Alabama Survives, but Takes Strong Dose of Reality from Tennessee
Last week, I sat in front of my keyboard and wrote an article questioning the legitimacy of Alabama's rivalries with Tennessee and Auburn, in favor of the blossoming rivalries with LSU and Florida. I used the term "relevance" to make my case, arguing that the games with LSU and Florida had surpassed the games with Auburn and Tennessee in importance.
After Saturday, I can say with 100 percent certainty, that I could not have been more wrong.
As it turns out, national relevance can not hold a candle to an age-old rivalry.
Though the Alabama-Tennessee matchup was broadcast nationally on CBS, the game was not much more than an afterthought on a national scale. Alabama came in as a two-touchdown favorite, on the heels of two dominating performances against Tennessee, games that featured a total score of Alabama 70, Tennessee 26.
The slug-fest that took place in Tuscaloosa on Saturday proved that cliched statements like "you can throw out the record book when these two get together" are a lot more accurate than the eye-rolling responses they usually garner.
For the fourth consecutive week, Alabama's performance declined. Save the heroic performances of Terrence Cody and Leigh Tiffin, Alabama was outgained, outcoached, and outplayed.
Now that the game is safely in the books, and Alabama's perfect season is still intact, one can look at what was learned from this throwback-style battle.
1. Point spreads, team records, rankings, and statistics mean absolutely nothing in the SEC.
Here is my tip for all of you point-spread players. If it is your choice to gamble on the point spread of an SEC game, the following is your best chance to pick a winner. Reach into your pocket and grab a quarter, dime, or anything else that has two sides. Assign heads to one team and tails to another. Toss it into the air, catch it, and slap it on top of your hand. There is your winner.
Analysis and trends don't mean a thing. Alabama escaped Tennessee on the strength of two blocked field goals, and didn't score a touchdown. Florida entered the fourth quarter leading Mississippi State 16-13, and rode an inexplicable non-reversal of a fumble resulting in a touchdown to win by 10.
LSU completely manhandled Auburn and won by 21 in a game that wasn't even that close.
Whatever you think you know about teams in the SEC, you can effectively throw out of the window. Each game holds the possibility of an upset. It doesn't matter if it's Mississippi State or Vanderbilt. No one is immune.
2. Alabama must find some offensive consistency, or the National Title dreams will end on Nov. 7.
For the second consecutive game, Alabama will face an opponent that is coming off of their best performance of the season. LSU used a crumbling Auburn team to find its offense, and also its confidence, and will come to Tuscaloosa riding high.
If Alabama can not figure something out offensively, I don't expect them to escape again. LSU's defense is every bit as good as Tennessee's, if not better. LSU held Auburn to nearly 300 yards below their season average, forced turnovers, and finally figured out how to get to the quarterback.
None of this bodes well for an Alabama team that has seen its offense slow to a crawl in the last three weeks.
3. Finally, the bye week finds Alabama at the perfect time.
For what seems like the past several years, Alabama has come into the biggest games with the bye-week falling somewhere else. This is not the case this year, as Alabama will finally get a chance to rest and heal before the biggest game of the season.
While LSU's game against Tulane may end up being a de-facto bye week for them, they still have to suit up and play it, while Alabama has an extra week to try and nurse an offense that has become anemic.
4. Any talk of a 13th National Title should come to an abrupt end.
I'm guilty, you're guilty, anyone that is a Tide supporter and claims not to be is probably not being very honest. We were all sucked into the old Alabama mentality of expecting victories, and looking ahead to rematch with Florida and a chance to play for another ring.
As I see it, the Tennessee game was a much needed reality check, that nothing is predetermined.
After the game was over, I didn't feel exhilarated. I felt relieved. It was a feeling that I can only describe as nauseating. I couldn't shake it and hate myself for feeling that way. I don't want to feel relieved when Alabama beats Tennessee.
This feeling was justified by the fact that I believed that Alabama played as bad as they were going to play for the entire season against a ranked South Carolina team, and yet managed to win by two touchdowns.
It was amazing how quickly I was forced to reassess the situation. The cold, hard truth is that this team is very beatable. The team that was previously labeled "the most solid in the country" by most, is likely not the most solid. At least not right now.
5. On the bright side, Alabama may have a renewed sense of purpose.
While I am certain that Alabama's performance against Tennessee exposed many glaring weaknesses, I believe this team can use them to improve. There will be no talk of "looking ahead", no worries of a letdown. Alabama enters the game against LSU with everything on the line, without distractions.
At any other point in the season, I could find an excuse to look past the next opponent. A blowout victory over Tennessee could have easily fueled that sentiment, causing the team and fans alike to focus on Florida. I hardly think that is the case anymore.
6. Lost in all of this is the fact that we may have witnessed the greatest of all Alabama-Tennessee games.
Terrence Cody blocked not one, but two fourth-quarter field goals, including the potential game-winner as time expired. In my mind, this feat should stand alongside Barry Krauss and company's goal-line stand against Penn State, Langham's "pick-six" against Florida, Teague's strip of Lamar Thomas in the Sugar Bowl, and Thomas Rayam's block against Penn State.
I am happy for Cody, in that his relatively short career at Alabama will now be immortalized. In a word, this was historic.
7. Tiffin's foot and Cody's arm have now paved the way for a matchup of monumental proportions with LSU in two weeks.
As a college football fan, you can only expect a very few times in your life to see a game involving your team with this bevy of storylines. Alabama and LSU both control their own destinies to play for a national title. Both teams will be ranked in the top 10. The last two games against LSU were classics.
Nick Saban must face his former team again. This game is the effective SEC West championship game. There will be no bigger, more important regular season game anywhere in the country, at any time this year. We should consider ourselves fortunate to be involved in it.
For Alabama, there is a laundry-list of issues that must be addressed in the next 13 days. For now, we should enjoy a surprisingly relevant victory against one of our biggest rivals. If the game yesterday taught us anything, it is that we should relish those victories when they come, because no one is guaranteed the next one.
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