This is Where the football season never ends! Bama News first, and foremost, interesting SEC news, and salient football news:
Nico Johnson doesn't always have something to say, but on Saturday night, the University of Alabama's senior linebacker got everyone's attention after a 29-24 home loss to Texas A&M. Monday, Johnson said he, quarterback AJ McCarron and guard Chance Warmack were among those to address the team following the game. "Me and AJ (McCarron) and I think Chance (Warmack) stood up after the game and said we were in the same situation last year. We can't just give up because we had a loss," Johnson said. "The hope for playing for the national championship is slim to none, but we have to go out and play our best ball. We haven't played our best ball the last couple of weeks and it showed."
"I know the questions are, ‘Why didn’t you do this, why didn’t you do that, why did we call this play, why didn’t we call that play?" he said. "But it still goes back to why are we even in that situation relative to how we played the rest of the game. Why are we in the situation that we don’t really respond as a team emotionally with any aggressiveness or energy level until we get behind 20 to nothing?" Alabama running back Eddie Lacy said the team is trying to do as Saban has asked and just worry about their games — not the games of other BCS contenders. "If we finish the rest of the games, then hopefully we’ll have the same chance we had last year to play for the national championship. But we just have to take it one day at a time ... and see what happens," he said.
"The last two games, I'd put both those in the same category," Saban said on Monday. "We didn't play as well as a team. You all (reporters) don't think so because we won one and we lost the other one. If we'd have won this one, you wouldn't have been concerned now either. I was concerned then. "You all live in the results world out there. We kind of live in the process world. It's hard to get people to respond. It's kind of a Bluegrass Miracle phenomenon. You play bad, you win the game. Then the next week you get your (butt) kicked because nobody responded to playing bad because you won. You won the Bluegrass Miracle."
Johnson said Alabama lost its focus and its "why" over the past two weeks. Not even a close call against LSU was enough to snap the Crimson Tide out of its funk. It had nothing to do with looking ahead to a potential spot in the national championship, he said. "I don’t think we understood how important every game was," Johnson said. "I don’t think we understood that you can get beat week in and week out in the SEC, and it showed. "I think everybody understands now. I hate it that we had to lose, but if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. We’re going to re-motivate ourselves this week and go forward."
What lessons from last year can be applied this year? "Just finish," Lacy said. "If we finish the rest of the games we have left, then hopefully we’ll have the same chance we had last year to play for the national championship, but we just have to take it one day at a time and one week at a time and see what happens." A few leaders on the team spoke up in the locker room Saturday after the loss, Lacy said. "The main thing is, don’t get down on the loss," Lacy said. "It happened, put it behind you, we still have a few more games to play to prove we’re the best team and we just have to play like it for the rest of the season."
"Yeah. I mean, you always need time to rest," sophomore left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio said. "We work pretty hard, so we’ve got to use these times of rest right now. We got these two days off. Just light practice, and I think that could be useful." Kouandjio asked if the feeling this week compares to a year ago when the Tide lost to LSU. "I’m not sure," he said. "I know we had a bad game and we had a couple mistakes. ... All we’re worried about right now is just getting better, together as a team. And just working real hard to play 'Bama football. Whatever happens, happens after that. Wherever the chips fall. It’s not really in our control or anything. "So we’re just going to play 'Bama football and see where that takes us."
What does the defense need? Alabama has an easy game on Saturday against Western Carolina, so if Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart want to look at subtle personnel or schematic changes, now's the time. The Tide won't make major moves, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the team work with different looks over the next few weeks leading into the SEC championship against Georgia. And on offense, did Alabama deviate from its script in attempting to keep pace with Kliff Kingsbury's offense? Moving into a 20-0 hole helped change Alabama's mindset, but the Tide have now had more pass attempts than carries in back-to-back weeks. Before the game against LSU on Nov. 3, the Tide hadn't done that since Kent State on Sept. 3, 2011.
And yet: when Nick Saban insisted after the loss that "there's still a lot for this team to play for" down the stretch, he knows from whence he speaks. Two of the three teams Saban has led to BCS championships –- LSU in 2003, Alabama in 2011 -– won the title with a loss on their resumé. At this point last year, still sporting a fresh wound from its overtime loss in a winner-take-all "Game of the Century" showdown with LSU, the eventual champs were ranked behind both LSU and Oklahoma State in the BCS standings. They were also on the verge of being jumped by one-loss Oregon and/or Oklahoma if the Ducks or Sooners won out and claimed their respective conference championships –- an avenue closed to the Tide by virtue of the head-to-head loss with LSU. By the end of the month, Oklahoma State, Oregon, and Oklahoma had all been felled by double-digit underdogs (all on the same weekend, in fact), and Alabama was back in the driver's seat at No. 2. And we've seen the BCS standings take even stranger turns than that. Of course, that team needed help to overcome its stumble, and this team will need help. Unlike the 2011 champs, though, the 2012 Tide will have an additional chance to help themselves in the SEC Championship Game, where they'll get the winner of the East Division, Georgia, in what could conceivably amount to a play-in for the BCS Championship Game. For the moment, the question is out of Alabama's hands –- and the SEC's -– in favor of the teams that can still claim perfection. But we don't have to look far to understand, at this time of year, just how fleeting those moments can be.
Saban said there's plenty to learn from how last year's team responded to its first loss. - "They responded the right way. They were very positive – not about losing, they were upset about losing – but they responded the right way in terms of how they finished the season and gave themselves an opportunity in the end which worked out in a positive way and they took advantage of it. "They didn’t have any control over it, but they did have control over what they did. And I think they did it the right way. And I think the goal is to try to get this team to respond in a positive way, as well."
It all goes back to the run-pass split Alabama used Saturday. Against Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide called only 29 running plays and 36 passing. For some teams nationally, that’s a typical split. For others, that actually is too much running. But for Alabama under Nick Saban, that’s an awful lot of passing, even with a quarterback like AJ McCarron, who ranks seventh nationally in passing efficiency. In the previous 63 games, which date back to the start of the 2008 season, Alabama has had a more pass-heavy split only three times, all in 2010. The Crimson Tide lost all three: Auburn (25 run calls, 46 pass), LSU (28, 37) and South Carolina (22, 42)
You think you’re mad about Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M? Nick Saban says he can’t get away from it. "I catch it from everybody," the Crimson Tide coach said Monday. "My wife’s mad. My kids are upset. Everybody. I am, too. But how am I going to affect everybody around me so that we respond the right way to the circumstance that we’re in?" It’s just another question after a two-week stretch that has produced far more questions than answers about Alabama, whose fall to No. 4 in the BCS rankings came a day after its 29-24 loss to the Aggies. A big part of Saban’s "process" is constantly self-evaluating – and the scrutiny is even more intense after a loss. The coach said every position – from him down through the players – is examined. "Obviously, when we don’t play well, that means did you plan well enough?" the coach said, starting a list of basic fact-finding. "Did you practice well enough? Did you practice the things that you ended up playing? Were the players prepared? Were they emotionally ready to play the game?