In the preview for the Louisiana-Monroe game I said that you could not underestimate how terrible a loss would be in this game. And I'm not going to change my tune just because that loss moved from the realm of possibility to the record book. The losses to Louisiana Tech, Central Florida, and Northern Illinois were all embarrassing, but all four of those losses came against opponents that, while not name-brand schools, were actually good football teams. Louisiana-Monroe is nowhere near a good football team, and it's an even worse program. These guys haven't had a winning season since joining Division 1-A, haven't beaten a BCS conference opponent in well over a decade, and were blown out earlier in the year by the likes of Tulsa.
Bottom line: This loss is as bad as it seems, and probably worse. It could be the worst single loss for Alabama since the arrival of Bear Bryant.
And the damning thing of it is that if you look at the stat lines we controlled this game, just like last week. Yet we lost, just like last week. As was the case a week ago, turnovers were the key culprit in the defeat. The initial turnover by Wilson on the interception didn't really hurt, but the others did. The ensuing interception led directly to a ULM touchdown, and the fumble on the punt return late in the first half forfeited any possibility of scoring points on a short-field before halftime. And the late fumble by Jimmy Johns cost the Tide a drive that seemed to be destined for a game-tying touchdown. Then we turn the ball over on downs when we cannot convert on two short-yardage situations where we needed to gain a mere one yard to move the sticks. On the other hand, our defense could not force a single turnover from the ULM offense all afternoon.
The harsh truth of the matter is that we are not a very good team, and teams that are not particularly good are almost always going to lose, regardless of the quality of opponent, when they are -4 in turnover margin. In that sense, we are very much our own worst enemy. We cannot beat inferior teams because we are too busy beating ourselves. If we could have protected the football the previous two weeks, we would be 8-3 going into the Iron Bowl as the favorite.
Beyond turnovers, though, we just aren't playing very good football. The passing game was pretty good today, but aside from getting yards in spurts, it is far from consistent enough to be able to move the ball down the field consistently. We'll have two big completions for 40 yards, and then we'll run for no gain, have an incomplete pass, and then a three yard gain on a pass. When you add all of that up it looks good statistically, but it's not the kind of consistent attack you need to move the football down the field and get points. We saw that today, as we'd get two or three first downs and then stall out. The running game, too, is pretty much the same way. We'll pop off some good gains and then we'll run it into the line for little or no success.
The defense is playing pretty well, but it needs improvement. The Warhawks did have two long drives against them, and perhaps more importantly, could not create any turnovers. Moreover, even when they did get stops, they seemingly came only after ULM gained twenty or thirty yards, thus swapping field position.
And basically that's how we lost. The defense couldn't get us any turnovers, nor many short fields. The end result was that the offense, incapable of the big play, had to march methodically over long distances just to get some points, and due to incompetence we couldn't do that. And after we cost ourselves points with multiple turnovers, the Warhawks came out on top. It's as simple as that.
The talent level was not the culprit today, as we have more than a team like ULM could ever dream of having. The talent deficit -- and there is one against the better teams around, no doubt there -- is a problem that must be fixed, but just as important is that is that we have a deficit in heart, discipline, and effort, and that is really what hurt us today. As a football team, you have to come out and play 100 per cent every play, every game, regardless of who you play. You cannot just get ready to play against the top teams and then just put in some half-ass performances against everyone else and expect to just coast through a team that is going to roll over and play dead for you.
Coach Saban himself perhaps summed it up best when he said the following in his postgame comments: "The season is long. What we do demands a lot of commitment and perseverance. You have to challenge yourself. You have to keep pushing yourself. It's about not taking the easy way. I'm not sure we've done that."
At the end of the day, we are a team not only in need of more talent, but in desperate need of winners as well. At the moment, it seems that we just have entirely too many players who are, in fact, losers. Players who don't put in the work needed in the off-season S&C program, don't put in the work needed throughout the week in practice, and then suddenly expect to show up and win football games, and that's just not how it works. You have to give it your all in the off-season, give it your all in practice, and then play 100 per cent on Saturday on every play regardless of who you are playing, whether it be Louisiana State or Louisiana-Monroe.
And there is really little that Saban can do to fix that problem in the short term. Bear Bryant once famously said, "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit," and that harsh reality is that we have far more chicken shit on the roster than we need and more than we'd all like to believe. We have some players who do things as needed, but as Coach Saban said earlier in the year, we have too many players who want to talk about winning and not enough players who are doing what it takes to win.
Again, there is relatively little that Saban can do to fix that in the short term. As Cecil Hurt, sports editor of the Tuscaloosa News, mentioned, one of the best things that could possibly happen will be roster turnover. In other words, cut off the dead weight. In days gone by, a coach would have just ran off a massive chunk of the roster in a Junction-esque style camp, but those days have long since passed. Today those roster turnovers are accomplished by time and talented incoming recruiting classes. In layman's terms, losers are going to leave and they are going to be replaced by winners.
In his first season at LSU, Saban experienced a similar loss when his Bayou Bengals fell to lowly Alabama-Birmingham when they were coming off a painful conference loss on the road to Auburn. In many ways, that loss very much resembles today when his Crimson Tide fell to lowly Louisiana-Monroe when they were coming off a painful conference loss on the road to Mississippi State. In the grand scheme of things, the loss to UAB didn't slow down LSU one bit, and no one should expect the loss to ULM to slow down Alabama.
Things will get corrected, and Saban will likely lead us where we want to go. But the losses of the past two weeks have shown us that the path we have to travel to get to where we want to be is longer than anyone would have previously wanted to admit.