I’m guilty.

I’m guilty of overlooking the belief Alabama’s offensive line had major questions to answer, especially after losing Evan Neal to the NFL Draft. I’m guilty of overlooking the fact that the Tide had major question marks at receiver, and that chemistry takes time. But most of all, I’m guilty of overlooking a stat I kept harping on last year.

In 2021, 6 of Alabama’s 8 SEC matchups were 1-score games in the 4th quarter. When Nick Saban went on WJOX with Greg McElroy and Cole Cubelic and claimed that 2021 was a “rebuilding year,” we overlooked that for much of 2021, it was a grind. Getting to a national championship has a funny way of masking that.

This Alabama team might make it to another national championship, but darn it if it isn’t flawed like last year’s squad. That much was evident when the Tide needed a go-ahead field goal with 15 seconds remaining to win at Texas on Saturday. As in, the same Alabama squad who was a 3-touchdown favorite against a Longhorn squad who most recently went 5-7 and missed out on bowl eligibility because it lost to Kansas.

Flawed, Alabama is. Unbeaten, Alabama also is.

For the time being, the latter is more important. We were a shanked Will Reichard kick from saying a dude named “Bert Auburn” delivered the go-ahead score in what would’ve been the upset of the year in college football.

That didn’t happen. Some will read this column and say “a win is a win.” They’ll claim that style points are overrated and when it comes to beating Power 5 teams on the road, just surviving is all that matters.

There’s some truth in that. There’s also some truth in that winning can also be alarming.

In those “had to have it” moments, it’s still seems like Bryce Young and Will Anderson are the only ones who can be trusted.

Alabama sure couldn’t trust the ground game to pick up a 4th-and-1 conversion while clinging to a 1-point lead with 4 minutes left. It was fitting to watch Roydell Williams trip over an Alabama offensive lineman’s foot in that spot. After that 81-yard run by Jase McClellan in the 1st quarter — that actually bested Alabama’s entire 2021 total for runs of 40 yards with 3 — there was no ground game presence. Outside of that 81-yard touchdown, the Tide compiled just 80 rushing yards the rest of the game.

That’s the problem. This Alabama offense cannot consistently run the football, which puts too much pressure on Young to make miraculous plays. Young is at the mercy of his new-look group of receivers.

Jermaine Burton, AKA the guy who earned preseason first-team All-SEC honors even after he was limited to 27 catches at Georgia, was nowhere to be found. Ja’Corey Brooks, AKA the former blue-chip recruit who was expected to become Young’s next John Metchie, had a sequence with consecutive catches but was also a non-factor for nearly the entire day. Credit a scrutinized Texas defense for not allowing those Tide receivers to get any sort of separation for most of the afternoon.

Alabama desperately needs a healthy Tyler Harrell. Without the Louisville transfer, who has been dealing with a foot injury in the first part of 2022, that Jameson Williams absence is going to be felt on a weekly basis unless someone else starts stretching the field.

The good news for Alabama? There’s not a more poised player in the country than Young. Even when his receivers can’t get separation within the scheme, he’s able to somehow buy time and turn something out of nothing.

This game felt awfully similar to the Iron Bowl. Young was asked, after a totally inefficient day, to save his best moments for last and lead multiple scoring drives. He did that. It probably helped that, like in the Iron Bowl, his counterpart was a backup with a limp.

Yes, I do.

Oh, wait. I thought you just asked me “does Texas win that game if Quinn Ewers stays on the field?” Yeah. In his first start against Power 5 competition, Ewers passed whatever eye test he needed during his lone quarter of action before that Dallas Turner hit (which should’ve been allowed) forced him into an awkward landing on his non-throwing shoulder.

That’ll be the Texas spin zone, much like some pretend that Colt McCoy’s injury in the BCS National Championship was the ultimate sliding doors moment (it wasn’t). A moral victory for Texas? Perhaps. The bigger takeaway was that Alabama is by no means about to embark on a 2020-like run of dominance through its schedule.

Forget rankings. For now, that’s somewhat irrelevant if voters ding the Tide and vault Georgia to No. 1 come Sunday afternoon. More important is actually diagnosing those flaws and making the proper adjustments. As frustrated as Alabama fans probably were with Bill O’Brien, keeping Jahmyr Gibbs as a fixture in the passing game was crucial (I know he wasn’t targeted heavily after his blown assignment in protection but he was still the team’s leading receiver).

There might not be a remedy to a mediocre offensive line. What is there a remedy for? Discipline. That’s the most coachable area for Saban. His team committed a Saban era record 15 penalties (and it could’ve been worse with some of those non-defensive pass interference calls). All of those came in the first 3 quarters.

Even Will Anderson couldn’t seem to avoid neutral-zone infractions. He also had a strange late hit in Bijan Robinson, which appeared to be a mental lapse in not realizing that the Texas tailback was already ruled down. Anderson did, however, make the top defensive play of the day when his sack on 3rd down stalled Texas’ late drive. Granted, the aforementioned “Bert Auburn” still drilled a 49-yard kick to take the lead.

Young’s heroics prevented what would’ve been an obvious, but still stunning headline.

Sooner or later, though, this formula will cost Alabama. It did last year at Texas A&M. It could’ve at Auburn, vs. LSU or at Florida. This isn’t about just playing games on the road. Alabama’s habit of playing down to its competition isn’t specific to where or when it plays.

When Alabama was nearly a unanimous preseason No. 1 in the AP Poll, I supported it. I pointed to a national runner-up team who returned the 2 best players in the country with a reloaded group of skill-players. And when you’re led by the guy with a national title appearance in 6 of the last 7 seasons, well, that helps your case, too.

But what last year’s SEC Championship and runner-up run covered up was that comfortable wins were hard to come by. At least against Power 5 competition. As long as Young is healthy and able to bounce back from the alarming amount of hits he takes at his size, Alabama has the ultimate ace in the hole. That’s what’ll allow Tide fans to avoid total panic after Saturday’s showing.

On second thought, who are we kidding? This is the program who has 1 loss against a non-top 15 team in the last 11.5 seasons. Why wouldn’t Alabama fans have high standards?

Saturday was a reminder that 2021’s struggles aren’t totally in the rearview mirror. It’s natural for us to roll our eyes when Saban discusses the problems with his team. After his team’s latest scare, he told the FOX crew “we’ve got to get better.”

No eye roll necessary this time.