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CECIL HURT: Better players, at least for LSU on Saturday, just too much to overcome

There is nothing more frustrating for a football team than having a monumental victory in its grasp, only to come away with a handful of hypotheticals.

That’s what the Alabama Crimson Tide brought away from Saturday’s game with LSU. A win that would have shaken the college football world slipped away and Alabama was left with the agonizing question — “what might have been?” — and the tantalizing hope — “what is going to be?”

On Saturday night, only the former question mattered. In spite of LSU’s clear-cut talent advantage — an edge that was most obviously profound on the LSU defensive front, but was apparent elsewhere as well — Alabama had chances. The Tide didn’t capitalize when it mattered, in those minutes when it enjoyed a 34-27 fourth-quarter lead and LSU was clearly on the ropes.

Alabama couldn’t retain possession and keep the clock moving with the lead. It couldn’t keep LSU from converting a decisive fourth-down play into a 32-yard touchdown pass to its best receiver (and most obvious target). It couldn’t hang onto the ball on the ensuing drive, fumbling away its own best chance to win at the end and simultaneously gift-wrapping LSU’s golden opportunity. In desperation time, the Tide couldn’t hang on to a final pass.

“Prime-time players make plays in the prime time of the game,” Tide coach Nick Saban observed. “We had the opportunity to do it and didn’t do it and they did. That’s the story of the game.”

The fact is, LSU had so many prime-time players that it was amazing that Alabama had a chance at all. The Tigers dominated the game at the line of scrimmage, but Alabama was able to hang around by generating some hidden yardage. There was yardage from penalties, many of the undisciplined variety by LSU. There was yardage from special teams, especially the return game. And there was occasionally yardage when Alabama would catch LSU in a weak moment and convert a big play.

But it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the fact that, down in and down out, LSU was putting bigger, stronger, faster athletes on the field. That’s not meant to be a back-handed putdown of the Tigers, by the way. Being the most talented team in the league isn’t a bad thing. As Saban said when he was asked the rather obvious question of whether he could attract such talent to Alabama, “That’s the idea, isn’t it?”

Still, Alabama has to wonder what might have been. What might have been if Matt Caddell’s 41-yard catch hadn’t been overturned on what appeared to be a very close replay call? What might have been if John Parker Wilson had thrown the ball away rather than fumbling under the pressure of the LSU blitz in the final two minutes? Could Alabama have managed, improbably, to steal a victory? It’s possible. Alabama might have schemed and fought its way to a stunning upset, riding good coaching and good effort into the winner’s circle.

Instead, talent crowded it out. LSU has lots of talent, especially on defense. Alabama was never able to handle LSU’s defensive front. Glenn Dorsey disrupted the Crimson Tide all evening.

”I said that in the headset during the game,” Saban told the press afterwards. “I said maybe we should try running away from No. 72, because we sure weren’t getting him blocked.”

The immediate result was that Alabama could never sustain a running game. And, as Saban explained, the consequences of that were grim.

”When you can’t run the ball, you create a large amount of negative down-and-distance plays, second-and-9, second-and-11, third-and-10,” Saban said. “Those are now blitz pressure situations, and we can’t block it. We did take advantage a few times and make some plays, but they also sacked us seven times. And there were times when they were in split safeties, which meant that they didn’t have the box loaded — and we still couldn’t run. We’ve got to execute and we’ve got to do a better job of coaching to give the players a better chance.”

The other hypothetical that emerged from the game — “what will be?” — is small solace to Alabama in the short run. In the long run, Saban’s intention is to bring big, strong, dominant players to Alabama, just as he brought them to LSU. When he does so, losses like the one Alabama suffered on Saturday — and it was a loss, not a “moral victory” — will be far less frequent. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Until then, Alabama can only think of what “might have been” on Saturday night. It’s not what “should have been,” not against a team like LSU, now celebrating its fifth straight win at Alabama.

Part of the equation that led to the previous Tiger wins in their recent run of dominance — coaching — has been altered. But the end result also depends on players, and that hasn’t been altered yet.

Cecil Hurt is sports editor of The Tuscaloosa News. Reach him at cecil.hurt@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0225.
You know, I am usually a fan of Cecil, but that is indeed a bit too negative. It isnt the Pro's, so the players are going to miss some opportunities.

He didnt sound very appreciative of the fact it was obvious to see they were playing their hearts out against a team that overmatched them from a lot of angles.

I mean, man, guys are trying that hard for themselves, their fans, and their school, knowing full well that only a few of them will ever make it to the pro's, and are trying to live in the moment,

I just dont have the heart to criticize them, the system is still new, and we all know they don't have the players to fit the schemes yet(from a physical perspective).

That said, I will continue to be a fan of Cecil's, but I am really happy with what is, and what might be in the future.
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