After losing as No. 1: What 2021 Alabama football can learn from 2010 Crimson Tide

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

The parallels between Alabama football 2010 and Alabama 2021 at this point in the season are striking.

Each team entered the year fresh off an undefeated national championship. Then, both Crimson Tide teams started 5-0. By the time early October arrived, each also held onto the No. 1 ranking.

Then chaos struck on Oct. 9. 

On the same exact day 11 years apart, Alabama lost on the road to South Carolina (2010) and Texas A&M (2021). On those days, two unlikely heroes at quarterback, Stephen Garcia and Zach Calzada respectively, led their teams to upsets.

And the losses snapped 19-game win streaks for Alabama both times.

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, left, shakes hands with Alabama head coach Nick Saban after the Vols' 41-10 loss to the Crimson Tide at Neyland Stadium Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010.

“We went to South Carolina and played about like we played today,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said in College Station.

There are plenty of similarities between the two circumstances until now, but this year's Alabama team gets to determine whether the paths continue on the same route or if they diverge.

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This year’s Alabama team would be wise to learn from the mistakes of the 2010 team, which ended up losing three games. 

“How are people going to look at you?” former Alabama receiver Brandon Gibson said. “‘Oh, this is the team that lost to Texas A&M in 2021.’ No. You don’t want people to say that and that be the end of it.”

Gibson, a member of that 2010 team, knows the feeling. He said issues on that team stemmed from accountability.

“The stumbling block back then was really leadership,” Gibson told The Tuscaloosa News. “Coming off that 2009 championship, I think we just felt entitled.”

Defensive back Will Lowery said once they made it to the top in 2009, they saw themselves as the best early in 2010. They started to focus on all the NFL talent they had on the roster, with everyone wondering where everyone would get drafted.

Then South Carolina hit.

“When you come up short,” Lowery told The Tuscaloosa News, “it’s almost a reminder to get back to those fundamentals and kind of that, ‘Hey just a reminder that you’re not as good as you think you are, so good that you can just show up and win.’”

Nov 26, 2010; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers quarterback Cameron Newton (2) is grabbed by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Dont'a Hightower (30) and defensive back Will Lowery(29)  at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The 2010 team started to get dejected, Lowery said. Players let the loss weigh on them. And that prompted more losing later in the season, with defeats at the hands of LSU and Auburn.

“Some folks probably started looking internally,” Lowery said, “and, ‘How can I protect myself in this?’”

Looking internally can be valuable when it’s not in an effort to protect but to determine next steps. Since the Texas A&M loss, Saban has mentioned several times the need for players to take account of how they feel and how they contributed to the loss so they can improve. Lowery echoed the same sentiment; he said it’s crucial for players to determine how they can better themselves and not point any fingers.

Tuning down the infamous outside noise is also something both Lowery and Gibson mentioned as a significant stumbling block to avoid. There’s plenty of thoughts others have after a loss for what to do different or how to fix elements of the team.

“Don’t listen to anybody outside the program,” Gibson said. “Anyone. News. Media. Family. Friends, if (they’re) not in those walls every day: sweat, blood, tears.”

Gibson also recommended that the 2021 team focus on the little things. That’s a phrase mentioned plenty throughout sports, but Gibson experienced the pain of not focusing on the little things in the loss to LSU later that season.

He was part of the punt return team, and it was his job to make the call for the specific type of return Alabama ran. He failed to notice that the LSU punter had moved up another yard or so closer than usual. Then LSU ran a fake punt and converted.

“Little things like that can get you beat,” Gibson said.

The Tigers won the game 24-21 in Alabama’s second loss of the 2010 season.

Whether this year’s Alabama team reaches that number will be determined by how well the Crimson Tide can heed the words and warnings from their 2010 predecessors.

“Really, really dig deep and understand this opportunity you have right now, how you respond, not react,” Gibson said, “is going to be vital for the success you have not only the rest of the season but really the success you have for the upcoming years in your life.”

Contact Alabama football reporter Nick Kelly: nkelly@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly.