TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — While senior wide receiver Kevin Norwood said the team has moved past Alabama’s 34-28 loss to Auburn nearly three weeks ago, the players still talk about the game outside of practice and meetings.
“Individually, as players, yeah. We'll sit around and be like, ‘What we could have done better?’ and stuff like that,” Norwood said. “Then again, we know that we have to move on. We might sit around and joke about it, but that's about it.”
While the loss may sting for awhile, the Crimson Tide will need to move on as it begins preparation for its Sugar Bowl matchup against the Oklahoma Sooners.
The loss to Auburn was a painful one, but junior defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan said the team can’t let the Tigers beat them twice, should the loss affect the team’s play against Oklahoma.
“We look at it as a learning experience. Now it's time to deal with what we got,” Pagan said. “We're fired up to play Oklahoma. It's not for a national championship, but we're going to go into it like it is. We want to finish this season as strong as possible.”
Alabama has experienced both sides of the bowl-game-after-a-crushing-loss coin.
In 2008, Nick Saban’s second year in Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s undefeated season ended at the hands of the Florida Gators, 30-21, in the SEC Championship Game. The Utah Utes went on to beat the Crimson Tide 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl.
In 2010, however, after Cam Newton led Auburn to a 28-27 comeback win in Tuscaloosa, Alabama responded with a 49-7 thumping of Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.
How Alabama finishes will determine how the 2013 season will be remembered. The Tide cannot win a third straight BCS title, but a loss in the Sugar Bowl would ruin what has otherwise been a successful 2013 campaign.
“We didn't continue to work on the things that have always made us a good football team and a good football program here [in 2008],” Saban said. “The complacency and winning sort of got us away from that. ... And I've said all year long to our team that, can we do these things without having some kind of bad crisis happening to make us realize what we need to do to be successful? So we had the crisis and we'll see how we react to it.”
Playing a team like Oklahoma could help.
Even in 2008, with Utah being college football’s Cinderella team at the time, there wasn’t much motivation to get up and play the Utes. “Utah” doesn’t exactly get players fired up to play in a bowl game.
Oklahoma, meanwhile, does.
The Sooners are one of only a handful of teams in the country that can compete with Alabama in terms of history and tradition. While Oklahoma didn’t have the season it wanted to, the Sooners managed to make their way into the Sugar Bowl and will provide Alabama with a tough, out-of-conference matchup that carries name recognition and a level of motivation with it.
“It's always great to play a team that has the same tradition as us,” Norwood said. “We know that they're going to go out and bring their best game, play their best game. They have a lot of momentum carried over from the last game that they played. It's going to be a lot of fun, it's going to be a physical game. We just have to bring our A-game.”
It would be easy for Alabama to mail it in and look to next season after its season ended the way it did. But the Crimson Tide can still get a lot out of winning the Sugar Bowl in a matchup of two traditional powers.
“I think we have a great opportunity against a really good team to prove that we are a good football team,” Saban said. “I think the seniors here have done such a great job it would really be a shame if our entire team didn't try to finish this season the right way.
“For next year's guys, they have a great opportunity to make an impression for their future as well as for our team's future. A lot to play for here.”