For a decade as I looked at the Alabama roster I would often ask the question, “What if”. What if this guy got hurt or that guy didn’t work out. Somehow through so many different variations Nick Saban always kept his team competitive at a championship level. Alabama was indeed the 2nd best team in the country this season but the “What if” kept them from the final prize. The end result was a defense falling apart leading to a blowout loss in the title game. But this story began more than a season ago.
For years Alabama’s coaching staff have been happy hunting grounds for athletic directors hungry to capture some piece of what has made Alabama such a successful program. Staff turnover plays havoc with your recruiting process and with so much turnover and perhaps a few hires that were not the best recruiters Alabama signed a good but not great class a year ago. At this level of football you need to bring in 4 or 5 difference makers with every class who can contribute right away. Others will be good in time but due to NFL defections the freshman class has to have some guys ready to play. Last years signing class will not be judged for several more years but only one of them, receiver Jaylen Waddle made an impact. Others were in this case needed but we will get to that in a bit.
Before the season Alabama suffered two critical season ending injuries. Terrell Lewis and Chris Allen. Both guys play the same position of outside end rusher. Both are freakishly athletic and big. The injuries left only two other players with any experience. Anfernee Jennings who was coming back from a horrific knee injury the year before and Christian Miller. Jennings is more of a run stuffer not having the speed to pressure the quarterback so it all landed on the shoulders of senior Christian Miller. Miller was not as fast as the other guys we lost but he was no slouch. I asked myself “What if Miller went down“? I mentioned last years signing class. Alabama signed two guys who fit the outside rusher mold, Cameron Latu and Eyabi Anoma. Both guys may be players in time but as Alabama reached the mid season break neither player was getting anything more than garbage time. Clearly they were not ready so it had to be Miller, or nothing. Then just after the half against Oklahoma, “What if” happened. Miller went down with a bad hamstring pull. With no outside pressure Oklahoma went on to score 24 points in a single half. Then against Clemson the dam completely burst with TD’s coming in bunches.
The physical gap between Alabama and Clemson is not as wide as it seemed. Tua’s 2 interceptions led to 14 points and how many red zone trips did Alabama have that resulted in zero points? I lost count. The Offensive Line was utterly humiliated and in my opinion someone should get fired over it. Mainly who ever is coaching up these marshmallows who can’t get a yard in the redzone. That all comes down to effort and nasty and Clemson outdid them in every case. Sure they had some conversions between the 20’s but that was mostly Jacobs and frankly until you get to the goal line, that’s where you separate the men from the boys. I’m not saying they were a bad offensive line, just not great and not man enough to get the job done. It’s time to hit the reset button here and find a coach who can get them back to what they once were. The talent is there, but you have to get that yard on the goal line. Were there some weird calls in the game? yes, did they matter, no.
So where do we go from here? The failure began a year ago and the fix began many months ago. Alabama upgraded it’s staff to get some better recruiters and the results were another top rated class. Alabama needs to do what it can to prevent the poaching of staff so they can maintain that momentum. So far Clemson has managed to avoid that problem but with them being crowned the new King of college football that problem will begin to rear it’s ugly head. This will actually help us down the road as Athletic directors begin to look at some place other than Alabama for their next hire.
Offensively if the OL issues are dealt with there is plenty of returning talent on offense, so there is the next 8 months or so to find a defense. There is actually quite a bit of material to work with in the secondary but the front seven is a complete mess. There were only 4 players in the front seven who played winning ball and only one of them “might” be back next year. Alabama needs better play from virtually every position in the front seven and they especially need guys who can bring pressure. Terrell Lewis will return for one last shot at stardom. Latu and Anoma will spend the winter hopefully becoming full grown men so they can contribute. Chris Allen will be back. and with such a showing last season there truly will be no dept chart this spring so freshman need to show up with the attitude of “I’m taking this job”. Somewhere in all that, Alabama needs to find players and hopefully get a little luck on the injury font. The injury bug is a killer and She has not been kind to the Crimson Tide for the last two seasons especially at linebacker.
For those who have lost hope: remember, Last year Alabama humbled this same Clemson team and in 12 months time see how much changed. Clemson loses a TON of talent on the offensive and defensive lines and though Trevor Lawrence looks like the second coming of Joe Montana the truth is that Alabama never got near him. Most top quarterbacks would have done the same thing to us if we let him sit back and relax while choosing the best receiver to throw to. He’s a great quarterback but if Alabama had put a hat on him things could have been very different. Hopefully next year we will get our chance.
So, is the Dynasty Dead? I can’t answer that question but I have no reason to believe that Saban will not find a way to win championships down the road.