Plenty to talk about this morning in the aftermath of Alabama's mostly self-inflicted home loss on Saturday night. Predictably, many in the national media are talking about dynasties and declines and perceived invincibility, etc. I'm not sure there is a more narcissistic group on the planet than national sportswriters. They constantly create narratives, accept them as absolute truth, then decide when the narratives change to another they concoct. Alabama had something of a dynasty from 2009-2012, if you choose to call it that (and arguments over what constitutes a dynasty are among the silliest I've read) but the SEC is always going to have some elite competition in the mix that can "dethrone" a dynasty on a given Saturday. What Saban has built, and continues to build, is a team that's good enough to compete, and even be favored, to win a conference and national title every year. On to it:
Here is the inconvenient part of that truth: the great Alabama teams didn’t suffer from those problems. They certainly were not a minus-five in the turnover department at home. They got quarterback play that was good enough to win, instead of just shaky enough to get the Tide beaten. And they never gave up the point totals that the recent Tide teams have surrendered.
When Saban arrived in a somber locker room, he told his players that the season isn’t over; that the Tide lost this same game last year, fought back and won the SEC and was the No. 1 seed in the CFP. "He said we can do the same thing again," said Tide tight end O.J. Howard. Not with this defense they can't.
For all of its No. 1-ranked recruiting classes, Alabama can no longer dictate the way games are played. For all of the defensive talent that rolls through and shuffles off to the NFL, the Crimson Tide can no longer shut down good teams down. For all the time they had to replace AJ McCarron, they are now in the midst of a second consecutive season without a reliable quarterback.
Blah, blah, blah. Rinse and repeat. Oh, Matt Hayes- did you actually watch the game? Alabama's defense played pretty well. Two big plays, one particularly fluky, added 139 yards to the Ole Miss stat sheet. Outside of those two plays the Alabama defense held a supposedly unstoppable offense (See what I mean about narratives? I guess a defense stinks unless it shuts down the impossible to shut down) to a fairly paltry 4.5 yards per play.
"It wasn't no blown coverage," Jones said. "I batted the ball down and it knocked on somebody's helmet or something like that and bounced right into his hands. I don't know." The ball appeared to strike Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick's helmet and straight to the receiver who caught it in stride.
"I just figured Quon's 6-3. He can jump the highest out of anybody," Kelly said. "I just gave him a chance, and the Lord is great."
An Ole Miss reporter jokingly asked Freeze after the game how much practice time the Rebels invested in working on that play.
Freeze smiled. "You know what?," Freeze said. "That happened actually in my prayer time today. That's the only thing I can say about that is to God be the glory."
Look, as much as that play hurt Alabama, it is the sort of thing that makes us watch college football. Professional football players probably find a way to get that ball to the ground. College football players are amateurs, which creates imperfections in the game that make it interesting and unpredictable. That said, Hugh and Chad - really? I think God has more important things to do than help you win a football game. You'd fit right in at Auburn with comments like that.
A former top recruit, Foster was beginning to emerge as a significant part of Alabama's offense. The redshirt sophomore had 10 catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns in the Tide's first two-plus games after catching just six passes for 44 yards last season.
If true, this would be a huge blow to the Alabama offense. Yes, Alabama has plenty of quality depth at the position like they do at most, but Foster is an elite talent who was coming into his own. One would expect Calvin Ridley to get the first crack at the position, and perhaps history can repeat itself: remember, Amari Cooper didn't break out as a freshman until DeAndrew White went down with a knee injury. Might open up an opportunity for Cam Sims to see some playing time as well.
And that's a no-no. It very rarely gets called, but that deserved a flag for an illegal man downfield — the NCAA rulebook specifies that linemen can't be more than three yards downfield on passing plays. The selective enforcement of that rule has driven college coaches nuts as spread offenses and read option plays have proliferated in recent years.
This rule gets the spotlight any time a big play like this happens, but that highlights a general lack of understanding more than anything. The way this rule is written and the way it is currently being enforced, or not enforced to be more accurate, is the primary driver for the recent offensive explosion. The reason that coaches like Freeze and Malzahn adamantly opposed the elimination of the three-yard cushion for offensive linemen is because they want to have their offensive linemen run blocking on short forward passes. This forces a LB to literally guess run or pass, and allows the QB to read him and simply do the opposite.
Look, as I mentioned above, I don't want college football to become the NFL. What many don't seem to understand is that the college rules on this are already much more liberal than the corresponding NFL rules because NFL linemen aren't allowed downfield even on screens thrown behind the line of scrimmage. In college ball, linemen can go downfield as far as they like and block downfield immediately on balls caught in the backfield. This makes sense, as it at least gives the LBs an opportunity to rally to the ball once it's caught as opposed to having it caught behind them. A one-yard window is much easier for the officials to enforce than a three-yard window. That change, while leaving the screen-pass exception just as it is, makes good sense and should be brought up again. Offensive coaches could still run their RPOs, they would simply have to make sure the pass receivers stayed behind the line of scrimmage.
First let's look at the major themes: Turnovers and big plays. Obviously the five giveaways killed Alabama. Of Ole Miss' 43 points, 24 directly followed turnovers. Average starting field position on those four post-takeaway scoring drives: the Alabama 23. That alone is enough to lose a close game. That's where the big plays enter. Ole Miss scored 13 more points on two the big plays mentioned above. That accounts for 37 of the Rebel points.
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Film study won't be an enjoyable experience after that one.
Center Ryan Kelly, the leader of the group, had an uncharacteristically poor game, getting beat badly by Robert Nkemdiche on one play. Coker was forced to use his legs multiple times as the pocket quickly collapsed around him, narrowly avoiding at least two sacks. After the game, Kelly said he wished he could have done a better job giving Coker and Bateman more time.
I appreciate Ryan for taking responsibility, but let's not forget who Robert Nkemdiche is. This isn't Barrett Jones flying solo on huge, immovable nose tackles. Nkemdiche is a 290-lb. manchild with lineman strength and linebacker speed and agility who may well be the best college football player in the country right now.
So, where does all this leave us?
The ball bounced Ole Miss' way more than once Saturday, but this is a team that's talented enough, mature enough and confident enough to take this win and do something special with it. And if they can handle their business the rest of the way, it will probably look like a masterpiece to the College Football Playoff selection committee when it's time to pick the four best teams.
There will be more chaos, trust me. The SEC's sketchy quarterback play all but guarantees it. This is a conference where an overhyped preseason darling (Auburn's Jeremy Johnson) should be benched after three weeks; where the loser in Virginia's quarterback battle (Georgia's Greyson Lambert) can be awful against Vanderbilt one week and set an FBS completion record the next; where a running quarterback (LSU's Brandon Harris) can win a blowout with a career-high 75 passing yards; and where Saban can be clueless on who to play at quarterback (Jake Coker or Cooper Bateman) even by a pivotal Week 3 game.
At No. 12, the Crimson Tide are behind Clemson and Florida State. It’s possible the drops are an overcorrection for the upset losses—Stanford and Ole Miss could prove to be much better teams than their perceptions entering the weekend. But the losses also revealed some serious weaknesses for the Crimson Tide and Trojans. In Tuscaloosa, turnovers ruined Alabama's chances against the Rebels, and the Tide will need to find consistency under center.
But that projection didn't even last the evening. Alabama still projects as the SEC winner and an entrant into the playoff, but Ole Miss made sure Bama would not end the season undefeated. The Tide will now slide into their rival's previous spot as the third seed. Ole Miss will benefit also by moving into one of the New Year's Six games. They will replace USC in the Fiesta Bowl after the Trojans loss at home to Stanford on Saturday.
You have to love college football. Where does it leave us? Nobody seems to know. Both major polls dropped Alabama all the way down to #12, which seems quite low for a team with a blowout win over a ranked team and a close loss to #3. It really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, however. With the current landscape and the looming schedule, Alabama still has all goals in front. Ole Miss has quite a bit of top end talent but lacks the depth you'd normally see in a team that can navigate the SEC unscathed. If Alabama is somehow able to re-group and win out they will absolutely be in the conversation and very likely in the playoffs. Long road to get there, for sure.
Well, that should do you for a day. Have a great week.