The national pastime, formerly baseball, is now the effort to find some crack, some flaw, some previously unexplored back door built into the Death Star’s computer program, something that will save the non-Alabama nation from the Crimson Tide.
For all those yearning to be free of the yoke of Alabama domination, here’s a tiny glimmer for you from Nick Saban himself.
“We’re really trying to get refocused here,” Saban said on Wednesday’s SEC coaches’ teleconference. “We’ve got to get our mind right and do what we need to do to get ready.”
That could pass for general coach-speak. There are a couple of reasons to think that might not be the case. First, while Saban does occasionally rely on somewhat standard answers — who wouldn’t, given the sheer number of interviews in which he participates — he is usually insightful, even if he is isn’t expansive.
His words mean something, and when a phrase like “trying to get refocused” occurs, sharp listeners notice. Second, there’s a bit of history at work here, if not quite as powerfully as people think. Over the past decade, the Alabama-LSU series has been a tough physical battle. Despite the one-sided score, the physicality was a feature of last Saturday’s game as well.
There have been times when the toll the LSU games takes on minds and bodies has carried over into the following week. The memories of last season in Starkville, when Alabama had to draw on some serious inner resources to win in the final minutes, are fresh. There is also frequent mention of the 2012 game when a clearly weary Crimson Tide fell behind Texas A&M and the magical Johnny Manziel (at least he was magical in that year) and suffered a home loss that might have kept UA out of the national championship game had it not been for some November chaos in other games.
No one is saying Nick Fitzpatrick is Manziel. The Mississippi State quarterback is, however, fiercely competitive and his running ability alone creates issues LSU quarterback Joe Burrow does not. What’s more, Mississippi State’s defensive front seven is as good as any group in the SEC. There will be no rest for the weary. Alabama is, at this point, weary and bruised and that isn’t just the players on the injury list but a larger group (including some big names) who are operating at less than 100 percent because of this bump or that bruise, or a wrapping, or a brace.
Now, two years ago, in the same schedule situation, Alabama crushed Mississippi State 51-3, so a tough game or an upset isn’t something that “always” happens. For those looking for any hope of a Crimson Tide misstep, though, something that “might” happen is good enough at this point.
That raises another issue. The agencies in charge of monitoring Nick Saban Official Rat Poison have given up trying because the historic praise lavished on this Alabama team went past critical levels long ago. The win against LSU pushed things even further up the scale.
For many observers, the game in Baton Rouge was Alabama’s “test” or “its biggest hurdle” until the College Football Playoff. But if UA players take that attitude, then Mississippi State, or Auburn, or Georgia (in Atlanta) will be happy for the opportunity to bite Alabama on the backside.
Saban has done a remarkable job of keeping his teams from looking ahead during the historic 5-in-9 run, but when he starts saying “refocus,” there’s an obvious subtext. The Crimson Tide might have too much firepower to lose — but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have to aim.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.