceeded by Nov. 1. Remember the beautiful run we were given in the regular season. Remember the heart we showed in the battle against Florida.
And remember the Sugar Bowl. The bitter defeats make future victories that much sweeter.
No pun intended.
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