We have all heard Saban say that playing like champions is more important than winning championships.
Those theories will be tested more than ever as the Alabama Crimson Tide has to deal with something it has not faced since 2007 – bouncing back from a regular-season loss.
South Carolina broke a lot of the Tide’s streaks, including 19 straight wins, which was the longest in the nation and nine straight wins against top-25 opponents. One thing Alabama held onto is its streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher. The streak is currently at 40 games. Despite losing to South Carolina on the road, Saban’s message has not changed.
“I’ve always talked about improving as a team, everybody individually and collectively doing the things that you need to do to make yourself better so you can play to a standard and so you can be the best you can be at what you do,” Saban said.
“Sometimes that’s very difficult to do, especially when you are satisfied with the success that you’ve had to that point. It doesn’t become about playing to a standard, it becomes about winning a game.”
The players all expressed how much the team will be humbled by this loss.
“We put our life into this thing,” senior quarterback Greg McElroy said. “I’m sure a lot of people are disappointed in the loss, but the guys in the locker room are the ones that put in 12 months of effort, dedication and sacrifice to be able to play on Saturdays.”
Running back Mark Ingram said, “Some of the guys who’ve never experienced a loss here at Alabama just thought we could show up and we would win because we are Alabama. That’s not the case. We have to work hard, practice hard and play with a lot of intensity. We have to grow from this.”
The Tide lost more than a game against South Carolina. They also lost wide receiver Julio Jones to a fractured hand. Jones has since had surgery, but his status is still uncertain. The team also lost offensive lineman D.J. Fluker. Saban believes he will be out at least one week.
Alabama won’t have much time to dwell on the loss. It’s homecoming for the Tide and the Mississippi Rebels come to town for another Southeastern Conference Western Division showdown.
Alabama will look to get back on track this Saturday against Ole Miss. The No. 8 Crimson Tide and Rebels will kickoff at 8 p.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Rebels are the second of six SEC teams to have a bye before playing Alabama.
Alabama has traditionally dominated this series. This will be the 58th meeting between the two SEC teams. Alabama is 47-8-2 (includes vacated wins) against Ole Miss all-time. The Tide has also won nine straight in the series at Bryant-Denny Stadium and 23 of 24, with the only loss a 22-12 defeat in 1988. Alabama is 31-1-1 against the Rebels in the state of Alabama. The Crimson Tide beat then No. 19 Mississippi 22-3 a season ago in Oxford.
Although the Rebels have had their struggles so far this season, they are still not to be overlooked. Ole Miss plays the Tide tough every year. Four of the last five matchups between these two conference rivals have been decided by four points or less.
“Any time you play Ole Miss or a Houston Nutt coached team, it’s going to be a tough game,” Saban said. “As [Jeremiah] Masoli has gotten more comfortable with their offense, they have been very productive and one of the leading teams in the country in terms of scoring points.”
Ole Miss features a duel-threat quarterback in Jeremiah Masoli, a transfer from Oregon, and an explosive offense that has averaged 37 points per game. As their offense has flourished, their defense has struggled, allowing 32 points per game. Ole Miss will be looking to take advantage of the Tide’s inexperienced secondary. Mississippi is 3-2 on the season and 1-1 in the SEC after a 42-35 win over Kentucky at home two weeks ago.
“This is a different kind of offense,” Saban said. “There are a lot of options, reads, a lot of different formation variables and personnel groups. Defensively they have five or six guys back [this year] and two really good defensive tackles. This is a team that has gotten better and has bounced back.
“From our experience in playing them in the past, it has always been a difficult preparation. The key to it will be how we respond and how we prepare to do the things we need to do to give ourselves a better chance to be successful in the future. Consistency in performance is the key to that.”
The Tide will be looking to correct its mistakes and to take full advantage of any miscues that the Rebels make on both sides of the ball. So far this season, the Tide’s offense is averaging 35 points per game while the defense only gives up 13 points per game.
The Tide’s schedule will not get much easier as the season goes on with five of its last six opponents being SEC games, including games against LSU and in-state rival Auburn, both undefeated. The Tide still controls its own destiny in the SEC West, but it will have to win out and have a little help if it hopes to return the national championship game and defend its title.