Saban Dissects Reasons For Alabama Loss

Following his top-seeded team’s 42-35 loss to No. 4 Ohio State in the National Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl, Nick Saban didn’t need to see a statistics sheet to figure out his team’s downfall. Put simply, it was third down, on both sides of the ball.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, “We're very disappointed in the outcome of the game,” he said, “but you have to congratulate Ohio State, who played a really, really good game, and we probably didn't play our best game. I take responsibility for that. I think everybody in the organization has to take responsibility for what they did or didn't do to help prepare the team to be able to play their best game, which was certainly our goal coming into this game.

“I think they hurt us on third down, lots of times on third and longs and converted, and we didn't do very well on third down, so we didn't continue drives, and they were able to continue driving and convert scores, especially when we were ahead 21-6, and they scored 28 unanswered points.” Alabama made but 2-for-13 third down attempts, while the Buckeyes countered with 10-for-18.

That said, Saban took a moment to reflect on the whole season rather than just his team’s second loss. “I'm very proud of this team,” he said. “This team excelled all year long. They kept Alabama in the forefront of college football everywhere in the country, based on the hard work and the improvement that they made throughout the season, so I'm very proud of what this team was able to accomplish in winning the SEC as well as winning 12 football games in a very tough conference.

“We're very disappointed in the outcome today. It was our goal to play our best in this game, so we would have an opportunity to play in a national championship game. But we obviously didn't do the things that we needed to do as well as we needed to do them to have a chance to do that. I think there's a lot of winners on this team. And I don't think you necessarily have to get a trophy to be a winner. And I do think that there's a lot of guys on this team, two of them sitting right up here with me right now (captains Blake Sims and Landon Collins), and many, many more in that locker room, that have been winners all year and did a fantastic job for our team.”

Saban said he had a feeling his team’s 21-6 late second quarter lead was not what it seemed. “We were up 21-6 because of two turnovers and two stops in the red area,” he pointed out, “so, we really weren't stopping them. We kind of had the momentum of the game because of the turnovers that we got and converted those into scores, but we weren't really playing and executing the way we needed to even then. I didn't like the feel of the game even then. So, we just stopped them in the red zone and we got two turnovers and that was the difference. And in the second half I thought we played a little better and did a little better job, but we did not control the football game like we usually do and it wasn't anything that they did differently. They had a good plan. They executed it well against us. And we gave up far too many big plays in the game, which has been a problem for us toward the end of the year.

“When you give up big plays you don't get off the field on third down, you've got lots of problems.”

Regarding the game-high 230 yards rushing and 2 TDs by Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliot, Saban said, “Obviously he’s a very, very good player, and we didn't do a very good job of executing what we needed to do to be able to control him in the game, and consequently he made lots of good plays, so it's not really about what you do most of the time, it's really more about how you do it. And they did a better job of executing what they do than what we did.”

What was Saban’s final post-game locker room message like? “I said to the players (that) I was very proud of what they were able to accomplish and I was also apologetic to them as a coach and a coaching staff that (we) didn't do a better job of helping them be able to play their best in this game.

“I think everybody has to take responsibility for their part of that, and I certainly feel as a coach that if we don't play well, it's my responsibility. This team had great team chemistry all year, worked so hard, had great senior leadership, (and) very little divisiveness and selfishness on this team, and this was a really fun team to coach and really wanted to see them do well.”

Asked if the loss would change the way he approached the off-season, Saban said it would not, “I think there’s a lot of lessons to be learned from everything that was done here,” he said. “I think some younger players got the opportunity to see what it takes to play well in big games, to prepare well for big games. I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned from your behavior and how you treat other people. This experience for our team is fantastic to come to the Sugar Bowl and spend five days in the city of New Orleans. There’s a lot of lessons to be learned when you have success, and there's also a lot of lessons to learn when you have failings, and hopefully we'll learn a lot from this experience and that will help us in the offseason, but I don't really think that we're going to change our philosophy in terms of how we do things. That philosophy has helped us win a lot of games, and hopefully it will continue to do the same thing in the future.”

Many observers, including those in the post-game press briefing, wondered why Alabama didn’t run the ball more as it was seemingly having success on the ground. Saban said. “I think defensively they did pretty much exactly what we thought they would do. They played bump and run and played split safeties, we call that cover seven. We had ways to attack it (through the air). I was kind of anxious to see us take more shots down the field. I don't think we did that enough early in the game, and they did a nice job (when Alabama did go deep). We did a little better job in the second half when we went no-huddle, and we played faster and did better, and I think there's obviously a lot of things that we wish we would have done differently to attack their defense. Their front did a really good job. We didn't handle them well in running the football like we thought we might be able to when we spread them out and they did a good job on our perimeter screens and smokes and we made the blocks but they made the plays, and you’ve got to give their players a lot of credit for the way they executed, but I think that we're certainly capable of playing a little better than we played tonight, and I think everybody would say the same if you asked them that from player to coach.”

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