With Alabama’s loss to Auburn on the final play of the final regular season game, the Crimson Tide lost its chance to play for a third consecutive national championship. Instead, Bama, 11-1 and ranked third in the nation, will be playing Oklahoma, 10-2 and ranked 11th, on Thursday in the Louisiana Superdome.
“There're lots of lessons to be learned for every team when you have adversity,” Alabama Coach Nick Saban said Wednesday. “And certainly we had adversity in our last opportunity as a team to play. So how we respond to that adversity will say a lot about our football players individually and collectively, who need to make a commitment now to do the things that they need to do so that we can play the way we're capable of playing, and I think that's the major focus that we have, how we're going to respond to the circumstance that we have.”
It is natural that Saban is asked if he can gauge his Crimson Tide.
“I’ve been pleased with the way our team has prepared, the way we've practiced for this game, the way we've responded to do the things we need to do to play well,” Saban said. “I think one of our players said it best: ‘Our victory is what defeated us.’
“When you win, sometimes you start to lose focus on the things that are important to being successful. The process of things that you do to pay attention to detail, play with discipline, do the little things correctly, all of a sudden don't seem as important and you don't practice as well, you don't prepare as well, you don't pay attention to these things, and all of a sudden it starts to show up in your play.”
That’s the bad news. But there can be good news to follow.
Saban said, “I think sometimes when you have a disappointment that you're a little more ready to respond to get back to doing the things that you need to do to be successful. And I think that's the challenge for our players and that's why this is an important game for us, is how do we respond to getting back to doing the things that we need to do to play Alabama football, be the kind of football team that we really aspire to be and have an expectation to be, which I really don't think we finished the season that way.”
Saban recently said that he wanted to start the Alabama program over, start like it was 2007 again, at the end of this season. Wednesday he expounded on that sentiment.
He said, “When you start a program, you focus on the fundamental things that you feel are really important in the program, whether it's everybody buying into the principles and values of the team so that you can be a good team and everybody having a positive attitude about trying to accomplish the goals that you've established for the team, everybody being responsible for their own self-determination that they'll go do the things they need to do so they can do their job well, and the willingness to invest your time and have the discipline to do things at a high level on a consistent basis.
“If those are the fundamental things we want to accomplish, sometimes you do inventory and you say, ‘We've gotten away from that a little bit and maybe we need to get back to it.’So maybe people need to be more accountable to it. Maybe they need to be more aware of it, whether it's coaches, players, myself, whoever is involved. So that's kind of what I meant by what I said when we got to that, when I made that statement, is we need to get back to the fundamental things that have made us a successful program through the years and everybody has got to trust and believe in those things so that they really know and believe that's what's going to help us be successful.”
In the season-ending loss to Auburn, he said, the Tide got away from the things that had brought 10 consecutive victories to that point. Bama, Saban said, “didn’t prepare as well, didn't pay attention to detail as well, didn't play with the same discipline, and it caught up to us. So fundamentally we want to get back to those same things so that we have a better chance to be successful.
“And everybody's got to buy in. And if 134 players don't buy in, we need to play the players that do, because I think that's the only way that everybody on the team can see that those things are important to the team. Because if somebody doesn't do those things and you still play them and somebody else is doing those things and they're not playing, that's where the team chemistry sort of goes to pot, because you're saying that you don't really believe in them, because you're not holding everybody accountable to do that, to get rewarded to be able to play. And I think most people in our organization have responded in a positive way.”
The coach also said that much has to come from inside, and he responded to a question about two of his best players and leaders, quarterback A.J. McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Saban said, “I think that coaches probably can affect things from outside in to some degree, but I think how the team gets affected from inside out probably ultimately determines how much buy-in you really have to whatever any coach says. Obviously we've had some pretty good leadership on our team from AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley, both outstanding players. They both love Alabama. Football is really important to them and how the team does is really important to them.
“But I think there're two things about leadership. You can have great leadership, but there have to be people on the team that are willing to respond to the leadership and to buy in and do the things that they need to do. And I think that's the critical piece to what is important for our team in this particular game, is everybody going to go dig deep, do the things that they need to do to get back to being the kind of players they're capable of being in terms of how they execute every play in the game for 60 minutes . So that's the challenge.
“And you can ask me to predict what that's going to be and you can ask me all kind of questions about where we are, but really until we go play, nobody really knows for sure. And that's why we play. And so we're going to do everything we can to have our team well prepared mentally and physically to go out and play their best football. How they respond to that sometimes is not something you can predict.”