Saturday, January 3, 2009

Pretty rough way to start the new year

Posted By on Sat, Jan 3, 2009 at 2:33 PM

click to enlarge Saban Waaaa


Photo by Jonathan Bachman


For all the joy and revelry involving everyone involved with the University of Utah, it's got to be absolutely miserable to be involved with anything Crimson Tide related right now. And, for all the mixed emotions Louisiana has for Nick Saban, you gotta feel for the man guy — that's a pretty rough way to start 2009.


There are so many levels of hurt right now for Alabama football: the immediate shock of a 14-point loss to an overlooked but completely prepared and focused Utah team; the lasting hurt when it sinks in that this team's season actually ended when they lost to Florida on December 6th in the SEC Championship. Though Nick Saban didn't go as far as saying his team lost because what they really wanted was to play in the BCS National Championship game (because, after all, who'd have the gall to say they don't want to play in the Sugar Bowl?), but he did take a good amount of responsibility for his team's performance.


"You know, I'm responsible to have the team ready to play. I don't think we were ready to play today," he said.


Even if you dismiss the SEC Championship hangover theory, there was the suspension of Andre Smith, 'Bama's All-American offensive lineman, for violating teams rules (and maybe the law). That was exascerbated by an early injury to Mike Johnson, who replaced Smith at left tackle. There's no question they were missed as quarterback John Park Wilson was sacked eight times and limiting the Tide's vaunted rushing offense to just 31 yards.


"They pressured the quarterback extremely well," Saban said of a Ute defense that intercepted Wilson twice and caused a fumble. "I don't think we did a very good job up front in this game, and we've done a great job all year up front."


But not all of Alabama's flaws yesterday were so cut and dry. We'll never be able to fully tell how much Alabama players bought into the media hype and how many turned complacent. You also have to wonder if the fact that a number of Alabama coaches would be leaving after this game affected how well Saban's staff game planned.


Whatever the reason for Alabama's vulnerabilities last night, the Utes sense them and took complete advantage. Having little distractions in the week leading up to the game and playing with an Atlas-worthy chip on their shoulders, Utah played their pass-heavy offense to perfection while swarming the field on defense.


"They just kind of lined up and basic vanilla looks when we spread them out, and we were able to exploit them," Utah quarterback and the game's Most Outstanding Player Brian Johnson said. "I think we had a great bead for them defensively and we executed at a high level tonight."


For all the tradition and shared history of the Sugar Bowl and the University of Alabama, this game will at least be partially be remembered for how the Tide failed to live up to their own billing.


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