Tide’s most recent trip to Columbia a reminder to stay humble

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Tide’s most recent trip to Columbia a reminder to stay humble

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

A 19-game winning streak was snapped. The defending Heisman Trophy winner was stymied. Dreams of back-to-back titles were dashed as upstarts clad in garnet rejoiced.

Alabama’s 2010 loss at South Carolina remains one of the most surprising of head coach Nick Saban’s tenure. Those Gamecocks, who finished the season 9-5, were ranked No. 19, making them the lowest-ranked team to beat Saban’s Crimson Tide in the last 11 seasons. 

As Alabama prepares to travel to Williams-Brice Stadium for the first time since, Saban’s message remains the same: overlook no opponent.

“What I remember from it is we got the lining kicked out of our britches. I don’t know if you know what that means, but that means you get your butt kicked so bad you got no seam in the back of your pants,” Saban said. “… I think that the players on our team need to have the proper respect in terms of what they need to do to prepare to play a good team like this.”

It was a quintessential Saban response, steeped in tenets the program has been founded upon like “play to a standard” and “trust the process.”

But because it’s Alabama, there’s always hype. Junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa likened the attention around the Crimson Tide to that of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. After years of ineptitude, the Browns began to look like a legitimate contender at the end of last season and entered 2019 as a popular dark-horse Super Bowl pick.

Both teams have a galvanizing quarterback, a surplus of talent at the skill positions and an edge a chip on the shoulder that constantly strives to earn perpetually absent respect.

Cleveland, after its most optimistic offseason in a while, opened its regular season with a 43-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

“The Browns, look at all the guys they have, and no one’s really been talking about the Titans as much,” Tagovailoa said. “It really doesn’t matter about the guys you have on a team, it really matters about how you guys come together, how you guys play as a team.”

Tagovailoa frequently answers reporters’ questions with Saban-esque maturity. Most college quarterbacks would be thrilled with passing for 227 yards, three scores and a 66.7% completion percentage in a 62-10 victory. But Tagovailoa agreed with his head coach’s assessment of the passing game as “sloppy” in last week’s win over against New Mexico State.

“There were things that were open that I didn’t take, and then it just goes right back to sideline adjustments, things that we’ve talked about on the sideline that I didn’t take advantage of,” Tagovailoa said. “Even when I ran and I scored, I believe Henry Ruggs was open on the seam route.”

A few of his throws were off the mark, and even junior wide receiver Jerry Jeudy had a couple of uncharacteristic drops. Those early-season mishaps before bigger SEC games remind the team that no matter how many touchdowns it scores and how little time it takes, it cannot afford to overlook the details.

“You can’t really listen to the outside, you know,” Jeudy said. “But just reminding how last year we thought we were so good and toward the end we lost it. We got blown out.”

On the wall inside Alabama’s practice facility, directly adjacent to the practice fields, a hand holding up four fingers is posted. On the fingers are written the words “Commitment,” “Toughness,” “Effort” and “Discipline,” and the thumb folded across the palm says “Pride.”

Students hold up their four fingers and wave their arms to “Basket Case” entering the fourth quarter of every game, but probably few know they’re symbolizing the central elements of the program. 

In a three-part documentary released this week by The Athletic, head athletic trainer Jeff Allen explained that the team’s speed and explosiveness numbers, measured by its Catapult tracking device, were 15 to 20% lower in the national championship against Clemson than the rest of the season.

Saban, though, said the numbers were also down during practice that week, foretelling the shocking loss to the Tigers. Most of the team’s players were in elementary school for the 2010 loss to South Carolina, but they won’t soon forget the humbling defeat in January. That failure, to steal one of Saban’s favorite quips, won’t be wasted.

“We got humbled, I think, last year, so we know what the expectations for our team are, and we take that every week and we think about that every week,” junior safety Xavier McKinney said. “… We know we’re not invincible, and we know we’ve got a lot of work to do, so we’re going to keep doing that and continue to get better.”