TUSCALOOSA, Ala. —Coming here seeking flaws in the local college football team is pretty much a waste of time. You don’t, after all, go to the Louvre looking for the original of Dogs Playing Poker.
Go ahead, try to find cellulite on a “Vogue” cover or chili fries on the menu at Le Cirque. Better that than coming to Alabama thinking you might run into some faulty football.
It is the ultimate snipe hunt, bordering on a cruel prank.
Putting “Alabama” and “weakness” in the same sentence is just poor grammar, ain’t it?
And yet, as he did earlier this very season, Alabama’s curmudgeon-in-chief, Nick Saban, encourages the media to accentuate the negatives, if only to make his job easier. But I left my electron microscope back in Atlanta, so I’m struggling a little bit right now.
At Monday’s presser here in advance of the SEC Championship game against Georgia, they were reduced to nitpicking over the Crimson Tide’s slow starts in its past two games, against The Citadel and Auburn.
Maybe the weight of all that winning was beginning to wear on Alabama. Maybe players are blowing their own minds with what they are accomplishing this season, and mental fatigue is something that Georgia can exploit Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“If we were mentally tired maybe that affected our preparation going into the game, which affected how we started,” Saban said.
“Based on the mental errors we made and the fundamental execution not being as sharp as it needed to be, that may have been the case.”
Yeah, slow starts have been a real big problem. Alabama only beat The Citadel by 33 and Auburn by 31. Elvis started slow, too, but kicked it in pretty good by halftime.
If that is mental fatigue, we should all be so tired.
The Bama run defense came under scrutiny after The Citadel went for 275 rushing yards. Auburn would have had a lot more than its allotment of 130 yards had a 75-yard touchdown dash not been called back on a holding call.
Georgia, you may have heard, likes to run the ball.
When Alabama safety Shyheim Carter says of his run defense, “We’ve been good, but we will do a better job,” he gets some benefit of the doubt. The Tide ranks sixth in the nation in total defense, 15th overall against the run. See what you can make of that, Bulldogs.
Then there is the little matter of trying to stop Alabama’s offense, with its Heisman-apparent quarterback and a full house of playmakers. If you are a Georgia fan, here was the scariest quote from Monday’s Alabama press conference. It came from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, when asked what it’s like having all these explosive skill players at his disposal (try five players with between 498 and 1,079 receiving yards this season):
“I’m like a kid in a candy shop. It’s awesome. I can go to my right and get a Snickers bar. I can go to my left and get some Skittles. It’s really fun for me as a quarterback to be behind some first-round draft picks.”
It seems the only thing that can stop this offense is early onset diabetes.
OK, here’s an uncomplimentary Alabama stat – the Tide is 118th in the country in net punting. But the trick, you see, is to get them to punt.
Only one team comes to Atlanta this weekend with a place-kicker who’s a folk hero. Alabama’s Joseph Bulovas (12 of 16 on field goals this year) is no Rodrigo Blankenship (19 of 22). So, all you fans of the kicking game, file that away as a possible Georgia advantage.
Big picture, though, there is talk that beyond being just a 10-point favorite in the SEC Championship game, this Alabama team is auditioning for all-time status. Win your first dozen games by three touchdowns or more, and rank top six in the nation in both total offense and defense, and history beckons.
Is it possible there may be some heads too big to fit into their crimson helmets come Saturday’s game? That is a real reach. Remember, Saban is still the coach here. He is to overconfidence what a police cruiser’s blue light is to a good party.
Senior tackle Jonah Williams, when asked about the business of legacy-building, spoke for every pragmatic teammate when he said, “It’s exciting the success we’ve been able to have. And we know it’s a product of the work we’ve put in. But none of that will matter if we don’t win out. Nobody’s going to talk about how well we’ve done in the regular season. These last three games are way more important than the previous 12 combined, so it’s not much of a legacy if we don’t finish it the right way.”
These are, we can confirm, human beings playing for Alabama. None of those who spoke Monday appeared to be battery operated. And in humans, there are always frailties and failings, right?
They put their pants on one leg at a time.
You cut them, do they not bleed?
However, dressing habits and anatomy are not exactly the crucial topics of the moment. Football is. And to date this season, Alabama has perfected that.
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