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Ask knowledgeable college football person what Alabama’s identity is and the answer is likely to be “Strong running game, great defense, solid kicking game.” Not only is this year’s Crimson Tide not living up to that perceived identity three games into the season, those elements alone have never been enough to win championships.
No one is more anxious to know what the identity of the 2015 Alabama football team will be than Coach Nick Saban. He has mentioned it on occasion, including pointing out that the identity is built over time, not just in time for the first game or even the fourth game. Saban also said after Bama’s 43-37 loss to Ole Miss Saturday that Alabama has not found an identity.
Identity is important to Saban. He has said that each team develops its on identity and that each team will be remembered for that identity.
To be sure, Alabama teams have been successful in developing a positive identity under Saban, as evidenced by three national championships in his eight years at the helm.
“I think we need to continue to develop that,” Saban said this week. “I thought we had some identity in the first game and were moving in the right direction, and then in the last two games we’ve been scattered. We need to have some certainty in what we’re going to do.”
Frequently the identity of a football team is based on the most important player, the quarterback. Jacob Coker started the first two games for Alabama, but was replaced as the starter by Cooper Bateman against the Rebels. After a costly interception, Bateman was replaced by Coker ,who finished the game. He was far from perfect, including throwing an interception in the last three minutes that all but killed any chance the Tide had for a comeback win.
Saban said, “Jake came into the game and played with some passion and showed great leadership and energy when he played. We still have things that we need to work on and improve.
“At this point, provided he does the things he's supposed to do, I think we'll start him in this game. But I still think that what I'm talking about applies to all positions, not only quarterback.”
This game is Alabama hosting Louisiana-Monroe at 3 p.m. CDT Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game will be televised by the SEC Network. Bama is 2-1 on the season and ranked 12th in the nation, dropping 10 spots in both polls after the six-point loss to Mississippi.
Although Saban said more than the quarterback position is involved, it is the topic of most conversation regarding Bama. He said, “We need to improve on things. We've got to throw the ball to the right place at the right time and we can't throw it to the other guys. That's probably the number one issue. And executing and doing things properly relative to how we're coached to do it, understanding it. We've got to do a better job of teaching it. We all need to do a better job of executing it.”
Saban could quip about the situation. Asked how he sees Coker going forward insofar as “passiong and energy,” Saban said, I don’t have a crystal ball up here.” He then picked up a prop bottle of Coca-Cola and mused whether the answer might be in there.
“I can’t predict any of that stuff,” Saban said. “It still goes back to execution. We can't throw interceptions. Can't throw the ball in the wrong place. We have to execute and do what we need to do to have the whole offense function, and that's something that we need to keep working on. It's our responsibility as coaches to help these guys do better and that's what we're focused on trying to do."
Saban said he was impressed with how his team battled to the end.
He said this team has “never been in that situation before so you never know how a team is going to respond, but I liked the resiliency that we showed. We had the ball with 2:54 where we could have had a chance to put a drive together and threw a pick. I was pleased with the way the players responded in the game.”
No one can see into the future, but somehow it’s difficult to see a Nick Saban team having an identity crisis. But that probably depends on a quarterback performing well.