Alabama needs to use the remainder of its schedule to improve quickly
Alabama has a remaining schedule that other college coaches would pray for. It’s time to take advantage of the much needed blessing.
The Crimson Tide will play New Mexico State on Saturday in what will assuredly be a very, very lopsided affair. Bama is a strong favorite thanks to the opponent in front of them, not because of how they played last week against LSU. If Alabama were playing Georgia this week, the Crimson Tide would most likely be an underdog, which is an incredible rarity for the Crimson Tide. Based on what we saw against LSU, it would be hard to make a compelling case that Alabama would beat the Bulldogs if the SEC Championship Game were held in early November instead of early December. However, things can change. Alabama head coach Nick Saban had better make those changes happen soon.
While Alabama stumbled to a win, Georgia was its usual self. The Bulldogs beat the stuffing out of Missouri 43-6. The Tigers were never really in the game. The Bulldogs’ defense smothered the Tigers from the opening kickoff. Speaking of smothered, Bama quarterback Bryce Young had trouble gasping for air against LSU’s pressure at times on Saturday. If Young thinks LSU’s defense was tough, he had better prepare himself over the coming weeks. Georgia leads the SEC in sacks and leads the country with 6.6 points per game allowed. For some perspective, Cincinnati is 2nd in the nation in points allowed. The Bearcats are giving up 14.3 points per game. So Georgia leads the country in points allowed by more than a touchdown. That’s unheard of.
Bama won’t face that type of defense this week, not even close. New Mexico State allows 38.5 points per game. That’s good for 126th in the nation so there’s plenty of room for improvement. After all, there are only 130 FBS schools. This will likely not be the week that the other Aggies, who are 1-8, improve on their defensive ranking. Alabama could hang 100 points on the Aggies if it wanted to. This week isn’t about the Aggies nor their mascot “Pistol Pete.” This week is about Alabama and the huge elephant in the room. The Crimson Tide need to get better before they meet Georgia, which is how the SEC is expected to play out.
Bama hosts Arkansas and plays at Auburn in the last 2 games of the regular season. The Crimson Tide will be a significant favorite in each of those games as well. Saban can call this week whatever he wants to, but it is essentially a bye week for Bama to work on themselves. There just happens to be a game on Saturday to cap things off. Bama needs to get better to keep their championship hopes alive. Right now, those hopes are looking pretty sickly.
Alabama can’t expect to slip into the College Football Playoff with a loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. It would be impossible to justify including Bama with so many good teams that will likely finish the season with just 1 loss. It would even be hard to put Alabama ahead of Cincinnati if the Bearcats can win the remainder of their regular-season games. Is Bama better than Cincinnati? Almost certainly. However, the College Football Playoff committee would look like a crew of television executives intent on ratings if it put a 2-loss Alabama team in the Playoff over an undefeated Cincinnati team. Some have claimed that the College Football Playoff committee was biased when they initially had Bama at No. 2 in its first rankings. However, only the final ranking matters. If Bama actually made the College Football Playoff with 2 losses over more deserving teams, it would be tough to argue against those that think the process is biased.
The committee wouldn’t be able to defend itself if there are still a handful of 1-loss teams from the Power 5 conferences at the end of the season and Bama still made the 4-team finals with 2 losses. As it looks now, that’s the decision that the committee will have to make.
Unless there’s a rash of losses among the 1-loss Power Five teams, there’s no way Bama could make the College Football Playoff if they lose to Georgia, which will be the case if Bama doesn’t improve post haste. Perhaps Bama could sneak into the College Football Playoff if other highly ranked teams stumble and lose a game. Perhaps the Crimson Tide could sneak into the College Football Playoff with 2 losses if they played Georgia in an ESPN Instant Classic, overtime, one-score loss. Perhaps. That all seems like a long shot. Does Bama really want to depend on other teams to play for a national championship?
There are a number of areas in which Alabama could improve in order to improve their chances of winning a championship on their own merit. Let’s start with the offensive line. Bama’s offensive front allowed too much pressure on quarterback Bryce Young on Saturday. That resulted in a sack-fumble that LSU recovered. A play like that against Georgia could make the game unwinnable for the Crimson Tide. Alabama’s offensive line was also only able to generate 6 yards of rushing — yes, 6 yards of rushing. That’s astonishingly bad. The Crimson Tide averaged .2-yards per carry against LSU, which comes out to just about 7.2-inches per rush. That’s called breaking down the numbers.
Young also needs to take it upon himself to get better. He looked patient in the pocket early in the season as he was always determined to keep his eyes downfield in order to complete a pass. That’s usually a good thing. However, Young seemed too determined not to run somewhere along the way. He is athletic. He can make plays by running the football. He should do so as long as he protects himself.
It’s hard to knock Alabama’s defense. The Crimson Tide has given up just 308 yards per game, which is 2nd-best in the SEC behind — you guessed it — Georgia, which is giving up just 224 yards per game. Bama’s defense could have success against Georgia’s offense. After all, the Bulldogs don’t have a proven playmaker at quarterback.
Alabama is fortunate that it has this week to self-assess. Unfortunately for the Crimson Tide, Georgia also has a cake walk for the rest of the regular season in which it can focus on getting healthy and ready for Alabama. Georgia plays at Tennessee, which could be somewhat challenging, then hosts Charleston Southern and finishes the regular season with a game at Georgia Tech.
The schedule sets up for both teams to improve. One team just needs that time much more than the other.