TUSCALOOSA — Texas A&M torpedoed Alabama’s national championship hopes Saturday, but they were gone before the Aggies ever came to Tuscaloosa.
While the 29-24 loss to Texas A&M probably is the broom that swept the Crimson Tide out of the national picture, tired Alabama left its edge on the Tiger Stadium turf in Baton Rouge seven days earlier.
If you want to figure out how the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide team could lose Saturday when it was favored to win by double-digits, look there.
Alabama rallied and survived a huge game at LSU, and it marked the third week of an intense, emotional stretch that included a home win over a ranked Mississippi State team and a rivalry game at Tennessee.
This past week, practice went OK but not great. The Tide gave an OK effort, but not an effort with an edge.
In a moment of blunt honesty afterward, Nick Saban said he was concerned at the beginning of the week because the Tide looked “out of gas.” Alabama center Barrett Jones said it’s like they forgot how they became No. 1 in the first place: “It’s not that we were better; it’s because we worked harder and practiced harder.”
Texas A&M had the edge. Every great team meets an opponent like that sooner or later — they aren’t as good, but for one particular day, they have enough focus and drive.
Legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant used to tell his players they needed to remind opposing teams immediately whey they had won a national championship, but on Saturday, Saban’s Tide did everything but that by falling behind 20-0.
This one looked as if everyone had fallen out of sync. That includes the coaches. Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier called a strange game. He underused the running game, which seemed to work so well when Eddie Lacy had the ball.
That even extends to the final play, when Alabama had fourth-and-goal. The Tide ran a quick pass to the right, in which a receiver would pick off a defensive back, leaving an opening for a teammate. The pick wasn’t clean, and the throw got intercepted.
Bad play-call or sloppy effort? Maybe Alabama should’ve run the ball? You can make an argument either way.
Afterward, Saban — again in honesty mode — said whenever a play doesn’t work, he usually says they should’ve run something different.
Also, once again, Alabama’s offense struggled after halftime. After slicing the A&M lead to 20-14, the Tide didn’t get another touchdown until 6:09 remained in the game. It’s a common theme this year — third-quarter struggles. The Tide doesn’t come out of the locker room offering anything new.
Defensively, Alabama started slow, too. Again, at times the Tide defense dominated, but at others, it appeared as if it was simply holding on — well, that and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is good. Very good. He’s like Denard Robinson or Michael Vick, but with a much more accurate arm.
To top it all off, Alabama lost its last chance to win through the tired sloppiness that invaded the Tide’s day.
Saban had warned his players all week Texas A&M liked to run a “hard count” to try to trick the defense into jumping offsides. He warned the players again as the Aggies lined up to punt, which would’ve given Alabama the ball back with decent field position and about 40 seconds to work with.
So what did Alabama do when Texas A&M ran a hard count on the punt?
Yes, the Tide jumped offsides. A sloppy mistake to pile on a day full of them.
It’s hard to defend the mountain top every week. Alabama just couldn’t do it one more time.
Contact Decatur Daily Sports Editor Mark Edwards at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DailyEdwards.