Due to its collective offensive prowess, the skills of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the new nature of college football, Alabama football is surpassing records for scoring and yardage every week this season. Whether it is a sixth straight 40-plus point total to start the season, or Tagovailoa surpassing the school record for touchdown passes in about half the playing time it took for A.J. McCarron to establish the previous mark, the Crimson Tide is shredding the offensive record book like so much cabbage into coleslaw, whirring along with the hiss of a hundred Ginsu knives.
And Nick Saban has heard Just. About. Enough.
“It was in this very seat where ‘rat poison’ was born,” Saban said in a Kyle Field media room after Alabama polished off Texas A&M 47-28 on Saturday. “I remember that from two years ago. When I hear things in the media about players are (NFL) draft picks or are breaking records — that’s not what I want players to be focusing on. You’ve got to focus on what you are doing right now. ‘What can I do right now’ — that’s what is going to affect the future.”
“Rat poison,” in case you don’t remember (or you are a rat and have blocked it from your mind) is Saban’s label for the toxic distractions that can surround a team that is constantly praised, collectively or individually. The poison, as the rodent-killing analogy goes, looks sweet and tasty, but once you swallow it, bad things start to happen.
There are probably a couple of reasons that Saban pulled out the reliable bottle of rat poison this week. Frankly, he could probably live without Alabama being ranked No. 1 again. He almost certainly is doing his best to be patient with a defense that once again allowed more points and yardage than is the Alabama norm. Third, while no one is criticizing Tagovailoa, who ignites the offense, he looked less sharp than usual at times on Saturday. Again, consider that a better-than-60 percent completion ratio (21 of 34), 293 yards and four touchdowns brings about the critic’s raised eyebrow and the grumbling about “less sharp than usual.” That’s the standard that Tagovailoa has set. He did throw an interception (he can be forgiven one every 175 attempts or so.) His second-half numbers, in particular, weren’t especially Tua-like (8 for 15 for 132 yards and a touchdown.) Again, he threw only twice in the fourth quarter as Saban continues to seek to establish a physical, grind-it-out, control-the-clock and keep-the-defense-off-the-field identity. No one, and certainly not Nick Saban, thinks that Tua is anything less than spectacular. But the more the narrative becomes “well, Tua can do it…,” the likelier it becomes that the rest of the team, consciously or subconsciously, will absorb what they hear.
The talk isn’t going to go away, just as it didn’t go away in 2017, the year that rat poison was born. What washed it away that season, and no one will be comforted by this, was a loss at Auburn. Saban has talked about the value of such a cold slap in the face (my phrase, not his) being necessary occasionally. That year, it worked and Alabama came back to win the CFP national title. So when he speaks of history after a 47-28 win, understand that there is a context. He isn’t being cranky or combative — he’s describing his concerns.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt