TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The last question of another Saturday in grand old Bryant-Denny Stadium had come and gone when Nick Saban went riffing unprovoked.
“You know, one thing I’d like to say to everybody . . .”
“. . . We’ve got a good team, but our team needs to do a lot of things to improve, and if what our team has accomplished to this point makes them in any way not take into account the kind of teams that we have to play in the future, and they underestimate what we need to do to improve, so that we can become a better team, and don’t just take things for granted, that we’re going to show up because we’ve got an Alabama uniform on, and win the game, it’s not gon’ happen that way, and it’s going to be everybody’s choice in the organization . . .”
“. . . So I would appreciate it if you would, you know, sort of look at some of the things we didn’t do well, and write about that, so maybe I can show it to the players and say, ‘Look here, man: Here’s something you can do better.’ ”
“All right. See ya later.”
Okay. Sometimes, No. 1 Alabama does score with a troubling rapidity. Look at the six touchdown drives Saturday in its 45-23 win over No. 22 Texas A&M, and only two of them — two measly drives, out of six — managed to keep possession going for longer than six plays. Nightmarishly, none reached double-digit plays. A 30-yard “drive” required one play. A 92-yard march took two: a 35-yard run up the right by a marvel of a college running back — sorry, a fair-to-middling college running back — named Damien Harris, followed by a shovel pass to Henry Ruggs III, who tightroped up the left sideline for a hasty, 57-yard touchdown.
So thrilled did Ruggs become with his path to the end zone that he failed to think of stepping out of bounds. He lacked utterly the presence of mind to run a loop around the field and resume operations at the line of scrimmage. What is this freaking crud? What kind of ball control and clock management and football-in-the-trenches is this?
Now, it’s true that Tua Tagovailoa provides such a smorgasbord of quarterbacking excellence that he is one of those rare athletes people might pay to see even if they don’t like sports, and his play constitutes a form of beauty and grace, and watching him throwing a football can make you think of watching really great athletes do really basic things, and you might even mention Roger Federer striking a tennis ball if that weren’t over the top.
Yeah, but Texas A&M ran 72 plays to Alabama’s 61, and it held the ball for 32:36 to Alabama’s 27:24, and as Saban pointed out after a question about whether this is the best offense he has ever had — news flash: No! Not yet! — a best-offense-he-has-ever-had would have won those statistical departments in addition to scoring 215 points in the first four games and making four opposing defenses look hapless, helpless and hopeless.
Besides, did anyone still awake notice that last Alabama possession, starting with 7:36 left? It nabbed only two first downs. It moved the ball into Texas A&M territory, but not very far into that territory (the 40-yard line). So the Crimson Tide punted, and it left 3:03 on the clock for Texas A&M to march 69 yards in 12 plays and nibble within 18 yards of scoring to cause a 15-point loss rather than a 22-point loss. Texas A&M called a timeout with 13 seconds left, trying to score, and it called another with three seconds left, still trying to score, and the game did end when backup quarterback Nick Starkel managed to greet the dramatic 0:00 by having Alabama’s 301-pound Johnny Dwight ram into him as part of an unusually dead incompletion and nearly Alabama’s eighth sack.
But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about the rank, entitled incompetence that enabled Texas A&M to wage this drive almost nobody on earth will recall. Those not recalling it will include the Alabama students, who mostly had departed after halftime to do whatever students go to do and which thus stirs our envy. This left barely enough people in the final minute from among the usual 101,821 to forge a sweeping rendition of “Friends In Low Places,” or to sing the part of “Sweet Home Alabama” that notes, “Now, Watergate does not bother me . . .”
The defense gave up a 99-yard touchdown drive, an act believed to violate a phalanx of local laws, zoning ordinances and good manners.
Also, the punter got mock-cheered with 13:02 left. If you have never attended a game that stood at 45-16 when a punter got mock-cheered, then you missed that.
With former Alabama punter JK Scott, who seemed to have a lifetime contract here, employed suddenly in Green Bay, freshman Skyler DeLong did the punting, and he got his mock cheer by booming a 50-yarder that improved upon his earlier 31-yarder and 13-yarder. Of course, he also had a 51-yarder and a 35-yarder that pinned Texas A&M at the 1-yard line, but we’re not talking about that right now.
The Alabama players seem to know what we’re talking about right now.
“We recognize what we do well and we recognize what we’ve got to improve on,” linebacker Anfernee Jennings said.
“Obviously, we’re not unstoppable,” tight end Hale Hentges said, “because they stopped us” several times. He did veer into verbal danger when he said, “Sometimes, when we’re all out there, and such a close-knit unit, we can feel unstoppable.” He then recovered and said, “Running the ball, we can get better on, especially the tight end.” His run blocking might have been lousy, but it’s hard to say for sure before looking at film.
Finally, the running back Harris, possessor of a voice so smooth and good that he ought to run the ball and call his own name on public address just after running the ball, said, “As many points as we’re scoring and plays we’re having, there’s still things we aren’t doing correctly.”
He’s right, and that’s what makes this team so slightly terrible.