"I wish I could play them again," Lester said. "There’s so many things I would do differently. You can just keep going along the schedule and keep doing what’s next and keep playing." That answer begged for a follow-up, and that's exactly what Lester received during an interview session after Tuesday's practice. "I would prepare better," he said. "Pay attention to my fundamentals. If I was to pay attention to playing better fundamentals, I would have been in a lot better position to make plays."
Surrendering yards after contact helped contribute to this recent slide, Johnson said. "We just haven’t been executing like we should," the senior said on Monday. "We haven’t played to the Bama standard the past couple weeks. Fortunately, last week (against LSU) we got away with it. … Texas A&M took advantage of the opportunity. I don’t think LSU did at some points in the game. (A&M) did and it showed." Even as the victories piled up, Alabama defenders said plenty of mistakes were being made. "All year, teams haven’t taken advantage of those aspects of our game, but it’s catching up to us," Johnson said. "We’ve got to motivate ourselves and do better." He hopes that since Alabama is on the brink more players will be motivated to eliminating mistakes – either assignment busts or fundamental execution like tackling. "I think this will be a good week for us because it’s do or die now. There is no tomorrow," Johnson said.
Missed tackles plagued Alabama’s defense during Saturday’s game against the Texas A&M Aggies. Safety Robert Lester said he cannot remember a game when the Tide missed as many as they did this past weekend. Lester said the Tide needs to return to its fundamentals in preparation for future opponents this season. The Tide watches film after each game in order to learn from their mistakes. This game will be no different, the senior said. "We come in and we try to execute and fix those mistakes," Lester said. "There are a lot of mistakes we can learn from this game, and there’s a lot of mistakes we can learn from the next game." In order to bounce back, the team will need to achieve their goals, the safety said, including eliminating missed tackles and mental errors. Lester said the Tide defense, who led college football in third down defense before the game against the Louisiana State University Tigers, must be able to get off the field on third down. "It falls back to executing and doing what we need to do, especially on third down, to get off the field," Lester said. "These past two weeks have been intense. They’ve been fighting for those third downs, and they got them."
"We have to practice it. If we don’t practice well, it will carry over to the game," Johnson said. "Coach loves to preach the way you practice carries over to the game, and if we practice bad, do things bad over and over in practice, it will carry over to the game. "All year, teams haven’t taken advantage of those aspects of our game, but it’s catching up to us. We’ve got to motivate ourselves and do better."
McCarron said he reminded teammates that they were in the same situation a year ago when they lost to LSU but rebounded to win the national championship, thanks to losses that other undefeated teams suffered to clear the Crimson Tide's way to the championship game. "And not to really compare, but, I mean, like I said, all we can do is move on," he said. "There’s no reason to worry about what happened in that game. Once that clocks ends, it’s the same as ones you win. That game was that game. We've got other people on our schedule, other opponents, so we’re going to have to prepare week in and week out and, like I said, take care of our business and, you know, that’s all we can control."
"As a quarterback, you’re always going to get a little more credit than you deserve when things go well, and maybe a little more of the blame when things don’t go well," Tide coach Nick Saban said. "But I do think that the kind of competitor AJ is, my expectation would be that he takes the bull by the horns, learns the lessons he’s learned in the last two games and tries to work on improving. "I don’t think there’s any reason to say that he’s reached a plateau. I think he needs to break through and continue to improve and not be satisfied where he is, and get the players around him to help him do that. That would be my approach with him."
Believe it or not, Western Carolina coach Mark Speir knows exactly how Alabama’s Nick Saban feels. Saban’s Crimson Tide lost Saturday to Texas A&M 29-24, possibly derailing a third appearance in four years in the BCS title game. Speir coached at Appalachian State as an assistant from 2003-11 before accepting the Western Carolina job, where his team is 1-9 this year. While Speir was at Appalachian, the program won three straight Division I-AA national titles from 2005-07. "It gets harder and harder," Speir said today on the Southern Conference coaches teleconference. "You get everybody’s trick play, everybody’s best offense, everybody’s best effort. It’s hard to do what Alabama has done as long as they’ve done without getting a loss."
This was the only "money game" on Western Carolina's schedule this season, so that makes Alabama's payout all the more important to the program's budget. Next year, the Catamounts will play three. State budget cuts recently took a toll on WCU's funds for athletic scholarships. "Where we're at in our program with this new coaching staff, it's not something you really want to do, but it's something I'm in agreement with because you have to," said Speir, WCU's first-year coach who was previously an assistant at Appalachian State. "Bottom line is this whole world runs on that almighty dollar."
"I was really concerned about this week,'' Saban said. "We seemed like we were a little bit out of gas, and Texas A&M is a really good team and they played really, really well. Their quarterback's a really fantastic player and made some plays that were great plays out there. And you have to have a tremendous amount of discipline to play a guy like that, and there were times when we didn't quite get it done the way we'd like to. "I think our players will recommit themselves and do the things that they need to do to finish the season the right way, and hopefully have an opportunity to accomplish something of significance with this particular team,'' Saban said.
How much would a healthy Jalston Fowler have changed Alabama's offense this year? Would his presence in the backfield have made the Crimson Tide more likely to run the football, and more successful when it did? There is no "answer" to those questions, but it is fair to state that his absence has had an effect.
"The thing that I saw was A&M's ability to spread the Alabama defense out and get them out in space," he said Tuesday. "You combine that with a quarterback who right now is in a zone in Johnny Manziel, and the ability to run and throw legitimately -- not Denard Robinson running around, but this kid can throw the ball. He's been doing it all year." The hurry-up tempo was another challenge, Herbstreit said. "And Alabama, the way they're built defensively without a bona fide big-time pass rusher, the best way they get pressure is they've got to bring a creative zone pressure off a blitz with man coverage," he said, "and that kind of feeds right into the hands of what that offense wants to do."
"With the (TAMU offense's) no-huddle situation as it was in the game, we played Dee Milliner at Star, John at corner in his place, and then Vinnie (Sunseri) was always the sixth DB, and he was in there 70 percent of the time," UA coach Nick Saban said. "But we didn't feel like we could play nickel one way and dime another. So that's how John ended up playing. John has played well when he's had the opportunity to play, so we thought he deserved a chance to play." Indeed, the junior broke up four passes and earned defensive player of the week honors from the UA coaching staff. He was often matched up on 6-foot-5 Aggies receiver Mike Evans at a significant size disadvantage. "You can't ask more of him. He held his part down and did a great job," senior safety Robert Lester said of Fulton's performance. "... Whenever he's called upon, he's ready to go out there and ready to play."
"When you fumble, it’s always a tough thing to get over," the junior said. "That’s why you have your teammates. They’re here to support you and make you feel better about it."
"We are excited to have the opportunity to go to New York and play in Madison Square Garden in a great tournament," UA head coach Anthony Grant said. "We had two games here at home and now we get to advance to New York. We’re playing a very tough opponent in Oregon State. I had a chance to start looking at them and I’m really impressed with their team. They return, I think, 7 of their top 8 which is the majority of their scoring, rebounds and assists. So we’re looking at a veteran, very well coached team. Right now, the process for us is to get prepared for the challenge that lies ahead."