Alabama looks to bounce back, build against the Bulldogs

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Alabama looks to bounce back, build against the Bulldogs

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

Ben Stansell | @Ben_Stansell, Managing Editor

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Even before the last second ticked off of the scoreboard in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night, officially marking Alabama’s 46-41 loss to LSU, the Crimson Tide faithful had already started doing the math. 

While many fans walked into the streets in stunned silence, others chatted amongst themselves, debating what it would take for Alabama – now with a loss on its resume – to make the College Football Playoff. 

The mental gymnastics have only ramped up since then, but don’t expect coach Nick Saban to be among the theorizers. Like always, he’s focused on what he can control.

“The No. 1 thing that I’m concerned about, just so everybody gets it, is how we complete the season,” Saban said. “I don’t want to talk about anything other than the game that we have this week. We’re not making any predictions or whatever.”

To Saban, talking playoff scenarios is like discussing unicorns or fairies. Instead, he’s focused on bouncing back from the loss with a win against Mississippi State in Starkville this weekend.

Even though the loss was discouraging, the way the Crimson Tide roared back in the second half was promising. After getting punched in the mouth and falling behind 33-13 to LSU at halftime, Alabama outscored the Tigers 28-13 in the final two quarters. 

“The coaches always talk about playing all four quarters, so I feel like that’s what we did. And the team, we did a great job of just staying in and not getting away from it and just fighting to the end,” junior wide receiver DeVonta Smith said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the team and how we responded to the adversity that we had.”

Along with outscoring the Tigers in the second half, the Crimson Tide outgained them. LSU totaled 309 yards of offense in the first two quarters, while Alabama managed just 196. But in the second half, Alabama’s offense found its groove and outgained LSU by 95 yards.

Saban expects the Crimson Tide to build on its strong finish against LSU when it faces the Bulldogs.

“In the second half, I was really pleased with the way our team came back and really persevered, played hard, fought their way back in the game, executed a little better and a lot of good things,” Saban said. “The big question is, how do we build on that?”

The answer won’t be known until Saturday, but if recent history is any indication, Alabama could bounce back in a big way. In the games following its last two regular season losses (Auburn in 2017 and Ole Miss in 2015), the Crimson Tide outscored its opponents by a combined margin of 52 points.

Many college football pundits and armchair experts believe a similarly dominant statistical performance against Mississippi State could stoke its playoff hopes. The Crimson Tide’s players, on the other hand, are less worried about winning in style and more concerned with improving.

“We’re trying to go out and dominate, but that’s nothing that hasn’t changed over the course of the season,” senior safety Jared Mayden said. “We feel like we should be able to dominate any team that’s put in front of us. I know everyone’s focusing on that, especially since the mistakes that we made last week. We need to go out and clean up those mistakes so now we can go out and have an even more dominant performance.”

At the top of the list of areas in which Alabama needs to improve after LSU are turnovers and missed tackles. For the first time this season against the Tigers, the Crimson Tide lost the turnover battle. Junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s fumble and interception helped LSU jump out to a commanding first-half lead. The Tigers never looked back despite quarterback Joe Burrow’s fumble in the second half. 

Missed tackles, of which there were 25, according to Saban’s grading system, also cost Alabama greatly. Just when it appeared the defense had Burrow or running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire trapped in the backfield, a missed tackle would lead to them escaping for more yards.

While Mississippi State doesn’t have as many explosive offensive weapons as LSU, tackling will still be imperative against the Bulldogs. And for Alabama supporters hoping to see their team in the playoff, a massive win in a rebound game might be just as important.