Poor offensive play in the first half (Alabama didn't make a first down until deep into the second quarter), combined with critical turnovers (a punt block and fumble on a kickoff return) got the Tide in trouble early.
Shula commented, "We made some mistakes that dug us a into a hole. We didn't move the ball well on offense, especially early. The blocked punt by Georgia took the score from 9-3 to 16-3. From that point on there were two more turnovers before the half, which really got us into a hole."
Thirty-seven first-half points were the most surrendered by an Alabama team in the modern era, but the team rallied at halftime. "Our guys came out in the second half and fought hard, gave us a chance," Shula said. "With about 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter we were within two scores. We've seen from first-hand experience (versus Arkansas) that teams can come back from that deficit.
"We just fell short."
Despite the high point total in the first half, Alabama's defense fought hard. But as Shula pointed out, too often Georgia's offense was able to make the big play that sustained its drives. Once again Alabama lost the time-of-possession battle, this time by nine minutes.
Shula commented, "Defensively we've done some things well on first and second downs. The thing we've got to look hard at is getting off the field on third down. We've had some teams in third and long situations make plays that keep the drives going, gain momentum and control the clock."
Most disappointing to Tide fans, Alabama gained only 123 yards rushing. "Up front overall we didn't play well early," Shula said. "We were doing pretty well early in the year, and we've got to get back to doing that."
Into its first possession of the second quarter, Bama had run 12 offensive plays, including seven passes and five runs. Shula explained that he was trying to get quarterback Spencer Pennington comfortable.
"When you're calling plays for a backup that hasn't had a lot of reps, you want to get him into a rhythm early," Shula said. "Yet you also want to use your running game and the offensive line. The worst thing that happened (against Georgia) was not being able to get a first down early, so we couldn't get into any rhythm at all. It's tough when that happens early in the game."
Last season Alabama was one of the strongest running teams in the nation. But despite some early success (principally due to Shaud Williams), in the Tide's recent games its rushing attack has sputtered.
"It's not mystifying," Shula said. "We look at it closely. It's one thing here, another thing there. Maybe on one play the defense gambled and brought both safeties up tight and we had the wrong play on. Maybe it was a play where one (blocker) took the wrong angle on his block and (allowed) some penetration. It goes back to having every guy do his job."
The Tide's special teams remain a work in progress. Clear progress was made Saturday in punting, kickoff returns and kickoff coverage. But horrific mistakes--mistakes that will cost a team the ball game--were also made.
"It was good news, bad news," Shula said. "We had kickoffs going into the endzone by Kyle Robinson early, which was nice. We had some kickoff returns, which we had not had earlier, against a good kickoff team. Georgia's kicker does a nice job of placing the ball real close to the sideline with a lot of hang time.
"Unfortunately, one of those kickoff returns resulted in a fumble."
Shula saw progress from Bama's punt unit, but a punt block that the Bulldogs returned for a touchdown mostly overshadowed it.
"Bo Freelend had one big punt, and we covered well," Shula said. "But you can't make a mistake on punt protection. (The punt-block play) was something we worked on during the week. Georgia brought the same look, and we just made a mistake. It cost us a touchdown."
Alabama is clearly a team still struggling to find its way. Once again Shula will try to find the answers this week at practice.
"We've got to keep working to eliminate the bad plays and become more consistent," he said. "When we do things right, we're pretty good. And the guys know that."
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