No one wants to eat pork and beans. Not even the media coaches at A-Day.
You’d be a sore loser too if you missed out on a steak dinner.
The big-picture goal for A-Day and Alabama’s 14 preceding spring practices is to prepare the team for the 2018 season. It’s not about winning and losing. Some of the strategic decisions reflect that. The White Team would have given running back Damien Harris more than five carries if it was out to win at all costs. The Crimson Team wouldn’t have been throwing the ball in the final minute with a one-touchdown lead if Alabama was playing LSU or Tennessee instead of itself.
But at an individual level, no one wants to eat the beans. Tosh Lupoi gathered the White Team defense with 1:10 left even as his offense took the field with its final chance to win the game, trailing 17-12.
“Let’s get ready for the next series,” he said.
It was one more chance for teaching before the clock on spring practice ran out. It was one more chance to not eat beans. Lupoi, always one of Alabama’s most animated coaches in practice, elevated his energy to another level for the spring game. It was visible from the start.
The White Team retreated to the visitor’s locker room before the game, where offensive players heard from Dan Enos and Lupoi briefed the defense.
“Take care of the football,” Enos said. “The ball is the program.”
Lupoi tells the defenders “We love our teammates,” but they need to “rattle” Crimson quarterback Mac Jones. That’s easier said than done in the early goings, as Jones starts 8-of-11 for 132 yards with a touchdown. White trails 14-0. My team is more likely to need can openers than steak knives.
Football often appears to be organized chaos. There’s plenty of organization and plenty of chaos on the sidelines. The defense lines up on one set of benches, with the defensive backs, linebackers and defensive line sitting left to right. That way, the position coaches whose units are most closely tied to one another can communicate quickly. Lupoi tries to clean up the early miscues.
“Re-call the calls so everyone can hear it,” he says. “That’s going to save one person from getting beat.”
A pair of field goals shortens the lead before halftime. Lupoi is optimistic when he addresses the defense. He starts by reviewing the most recent mistakes and areas the defense needs to improve so the plays are still fresh in their mind, then works backward to the start of the game.
“We’re one turnover away from taking the lead,” Lupoi says.
Harris has a strength coach help him stretch out “just in case” he gets more carries in the second half. There’s still hope when the White Team leaves the Fail Room. There’s even more hope when two more field goals make the score 14-12.
The offense is on the field for what could be the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, but the defense barely even watches the plays. They’re paying attention to Lupoi, defensive backs coach Karl Scott and defensive line graduate assistant Kyle Pope.
“That ball is going to spit out,” Lupoi says, recalling his halftime warning. “Who’s going to be the one to scoop and score?”
Just then, quarterback Jalen Hurts delivers a 59-yard pass to Devonta Smith. The White team is in field goal range, trailing 14-12. In one moment, steak is back on the menu. In another, it’s not.
The offense stalls out, and kicker Joseph Bulovas misses a 43-yard field goal. A minute later, he makes a 48-yarder for the Crimson Team to make the score 17-12. A late touchdown pass from Mac Jones makes it 24-12.
“I’m proud of him, but I’d like to be eating steaks,” White Team left tackle Jonah Williams says of Jones.
Saban speaks to the team in the locker room briefly. The Monday night dinner will be the final time the team is together before it breaks for summer. He reminds players to make the individual decisions they need to make to put themselves in position to help the team.
He also reminds them that there’s no getting out of the steak or beans bet.
“I’m going to watch you eat them,” Saban said.
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.