SEC Media Days: A shot at Saban? Clemson's little brother? Alabama Day had it all ... and a Chucky doll
HOOVER, Ala. — Everything is different on Alabama Day.
The crowds are bigger, the buzz louder, the anticipation greater. And that’s just among the media contingent upstairs.
Downstairs in the hotel lobby, absolute madness. Hoover Hysteria. The scene is familiar, bordering on cliche. There were 2 Bear Bryant lookalikes Wednesday. The fans’ jersey numbers change — 13 was popular Wednesday — but their passion doesn’t. They lined up hours before the festivities began to get a glimpse of Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
There were chants and cheers, punctuated with a drawn out “Roll Tide!”
“It’s just like a postgame,” Jerry Jeudy said. “Fans come up to you, I’m kinda used to it. It’s a great feeling knowing people out there supporting you.”
Unique, too. Other teams draw supporters, but nobody is a bigger draw in Hoover than the Tide. Much like the score of a typical Tide game, it’s not really close, either.
It might mean more to most of the league, but one Wednesday (almost) every July, it means everything to the people in this town.
On that and everything else that mattered most on Alabama Day, aka Day 3 of the SEC Media Days.
This revenge tour feels different
Alabama effectively dodged the Clemson questions Wednesday, but there is no ducking the obvious: Clemson is the team to beat in 2019 … and arguably beyond.
“We don’t really focus on what happened last year,” Jeudy said. “We just focus on what can we do to improve our game … to be the best team we can be to get to the national championship.”
Jeudy said it, but Alabama largely stuck to the script Wednesday. There were no wild proclamations or promises. No revenge talk. No emotion-fueled guarantees. That’s not part of the Process.
Tua Tagovailoa was the most revealing, saying in an odd way, it was good that Alabama lost because teams learn more from losing than winning. And while complimenting Trevor Lawrence, he added he hopes he gets to face him again in the Playoff.
Much has been made about Saban’s success after a relative failure — in his case, not winning the national title. His Alabama teams have rebounded from a bowl or Playoff loss to win 3 national championships. Many expect 2019 to be a rinse and repeat.
The landscape has changed.
Alabama didn’t just lose the national title game, it got blown away by a team whose best players were underclassmen, a team that, finally, is recruiting on Alabama’s level, led by a quarterback who will be a favorite to win 1, perhaps 2, Heismans. The Tigers also have first-round talent at running back and wide receiver and a veteran line good enough to give them all they time and lanes they need to make magic.
The scary part for Tide fans isn’t that 44-16 happened. The scary part is that Clemson’s offense should be even better in 2019.
Saban addressed the disappointing end to 2018. His answers weren’t revelatory. Two years ago, he talked about not wasting a failure. There was no slogan Wednesday.
Instead, Saban said this offseason has been about re-establishing the standard. That’s a macro concept that includes discipline, execution, focus, commitment.
“I don’t know you ever get over things like that,” Saban said, without mentioning Clemson by name. “We obviously looked at the game several times, but it’s not that difficult to figure out. Watching it over and over usually doesn’t give you any extra insight.
“We didn’t execute very well in the game. … We’re looking forward. This is a new season. How are we going to respond?”
Saban is the master motivator. Maybe the gap isn’t as great as the scoreboard suggested. Making thinking so is akin to being a prisoner of the moment. Maybe it really was a matter of complacency, a lack of accountability, a general sense that success at Alabama is guaranteed, not earned. Maybe all of that resulted in 44-16.
Saban will address that. Oh, my, he will address that. Intangibles matter. But none of it will matter if the Tide can’t find somebody to cover Justyn Ross.
Meanwhile in Charlotte, a Trevor Lawrence sighting?
Trevor Lawrence didn’t attend ACC Media Days on Wednesday. The Tigers knew he’d be a topic of conversation, though.
Offensive lineman John Simpson was prepared.
They wanted the quarterback…we sent the stunt double. 😂 pic.twitter.com/hn8P7IdmHd
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) July 17, 2019
Genius. Seriously does anybody have more fun than Dabo Swinney and Clemson?
It’s a good thing he didn’t ask Saban that question
Clemson was a frequent topic of conversation Wednesday. Alabama obviously was asked about the Tigers.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp was, too.
A reporter noted that the Tigers have won 2 recent national titles and asked Muschamp whether he thought South Carolina was Clemson’s little brother.
Clearly agitated by the question, Coach Boom didn’t mince words or waste time dismissing it.
“No. We are not the little brother. We’re not. No.”
Kinda gave us in the room a dose of what referees must go through.
16-0 vs. assistants? Saban doesn’t like that stat, either
Jimbo Fisher, Kirby Smart and Muschamp drew chuckles with their responses to Nick Saban’s oft-quoted record against his former assistants.
“I’m well aware,” Smart interrupted.
“I’ve never heard that,” Fisher joked.
“He give you that stat?” Muschamp quipped.
Saban said Wednesday it’s “not a very fair stat.”
“All of the former assistants that we have, they get jobs, Saban said. “They don’t take a program over that has the established, you know, talent, culture, and all that that we have at Alabama. So when they get the opportunity to establish those things in their program, they’re going to be able to beat Alabama and compete with Alabama.
“So that’s something that — most of the time when you get a job, it’s because the guy that was before you didn’t do a very good job, so you have lots of work to do to bring that team to that level. And obviously, you know, I think a lot of those guys are going to be able to do that extremely well. Some have done it already. So, I think it’s a matter of time until those challenges get greater and greater for us.”
Media Day frenzy not so ferocious this time
South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley made his third consecutive appearance at SEC Media Days. Much like how the game has slowed down for the fourth-year starter, he felt a lot more at ease in front of the microphones Wednesday, too.
“I’m more relaxed now,” Bentley said. “First year it was like a bunch of piranhas out there.”
The SEC is no joke, Part 24,163
Joe Moorhead was brash last year in Atlanta. The first-time SEC head coach amplified the expectations surrounding a talented, veteran Mississippi State club that eventually sent 3 guys into the first round of the NFL Draft. Remember when he told players to get fitted for rings and told Nick Fitzgerald to make room on his mantel for a Heisman Trophy? For all of the good Dan Mullen did in building the program, Moorhead quickly pointed out some of the flaws and vowed to fix them.
It was national championship or bust.
The actual season proved a tad more difficult than talking season.
Mississippi State didn’t win 10 games. Fitzgerald was spotty, Moorhead’s offense at times anemic.
Wednesday, Moorhead essentially said “my bad.”
Clearly, his new diet includes some humble pie.
Given a do-over, he said he would have not as been so public with the big-picture goals. “I should have managed that better,” he said.
Man moves to the South, loses weight?
Bravado isn’t the only thing Moorhead lost.
Moorhead is a big man, a former college quarterback. He arrived last year weighing about 250 pounds. He has talked frequently about his fondness for Southern cooking.
Clearly, he didn’t turn away many gas station fried chicken dinners during Year 1 in Starkville. By the time last season ended, Moorhead said he weighed 295 pounds.
He looked noticeably more fit Wednesday, having lost more than 50 pounds. He credited 2 things.
He said his mom noticed the weight gain and suggested maybe, just maybe, he might want to cut back on some of the calories.
And, “I was tired of recruits asking me if I played left tackle or right tackle.”
So, Tua … who is your favorite target?
That question drew a big smile from the SEC’s best quarterback.
“You’re going to get me in trouble, bro,” Tagovailoa said.
Tagovailoa said he enjoyed all of his receivers. Who wouldn’t, right? All four have first-round potential. But he explained why, too.
“They don’t really care (about stats),” he said. “They’re not selfish, ‘oh I want the ball, I want the ball.’ These guys are all selfless.”
One example? Tagovailoa said all of them enjoy running “brotherhood routes.”
“A brotherhood route is when they know they won’t get the ball, but they’ll get somebody open.”
A very real moment with McTelvin Agim
Media Days no doubt can bring out the crazy, but Arkansas’ McTelvin Agim used his platform for a far more serious matter. He honored a deceased relative.
Agim caught everybody’s attention when he brought a Chucky doll with him to the podium.
In all honesty, I was expecting a light-hearted story.
Instead, Agim said the doll is his way of remembering a 19-year-old cousin, John Neal, who was shot and killed more than a year ago. Agim said Tuesday was his cousin’s birthday.
Arkansas DL McTelvin Agim has a Chucky doll with him today, but it has a very special meaning to him. pic.twitter.com/SAxLwStUf4
— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) July 17, 2019
Dylan Moses on Clemson loss: ‘We were out-coached’
I made the point recently that Dabo Swinney had supplanted Saban as the best coach in the country. Obviously he’s beaten Saban twice in the past 3 seasons, but there’s much more to it than the scoreboard. It’s the how. Swinney has won despite having lower rated recruits and fewer NFL Draft picks. That’s why last year’s championship game was an absolute game-changer. Swinney had NFL weapons on both sides of the ball and it showed. His current recruiting class is the best in the country. Clemson, in the parlance of our times, is trending.
But that’s my opinion, one not shared by a lot of SEC scribes.
Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses gave the most revealing answer of the week.
“It was more so just preparation. I wouldn’t say (Clemson) was the better team,” Moses said. “We both had great athletes on both sides of the ball. We didn’t prepare as much for Clemson and they obviously prepared more for us. They game-planned better for us. We were out-coached.”
Out-coached. I’ve read that before …