Alabama football: 5 New Year's Resolutions the Crimson Tide need to make and keep
ORLANDO — The Camping World Stadium field crew began the process of erasing the Alabama Crimson Tide’s 2019 football season almost immediately after it ended Wednesday — washing and vacuuming up the paint of the familiar crimson Alabama end zone as night fell in Central Florida.
Making Alabama disappear is an all-night task for these folks, as the paint is much more permanent than the confetti that swirled around Nick Saban’s head as he playfully flung oranges and tangerines and grapefruits out of the Citrus Bowl trophy.
This wasn’t College Football Playoff confetti, though, and the smiles on Crimson Tide players were slightly wry. They were wearing Vrbo-festooned swag, after all, not the diamond Nike swooshes so coveted by players and recruits.
A couple will stay an extra season, like linebacker Dylan Moses — whose announcement that he would be back in Tuscaloosa for 1 more season set off happy dances. The cryptic social media post Alabama’s sports information staff tweeted out — simple dominoes falling — presaged the possibility of more.
But Alabama football isn’t about one player — not even the one on a single crutch with a slight limp who meekly acknowledged loud cheers every time he glanced toward the stands. Tua Tagovailoa has a decision to make, and that will happen in the few days.
In the meantime, and in the spirit of 2020, here are 5 things the Crimson Tide need to resolve to do better before the sting of a non-CFP season disappears along with those Camping World Stadium end zones …
5. Start better
Alabama almost coughed up the Citrus Bowl against Michigan with a 1st quarter so lackluster it sent the more callous among the media scrambling to the Twitterverse proclaiming once more that “Alabama’s dynasty was dead.”
Much of that is a credit to the Wolverines, of course. While we have argued that Jim Harbaugh is very thoroughly average, Michigan absorbed Alabama’s 1st-play punch in the mouth — an 85-yard Jerry Jeudy touchdown reception — and kept plugging away at the Tide.
That said, Wednesday was a disturbing look at what can happen when a team is coming off a huge letdown. Had the Crimson Tide played a team with a more capable quarterback — and not Ole Miss washout Shea Patterson — they could have left Orlando with a box lunch and a 3-loss season for the 1st time since 2010.
4. Commit to the run
Look, it is easy to join the “Run The Damn Ball” chorus of old-school Alabama faithful that believe it is only Crimson Tide football if the offense is almost exclusively the 3-yard-and-a-cloud-of-dust variety. And sure, much of Alabama’s pass-happy ways in the past 2 seasons has been solely because Tagovailoa + Jeudy + Henry Ruggs III + DeVonta Smith = lots and lots of points.
But the Crimson Tide wants balance in the worst way. Not for balance’s sake but because balance means defenses have to play you honest.
Alabama actually had that balance on the final stat sheet against Michigan, rushing the ball 30 times and throwing it 25. The play-calling was just about 50-50 when factoring in the 3 times Jones was deposited on his hindquarters courtesy of a Michigan sack.
But Alabama got there largely via an end-game drive that featured a heaping helping of Najee Harris in an attempt to chip away at the time-of-possession chasm the Wolverines had created. Through 45 minutes of play, Michigan had the rock almost 29 minutes to Alabama’s 16 and change. Running the ball eats time off the clock, keeps your defense from soaking up all the oxygen tanks on the sidelines and wins more games.
3. Don’t neglect the tight end
Score another one for the “get off my lawn” crowd. Just as wide receivers alone do not an offensive football philosophy make, so too does a lack of a versatile tight end. Alabama got Miller Forristall back after a lengthy throat injury.
Without a tight end as a pass-catching threat, Alabama becomes more reliant on screen passes and RPOs to matriculate the ball downfield. That works a lot of times, but not against disciplined defensive teams like Michigan.
With Forristall at, ahem, full throat Wednesday, Alabama was able to use him both as a run- and pass-blocking weapon and a target — as the junior caught 2 passes for 36 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown pass early in the 4th quarter that proved a Michigan backbreaker.
2. Keep on deferring
Put simply, Alabama stinks when it doesn’t get the ball 1st in the second half. Winning a coin toss, we learned in elementary school, is pretty darn random. But when the Crimson Tide has the chance to defer to the second half they are just a better football team — on both sides of the ball.
Faced with a 16-14 deficit after 30 minutes Wednesday, the Tide coaching staff does what it does best: adjust to whatever the opponent was giving them. The results were emphatic, as Mac Jones hit Smith on a beautiful 42-yard touchdown pass to open the 3rd quarter and the Tide defense wrapped both hands around Michigan’s throat to slowly strangle the life out of the Wolverines.
It might have taken 54 minutes of play for Patterson to revert to form under the pressure of the Alabama defense, but once he did it spelled doom. Shyheim Carter picked him off just as the Wolverines were thinking about a comeback drive with 6:21 to play, and Josh Jobe picked him off again on a last-gasp Hail Mary attempt to score 20 points with 1 second remaining.
1. Enjoy the good life
Nick Saban’s entire existence is seemingly predicated on being grumpy, but he continues to show signs in public that he is an actual human being and not a fall version of the Grinch.
Don’t get us wrong here. Saban is still grumpy. But he still playfully turned his Citrus Bowl championship hat backward and even sideways in the style of his players. He was also chucking citrus out of the trophy with a real live grin on his face.
Oh sure, the officiating crew got its usual earful when he thought the Wolverines were holding and otherwise cheating behind the stripes’ back. But he didn’t explode on any players (just 5 penalties for 25 yards helps that cause …) and talked extensively postgame about being proud that draft-eligible juniors didn’t sit out and instead finished the season on the field.
Saban has won 5 national titles at Alabama, and he doesn’t need to win a single game for the rest of his life to be considered — at worst — the 2nd-greatest coach to walk a collegiate sideline. It is time the 68-year-old considered his diastolic pressure and chose when to go hard and when to smile more.
It was great to see the latter Wednesday. There will plenty of the former as Alabama looks to reload for 2020.