By Brett Martel
Alabama players were still celebrating their latest great escape from Death Valley when coach Nick Saban delivered a sobering reminder of the letdown the Crimson Tide had after its last dramatic triumph at LSU.
“You know, we didn’t play very well after that win,” Saban said late Saturday night, alluding to an upset loss at home to Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in 2012.
Another such let down this Saturday would be catastrophic for No. 4 Alabama’s national title hopes. The ringing of cowbells in and around Bryant-Denny Stadium will sound the arrival of the SEC’s Western Division leader, unbeaten and top-ranked Mississippi State – and its elusive Heisman contending quarterback, Dak Prescott.
The Crimson Tide (8-1, 5-1 SEC) must follow up its 20-13 overtime triumph at LSU by beating the Bulldogs (9-0, 5-0), and may very well also have to beat visiting Auburn in the Iron Bowl at the end of the month, to get to the SEC title game in Atlanta.
“We should be really happy about the fact that we won (at LSU). We control our own destiny in terms of what we want to accomplish,” Saban said. “But, there is a, ‘but.’ We didn’t play that great.
“That takes a lot of maturity on our players’ part ... to understand that they can’t be satisfied just because we won,” Saban continued. “They have to show their maturity and willingness to go out and practice now and carry this energy over into the improvement we need.”
Alabama must prepare an entirely different defensive scheme for the read-option, spread style of offense Prescott operates at MSU.
“Not very many teams are as big on defense as we are, because we were really built to beat a team like LSU. Because when we came in the league, that’s what this league was,” Saban added. “It’s not that way anymore. You need smaller, faster guys to do all this spread stuff.”
Alabama also could be thin at running back. With Kenyan Drake already lost for the season, T.J. Yeldon twisted his left ankle on a fumble deep in Alabama territory in the final minutes.
The turnover led to a go-ahead field goal for LSU with 50 seconds left, and LSU issued a series of PA announcements asking fans not to run on the field after the game, as they’d done after an upset over Ole Miss.
The Tide had its own plans. First-year starting quarterback Blake Sims, who’d struggled to sustain drives all night, efficiently marched the Tide 55 yards in nine plays for a game-tying field goal. He then threw a textbook 6-yard fade to DeAndrew White in OT, and Alabama’s defense stuffed LSU in four plays.
“You have to have a lot of resiliency when you play in our league,” Saban said. “These are good teams that we play.”