Nick Saban had questions. He was at the podium in a shirt and tie. The media members who served as honorary coaches were standing nearby in crimson and white polo shirts.
“You’ve got the player of the year in college football on your team, you’ve got the Biletnikoff winner at receiver,” Saban said after Saturday’s annual A-Day game. “You’ve got more guys coming back on offense than probably any team in the country. I mean, what went wrong?”
The Crimson team, which included quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, was beaten 31-17 by the White team, which included Alabama’s first-team defense.
Saban had questions but was also quick with his answer.
“The difference in the game is, the red team drops the ball on third-and-two in the red zone,” Saban said. “So they left four points off the board. The next time they’re going two-minute, the guy makes a first down and drops the pass and the other team goes two-minute and scores a touchdown. So you took an opportunity away from yourself to be able to score and let the other team go score. That’s like a 10-point swing in the game, and the game is completely different.”
That sequence, in the second quarter, began when Jeudy dropped a third-down pass that led to a field goal to give the Crimson team a 10-3 lead rather than 14-3 if it had finished with a touchdown. The White team scored two touchdowns before half to take a 17-10 lead.
“I would say as an offense, we feel like we left a lot out there,” Crimson wide receiver DeVonta Smith said. “It’s never what the opposing team does, it’s always us not converting on third down. Everything is open and we drop passes, that’s just us.”
The White team pulled away in the second half thanks to quarterback Mac Jones, who completed 19 of 23 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns. He had an early interception that led to the Crimson team’s first touchdown but was 17-for-20 passing after that. He had the benefit of competing against the second-team defense. He also had wide receiver John Metchie, who won MVP honors after catching five passes for 133 yards.
“These spring games, don’t read too much into it,” Saban said. “The good guys played against the good guys so the coverage was tighter, the tackling was better, everything was better when the ones were playing against the ones. When the twos were playing against the twos, not quite so much. So some plays get made because the guy is open, the window is bigger. … You have to look at it for level of comp (competition) when you’re looking at the players.”
Tagovailoa finished the game 19 of 37 passing for 265 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His younger brother, Taulia Tagovailoa, completed 6 of 9 passes for 93 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Freshman Paul Tyson was 1-5 passing with an interception in limited time.
Hillcrest product Brian Robinson Jr., entering his junior season this fall, led all rushers with 11 carries for 42 yards for the winning White team. He also had six receptions for 52 yards. Najee Harris had nine carries for 23 yards and a touchdown for the Crimson team against the first-team defense.
“We didn’t have a full complement of offensive linemen, and I get that,” Saban said. “But we have to be able to run the football better than what we demonstrated in this game on both sides of the ball.”
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.