In a timeless realm, Alabama football narrowly survives the clock — and itself | Hurt
Without going into all the ramifications of Einstein’s theory of relativity, one could sense the proof of at least one part acting out before the nation’s eyes Saturday.
No. 9 Florida, which was on the verge of escaping an early 21-3 deficit and altering a lot of things that people have come to accept about Alabama football, scored a touchdown to pull within two points, 31-29, with 3:10 remaining.
And remaining. And remaining.
Not everything that determined the win for No. 1 Alabama happened in that last clockless period, but a lot did. The Crimson Tide defense, thought to be the saving grace of this year’s team, had already been gashed for more than 250 yards. And while the stop on the potential game-tying conversion wasn’t the stuff of legends, it was a stop nonetheless.
"Our guys just did a really good job up front on that,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “(We) knew the play call because of the way (Florida) lined up earlier.”
There was also a perception from Florida fans that Emory Jones, their quarterback, held the ball too long on the sort of inside option. Of course, time was passing relatively for those fans, too. Then came Dan Mullen’s decision not to try an onside kick. I don’t question that call, but will note that no one would have kicked away to the 2020 Alabama team.
“The clock certainly didn’t help any,” said Saban, the High Priest of Small Things Turning Into Big a things. “It’s nice to know if the clock is running or the clock’s not running. We had to tell the quarterback when the clock was running. So we were milking the clock when (it) wasn’t running. We were going off the 40-second clock.
"It did complicate it a bit, but I think our players did a pretty good job of managing it. The one time that we got it down to one (second), I was running to call a timeout, but we got the play off. We just need to do a little better job in those situations. We get out of the huddle at 15 (seconds), be ready to run the play at 8 seconds and snap it at 3 or 4.”
There is one certainty. Regardless of how it's measured, Alabama’s long, long streak of success against the Gators (since the 2008 SEC Championship Game), the SEC East (since the Stephen Garcia Explosion at South Carolina in 2010) and Dan Mullen (since forever) did survive intact. Also, the most important stretch of time now is the span of just under two weeks before Ole Miss comes to Tuscaloosa. Lane Kiffin and Matt Corral would have been feasting Saturday.
The defense needs to make corrections. One wonders what might have happened with no Will Anderson Jr. The offense wasn’t perfect. One wonders what might have happened without a Jase McClellan. The Alabama penalties were far beyond Saban’s threshold, and some were costly at the worst times. All of that is a likely target for Saban when he speaks again on Monday.
There were other strange things going on. Alabama had just three possessions in the second half. All were productive. But it could never get Florida off the field.
To be fair, Alabama plays in a world where perfection is the expectation, its fans anguishing over what goes wrong far more than celebrating what went right enough to get a win in a tough place. That’s Alabama football, though, and no amount of time, no matter how you measure it, will change that.