Where Smart Picks Go to Die
For many Alabama fans, the world they knew Saturday morning no longer exists. The prevailing thought was, “Let’s just hurry up and finish the regular season so we can win the SEC championship and destroy whoever gets thrown in there against the Tide”. There was no uncertainty, this is how it was supposed to be. An SEC team HAS to be in the National Title game and since Alabama was the only undefeated team, it had to be the Tide’s year.
No one told Texas A&M. In their defense, they’re new.
Johnny Manziel is just a freshman. I have to keep reminding myself everytime I watch him play. This freshman quarterback came into a hostile environment in one of the biggest games of his career and played spectacular. He was unstoppable through most of the first half and made big plays when his team needed them in the second half against a defense that has only recently started to show weakness.
Alabama got down big early. The offense wasn’t clicking, the defense looked completely absent, everything looked lost. It was 20-0 in the first quarter.
But then Alabama began inching closer. A long touchdown drive followed by a big defensive stop got the ball rolling. When Alabama scored just before half to make it 20-14, many fans sighed in relief. Nick Saban even looked less insane for a second.
However, this post is titled “Missed Opportunities” not “Amazing Resilience”. Alabama made some big plays in the second half, but all of them seemed to be negated by blunders the Crimson Tide made. During a big drive late in the game, a normally sure-handed T.J. Yeldon fumbles the ball on A&M’s 40 yard line. More egregious is Alabama’s dependence on the passing game. They played like a team down 30, not one who only needed a field goal to tie (next to last drive) or a touchdown to win (last drive). The last drive saw a long pass to Kenny Bell on the first play (54 yard pass down to the A&M 6). Surely with the best offensive line in the country and two big backs, Alabama could have punched it in from 6 yards out. Right?
Instead of rushing on first down to cut the distance, Alabama dropped back to pass and was sacked for no gain. Then they tried the ground game, already behind the 8 ball with no gain on first down, and were stopped for a 1 yard gain. This is now 4 down territory. Down 29-24 with only 2:30 to go and 2 timeouts you have to try to cut the yardage in half with a run. With the weapons up front and the running backs Alabama has, a run could have gotten them closer or even scored. But Alabama drops back to pass (again) and McCarron is forced to scramble. He gains 3 yards to get the ball to the A&M 2 yard line.
What takes place next is the biggest opportunity missed by Alabama. Everyone in the stadium knows that this 4th down play is the biggest play, not just of this game, but of the entire season. This 4th down play has conference and national championship implications on the line. It would be in this immensely critical situation that most would call a timeout and make sure they had the perfect play called for the situation.
Alabama did not. The offense lined up in shotgun, on the snap McCarron rolls to his right and threw a pass that crushed any hope of the Tide making a comeback. With that interception, the game was over. Some will say Alabama would have had a chance had it not jumped offside on the Texas A&M punt, but I don’t think so. Getting the ball on your 30 with less than 20 seconds left is not really a chance.
So now Alabama needs a loss from 2 of the 3 undefeated teams (Kansas State, Oregon, and Notre Dame). It’s conceivable that all of them could lose. Kansas State still has to play Texas and an inconsistent but talented Baylor team. Oregon still has a solid Stanford team, a surprising Oregon State team (hated rival that they always struggle with), and either UCLA or USC in the Pac-12 championship. Notre Dame, who has the weakest remaining schedule, plays Wake Forest and then USC.
None of that would have mattered had Alabama beaten Texas A&M. My hats off to an Aggie team who played their hearts out, but Alabama could have won. Now they have to win out for the SEC to even have a shot at putting anyone in the title game.
The only people I feel sorry for are the Catamounts of Western Carolina. Having posted a 1-9 record with losses to Wofford, Samford, Furman, the Citadel, and Elon; they will most likely be in for a very long game. I believe I can sum up Alabama’s following game with one word.