Initial Impressions from the 2014 Sugar Bowl

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

That wasn't quite the end of the AJ McCarron era we all expected, was it?

Hat tip to Oklahoma for an outstanding performance and tremendous game plan. Their players played harder, their coaches had them prepared and they deserved the victory.

And just in case you were wondering, last night was not the second coming of the 2008 Sugar Bowl. Sure, the outcomes were the same but unlike in 2008, lack of effort, distractions and apathy are not to be blamed for Alabama's poor performance.

'Bama opened the game with a four play touchdown drive and looked poised to run the Sooners right out of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. After the Oklahoma turnover on their first possession, the route was on, so we thought. What ensued, however, from mid-way through the first quarter till AJ's final sack and fumble, was as frustrating as it was enlightening.

The defense was confused and lost from OU's first possession. Time and time again, the Alabama defense, mainly the defensive backs, were late getting set before the snap and the OU hurry up offense took advantage, consistently.

By the way, when was the last time an Alabama defense effectively stopped a good HUNH offense?

All the blame (and 45 points) can't be placed on the defensive backfield. How do you protect an inexperienced secondary? By pressuring the QB (especially a red-shirt freshman) and Alabama wasn't able to do that in the first half. Credit the Oklahoma offensive line but the 'Bama defensive line played soft and indecisive, rarely forcing Trevor Knight into early and inaccurate throws.

The Alabama offense was feast or famine in the first half, gaining most of its yards on explosive plays and two turnovers were certainly no help to a struggling defense. AJ's first interception was atypical. Throwing the ball into triple coverage isn't AJ's modus operandi but his second INT right before half gave light to the critics who believe AJ may struggle in the NFL.

Throwing off his back foot, after feeling slight pressure, is what we've come to expect from AJ. As JTadpole mentioned last night, McCarron failed time and time again to feel pressure coming from his back side and rarely stepped up into the pocket to avoid the sack. When he did step up, it typically came when little to no pressure was there. Frustrating.

The last sack, and subsequent OU touchdown, looks to be on CyKo, but the path taken by Striker was extremely wide and there was plenty of room for AJ to step up in the pocket and deliver a decisive throw. That is not to ignore the struggles of the offensive line, seven sacks are inexcusable, but some of those were aided by poor decisions by AJ.

For proof of AJ's struggles, look no further then the Alabama coaching staff calling five straight runs early in the 4th to help settle down a fifth year, two time national title winning QB. I love AJ and he will most certainly go down as one of my top five favorite 'Bama players of all time but last night proved once again AJ's weaknesses may overshadow his strengths.

To be honest, the second half was just as frustrating as the 31 point first half by Oklahoma. There were numerous opportunities for Alabama to take back momentum but failed to make the key play when it was needed most. A motivated Alabama defense forced the Sooners into four straight punts and held them to zero points in the 3rd quarter and all the Alabama offense could muster was seven points. Seven.

The play that sticks out in my mind is the Yeldon run up the middle where he trips over his own feet and falls 3 yards short of the first down. AJ's pass then falls incomplete on the next play and 'Bama is forced to punt. Sometimes it's just not your night.

Again. all the credit is due to Oklahoma for playing a fantastic game. As much as we'd probably like to think, this wasn't a case of Alabama beating itself. The brutal truth is Oklahoma out played Alabama for four quarters. That is something Alabama players and fans will have to live with for the next nine months.

What To Do With Alabama Moving Forward

For Alabama fans, it's time to admit it, if you haven't already— 'Bama was never the team we thought, or at least hoped, they'd be this season. At some point, all the NFL defections were going to take its toll on the depth chart and that showed this year at corner and offensive line.

And Alabama is hardly dead or stuck in the mud. Derrick Henry is a star in the making. The offensive line looks to return three (and possibly four) starters. The defensive line will return most, if not all, of its starters and will be adding yet another young crop of freshman from a stellar 2014 class. The receiving corps will be loaded once again. Landon Collins, Vinnie Sunseri, Eddie Jackson, Maurice Smith and even the much maligned Cyrus Jones will be a year older and far more inexperienced.

If Alabama is able to find a serviceable quarterback out of the current group on campus or if David Cornwell is the player we all hope he is, Alabama should be in the mix for the first ever college football playoff in 2014.

This loss hurts and losing two straight to end a season isn't something Alabama fans are use to but the future is still as bright as ever for Alabama.

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