Well, there’s nothing like closing out the regular season having the WORST WEEK in the history of prognostications is it? 3-6. There was a brief moment (and we promise it was brief) when it looked as though the Fan would fail utterly and completely. Thankfully, with the Champs’ second half comeback, we only failed utterly.
But hey, all’s well that ends well, right? Right! And for the Tide it ended very well indeed. So now we’ve cut the list of “must win” games down to 3. What looked a long way off in October, now can be seen just around the bend. The terms haven’t changed (it’s still sudden death for the Tide) but the number of victories necessary to reach the goal is much shorter. And the first one comes this weekend in Hotlanta against the amazing Mizzou Tigers.
The Tigers had everything lined up to get a running start on the season – scheduling 3 cream puffs and a bagel to open up (South Dakota State, Toledo, UCF, and Indiana). Everything looked fine until the last minute of the Indiana game when the Hoosier running back, D’Angelo Roberts, scored with 22 seconds left to give Indiana a four point victory.
Everything looked fixed, however, when the next week, Mizzou came back from a 13 point deficit, on the road, to beat the South Carolina 21-20. But then Georgia came to town and completely destroyed the Tigs at home and again it looked like Mizzou had given up the ghost.
And that’s when the unexpected began to happen. Mizzou reeled off 6 wins in a row to claim the SEC LEast title last Saturday against a red-hot Arkansas team. So now, Missouri is, arguably, the hottest team in the SEC – and clearly, they will present some big problems for the Champs in this game. So, who gets the edge?
Offensively: Blake Sims is a very limited quarterback who happens to have a couple of very good running backs and one absolutely outstanding receiver. The offensive line is a bit beat up but played well against Auburn last week – well enough to win. Mizzou’s Maty Mauk has been inconsistent (like Sims) and also has a very good running back and a couple of excellent receivers. It’s almost even on the offensive side, but we’ll give a slight edge to the Tide.
Defensively: Alabama has looked fairly strong off and on throughout the year. The one weak spot has been the defensive secondary (and that was made painfully obvious in the Auburn game). The D-line has had some very good games but has not been able to get pressure on quarterbacks on a consistent basis. Missouri is better on the D-line (especially at both defensive end positions). They have been able to harass quarterbacks and put pressure on offensives lines – the question is can they stop the Tide’s running game? Again, it’s pretty close here, but here we have to give the edge to Missouri.
Special teams: We love, no LOVE, Alabama’s J. K. Scott. In fact, we love him so much, we’ve decided to give him a co-MVP award (with Amari Cooper) for his punting this year. We’re very concerned about place kicker Adam Griffith. He’s suffered from back spasms off and on over the last month and his accuracy has suffered severely. Mizzou’s Andrew Baggett has exactly the same field goal percentage as Griffith (though he has 3 more tries than Griffith). There’s no edge in place kicking, the edge goes to J. K. Scott’s punting. He’s the best.
Ok, so who wins? Mizzou is playing with house money at this point. They have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. They go into this game with everyone assuming that they are going to lose. They’re getting no respect. So, they will be fired up to prove everyone wrong and they can do that (and spoil Alabama’s season) with a victory. They’re confident and have reason to be. It seems like the perfect set up for an upset. And, ordinarily, we’d be all over it as an upset special.
BUT, this Alabama team has shown us something that we didn’t see even in a couple of those recent National Championship teams – an ability to come back when things were so bad, you were sure that not only were we going to lose but that your dog was going to die too. We had the Arkansas moment, when, after giving up five turnovers and leading by one slender point – Arkansas had the ball and only needed a field goal for the victory. We had to stop them. And we did, with Landon Collins making an interception to preserve the victory.
We’ve had the Miss State moment when it looked like Dak Prescott was going to be able to rally his team for a comeback victory (and you felt that if the Tide did not score they would lose). They scored. And won.
We’ve had the Auburn moment when it looked like our quarterback had been struck with temporary blindness and dementia – when Auburn had all the momentum and the confidence – and you just knew that if they didn’t turn the game around right now all was lost. They turned it around. And won.
But the key moment of the year came the first Saturday in November in Baton Rouge when the Tide fell behind (after a Yeldon fumble on his own 6) to LSU, 13-10, with 50 seconds left in the game and no time outs. They could not make any mistakes. They had to get into field goal range and tie the game. And they did. And then won in overtime.
We can’t remember an Alabama team overcoming this level of adversity in one month and winning each time. That doesn’t mean that they will continue to do it. But it does mean that there’s something special about this team. After the Ole Miss game, they have simply refused to lose. And we think they’ll do it again this Saturday. Tide wins, 45-31, and moves into the first ever National Championship Playoff as the number 1 seed.