Alabama is still unbeaten and still on track to make the College Football Playoff, but everything does feel different this week. Alabama doesn’t feel or look invincible.
By Matt Zemek
The Crimson Tide almost always enter a game with an aura of supreme strength and toughness. The Crimson Tide have lost games – some very badly (such as the 2018 national championship game against Clemson) – but they have almost always entered the field owning complete respect from their opponents. Clemson and a Hugh Freeze Ole Miss team were able to beat the Tide. Joe Burrow was able to stop Alabama two years ago. Yet, even on those days when Nick Saban lost, his team began the game with a reputation for being the gold standard, the team which had to be defeated to win it all.
Can we say that about the 2021 Tide, three weeks into their season? Maybe… but this team doesn’t look as convincing as past Bama teams which played for the national title.
It’s one thing to have a bad day. It’s another thing to give up almost 300 rushing yards to an opponent whose quarterback is not an especially good passer. Alabama knew that Emory Jones was not going to beat the Tide by throwing the ball down the field. Florida had to run the ball well to beat the Tide, and while the Gators didn’t claim a victory, they came close. They rushed for over 250 yards and blew open holes in the Bama defense. This is where the loss of linebacker Chris Allen for most (maybe all) of the season is such a hit to this defense. Nevertheless, Alabama still shouldn’t give up that many rushing yards. The Gators’ ball-control formula kept the Bama offense off the field. This is exactly how Georgia and Kirby Smart will try to play the Tide if the two teams meet in the SEC Championship Game.
Alabama needs to get its groove back.
1 – Toughness up front
Alabama won’t lose to Southern Miss. This game is a time to give lots of players work before the real SEC grind resumes. Nick Saban needs to find out who is willing to get tough and play with force on the defensive line. Getting pushed around is not acceptable. Let’s see if the Florida game was a wakeup call for a lot of Alabama players, especially those on the defensive line.
2 – Linebackers
Chris Allen was depended on to be the heart and soul of the linebacker room. Now that he is gone, and now that Florida punctured Alabama’s defense, leaders need to emerge at linebacker. Saban needs to leave this game having a much better idea of what he has at this position group. If he can find answers and gain clarity, that will serve Alabama well in the bigger battles which lie ahead.
3 – Third down
Alabama’s defense simply cannot allow opponents to control the ball and the clock the way Florida did. Third downs have to become a point in time when Alabama puts its foot down and insists on excellence. The defense has to get off the field so that the offense gets more possessions.