Alabama was already facing an unusual amount of skepticism entering this season.
Now, the questions facing Nick Saban’s juggernaut of a program have intensified dramatically. The 10th-ranked Crimson Tide had never lost this early in a season during Saban’s 16-plus year tenure before falling 34-24 to No. 4 Texas.
The game laid bare issues in Tuscaloosa ranging from too many penalties to mistakes by quarterback Jalen Milroe to offensive line play to the pass rush. It left a sense of urgency for the team to resolve those problems starting Saturday at South Florida.
“The focus is 100% on how we get it turned around,” Saban said Monday. “The future is now.
“We’ve got to do a better job as coaches to help (players) be able to play better more consistently in the game. Put them in a position where they have the best chance to be successful. But I think all these things are very fixable. I believe in our players.”
And Alabama fans have long had faith in Saban, who has added six national championships to the program’s trophy cases. But he had to replace his two superstars, quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. Even with them, the Tide lost two close games last season.
Offensive lineman Tyler Booker left no doubt about the team’s mood two days after the latest, more decisive defeat.
“We’re (ticked) off. I’m not going to lie,” Booker said. “Who wants to lose at home? There’s only been two undefeated national championship teams here at the University of Alabama (under Saban). All of our goals are still attainable.
“We can still win the SEC West, still win the SEC, and get into the College Football Playoff. This was just a wake-up call for us. We’re all taking heed to what coach is saying. In order to be who we are and who we need to be, to play to that Alabama standard, we have to execute.”
It’s clear some things have to change quickly with the Southeastern Conference opener looming in two weeks against No. 17 Mississippi.
Milroe threw a pair of interceptions and was sacked five times. Two of Alabama’s 10 penalties negated touchdowns. Alabama’s defense gave up big plays to Quinn Ewers & Co. and didn’t produce a sack.
Texas was able to run down the final 7:14 of the game before Ewers took a knee for the final three plays in front of a stunned crimson and white crowd that’s used to being on the other side of that scenario.
The Tide’s 128-week streak as a Top 10 team barely stayed alive after a seven-spot slide. Top 10 isn’t the goal at Alabama, though.
An offense that had to replace three offensive linemen, along with Young and fellow first-round pick tailback Jahmyr Gibbs did not exactly click.
Milroe was 14-of-27 passing for 255 yards and two touchdowns. Running backs Jase McClellan, Roydell Williams and Jamarion Miller combined to gain just 63 yards on 20 carries. Saban was blunt when asked about the team’s offensive identity.
“I don’t know that in this past game we had much of an identity,” he said.
Saban admitted he considered replacing Milroe against Texas and bringing in Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner, but he also said it wasn’t really discussed on the sideline.
The good news for Alabama is there’s plenty of time to salvage the season.
“It was like an early test in the semester,” Saban said. “We didn’t grade out very well on the test, so what are we going to do to get a better grade? I think that’s what we have to really learn and grow from and make a commitment to.
“I think our players with the kind of character and attitude that we’ve shown so far as a team, I think they’ll respond the right way. And I think the coaches will do the same.”
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll