Southern Miss may not be the storm, but clouds could be gathering around Alabama football | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
Sports Editor

First of all, go back and check the scoreboard and you’ll see that Alabama football didn’t lose to Florida. The Crimson Tide won a 31-29 classic at The Swamp.  

That outcome did still leave work to do. Listen long enough and you will hear “constructive criticism” about every unit on the field, with the possible exception of quarterback and tight end. Sophomore Bryce Young was poised under pressure, if not perfect. The return of Jahleel Billingsley and the continued development of Cam Latu gives Alabama valuable weapons. But no team, not even Florida in 2020, can make an entire team out of a quarterback and a tight end. 

Nick Saban knows this. He knows there were missed assignments on offense and defense. He knows the schedule is, after the game against Southern Miss, a steady diet of SEC opponents, none of them particularly easy. He knows that stopping those opponents is critical. 

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"We didn’t execute,” Saban said Monday in the wake of the Florida game. “There was one time when … they ran a speed option or something and we didn’t have enough guys there. But it really came down to executing. It really came down to players. They did some different things, but you’ve got to adapt to those things and play things on principle.

"At times, we didn’t do that very well. And we weren’t very aggressive. We didn’t get off the field on third down, especially in the second half. We had opportunities to get off the field on third down and did not do it. A 99-yard drive, we had several opportunities to get off the field. We had a third-and-19 and didn’t get off the field. Those are plays that you have to make in the game.” 

Alabama Football / Paul William Bryant /  Bear Bryant / Ray Perkins

There have been been points in the histories of Alabama and Southern Miss football when the intersection of good USM teams and Alabama at ebb tide resulted in Southern Miss winning or tying the Crimson Tide. One can make a fair argument that, with one exception, each of the five Southern Miss wins or the two ties were a barometer, or, better yet, a smoke alarm, alerting Alabama that things were not in the natural order.

That’s no insult to Southern Miss. Alabama has always had far more plentiful resources, a far longer history and the check-writing power to assure that it always played USM at home. But two USM wins and a tie from 1953 through 1956 should have sent a message that tough times were ahead.

The same things were true when the Reggie Collier-led Golden Eagles tied Alabama in 1981 and beat UA soundly in 1982. No one whispered much criticism of Paul “Bear” Bryant in his day, but a late timeout by Alabama saved Southern Miss from confusion and allowed the tying field-goal try. (Bryant himself certainly took the blame for the call.) In 1982, the message was clear: that year’s Southern Miss team was just better and Bryant, perceptive as ever, saw the handwriting on the wall.

In 2000, when USM shut out Alabama 21-0, the Crimson Tide was being pulled in six degrees of disarray. The one exception might have been the infernally hot 1990 game, Gene Stallings’ first as the Alabama coach. USM’s quarterback was Brett Favre and while he didn’t have a great statistical day, it was still nice to have Brett Favre.

The two curves aren’t really close this year. Alabama is, after all the consternation of last weekend, the No. 1 team in the nation. Will Hall, the former West Alabama head coach, is just starting a rebuilding project. There will be no definitive yardstick this year, barring the supernatural. It is always wise to keep one eye on the barometer, though, even for the slightest movement. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt