Monday, November 7, 2011

week 9 thoughts: lessons from the Game of the Century

Credit to for the image
One of the reasons I love sports so much is that it is a distraction from "real life," whatever that may be. Of course, it's often a pretty good metaphor for it, as well.

See, here's the thing I've learned as I've gotten older: In life, people lose, for the most part, more often than they win. Most folks are attempting to simply make it out with a draw. And it's never more clear than on a day like Saturday: With the attention of the entire nation centered on Tuscaloosa, Alabama came out focused and prepared, and put everything — heart, soul, whatever else — on the line.
It should have been enough. It was not. LSU was also focused and prepared, equally as talented, and also put everything on the line — heart, soul, whatever else. The Tigers made better decisions; the Tigers got more breaks. They won and we did not.
Well, that's life, folks. Friends turn against you. You get passed over for promotions you think you deserve. People you love die.
The trick, in football as in life, is whether you can absorb the hits and keep moving forward. This team may not win a championship, but it can still be very good. And it still has business to tend to.

That was the nice half of my analysis from Saturday. The other half of it is this: Saturday's game enforced a couple of rather disturbing trends that have sustained themselves during the past few seasons for this program in big games.
The first is our offensive (in every sense of the word, really) tendency to squander possessions and leave points on the field. It was made painfully clear last year vs. Auburn — and no, not all of that was on the coaching staff, but still — and it's cropped up periodically this season (specifically, on two separate occasions against Penn State and Arkansas, this team couldn't gain a yard on three plays). It hasn't really hurt us until now, but that's because we hadn't played anyone on LSU's level until now. In the first quarter on Saturday, we had a chance to take control of the game, put LSU on its heels vs. the best defense in the country three different times, and we failed. I'll cede this point to OTS:
As a general rule you need to get some points any time you go inside your opponent's 40-yard line, and we could not do that several times last night. More specifically, even barring touchdowns, what we needed to do was advance the ball deeper into LSU territory to allow the reliable Jeremy Shelley to convert the short-yardage kicks that are within his range. Unable to do that however due to a sputtering offense, we were left to try errant pot shots with a hapless kicker with no real chance of success.
This, of course, leads to a second disturbing trend: Alabama is getting beaten in the fourth quarter in big games. And not just beaten physically, but outcoached as well. For all the talk about Alabama's coach staff and its cerebral abilities, it almost seemed like we overthought things Saturday; LSU won because Les Miles and his staff stayed out of the way and let their players play.
Take the overtime possession, for example: Alabama went screen pass (incomplete); took a terrible penalty for illegal substitution (really?); incompletion (Richardson was open on a wheel route); then took an even more terrible sack. Missed field goal, game over. On the biggest possession of the game, everything that could have gone wrong did.
(One other note: Why were we playing for overtime anyway? At the point where Bama held LSU on a third-and-1 near midfield, roughly 1:30 remained in regulation, with Alabama holding all three of its timeouts. Saban made no effort to stop the clock, effectively saying, "I do not trust my offense to give us a chance to win this thing here; I'd rather take my chances from the 25." I sort of understand — if Alabama attempts to mount a drive and turns it over, he gets barbecued for giving the game away. Even so, go win the game, man!)
Now, here's where you have to admit that the difference between "overcoaching" and "getting outplayed in the fourth quarter" is perilously thin. AJ McCarron missed a wide-open receiver on one of those many red zone trips; the Wildcat play that was ultimately intercepted was actually open, only Marquis saw it about a second too late and lollipopped the throw (and even then, Williams nearly caught it); two (unnecessary) illegal blocks on Mark Barron's interception of Jarrett Lee kept Alabama from a first-and-goal that almost surely would've netted a touchdown in the third quarter. And it's certainly not the fault of the coaches that Maze failed to field a punt in the fourth quarter that swung the field position to LSU's advantage (we can question why he was out there in the first place with an ankle that clearly was limiting his mobility, but if the ball did in fact hit a camera wire, that's just a bad break).
(Notice how I haven't mentioned the kickers at all? I'm not going to — frankly, at no point did we put them in a position to be successful. That's on the whole team, not just them.)

And that's life: a few decisions don't work out, you catch a bad break, you get beat. You pick yourself up and you carry on. So, let's do that.

1 comment:

-D. said...

Well stated, sir. This team still has a lot to play for. I hope we keep all the frustration pent up until Nov. 26, though.