"I don't think what we did was bad," Franchione continued. "We just didn't make it work. (The plays) were well thought out and well conceived, but as coaches we have to continue to take responsibility and evaluate. We need to put our players in a better chance to have success."
For most of the game, the Alabama offense had moved the ball successfully, and once again Tyler Watts keyed the production running the option to perfection. But a defensive adjustment by the Rebels prompted a change in strategy by the Bama offense. And unfortunately for Tide fans the offensive yards dried up.
Two plays exemplify the frustration. Early in the fourth period on a fourth-and-one from the Mississippi 36, the Rebel defense stuffed an attempted quarterback sneak. And with less than four minutes left in the contest, when a first down would have salted the game away for the Tide, on third and one Ahmaad Galloway was dropped in the backfield for a loss.
Franchione talked about the process; "As you look back, I can think of a lot of different calls to make on fourth down and third down. In that three-play sequence just before we punted for their last drive, we ran three running plays. We made five yards and four yards (on first and second down). We've got one of the best rushing teams in the conference, and we're going against the tenth-best rushing defense in the conference. Ole Miss had no timeouts.
"(As a coach) you think about throwing or running the bootleg with a play-action pass, which we had some success with. If it's complete then everything takes care of itself, just as if we had made it on the run. But if not, then an incomplete pass is going to put 20-30 seconds more on the clock than we were able to drain by running a running play. You analyze all those factors before you make your call.
"You've got to make the call and then make it right."
Bama's fourth-quarter ineptitude on offense allowed the Rebels to dominate time of possession in that crucial final period, scoring twice to win the game. The margin of victory means that Alabama has lost a total of three games by seven points. "It doesn't matter which year you're in, losing close games are always tough," Franchione said. "I've dealt with the losses (this year) pretty much the way I always have.
"Anytime you lose a football game, as a coach you go back and evaluate yourself and your coaches the hardest. Then you look at your players and what you're doing. We can take the positive in knowing that we're close to (wins), but we've got to understand that we're not there."
Fair or not, the general consensus among Tide fans was that the team lost a game it should have won, prompting a round of pointed criticism--much of which focused on the offensive play-calling. "We're probably hardest on ourselves," Franchione said. "We'll keep evaluating the team as we do every week. Even after wins we evaluate what we could have done better. But after a loss you spend more time evaluating your strengths and what you can do. As coaches we've got to find a way to put our players in a position to make the plays. And then our players have got to make them."
Of course the similarities to the earlier loss to South Carolina raises questions about the team's ability to finish. Franchione acknowledged the problem; "There were different circumstances between the two but certainly also parallels. When you lose a close game late, you just have to go out and overcome it mentally. You've got to continue to hold together as a team, to believe in yourself and believe in what you're doing. You've got to practice well, prepare well and then play well. There are points in time in the game when you've got to focus on the next play and not the end result."
Responding to a question about what the team did well in Saturday's game, Franchione noted some areas of progress. "We cut way down on penalties, which we've talked about a lot of times. Offensively we moved the ball well at times, whether it was the passing or running game. We didn't have a lot of yards in the passing game, but we hit some big plays. We ran the option well, and we ran the ball well most of the day. The offense had 68 knockdown blocks.
"Defensively we were pretty good overall against the rush. We had some quarterback sacks and hit the quarterback a few times. We played with good effort. We played hard. We made some mistakes, but we made them full speed."
Franchione also listed the individual athletes that were honored this week.
- Special teams: Kindal Moorehead
- Defensive line: Jarret Johnson
- Defensive back: Cornelius Wortham
- Offensive lineman: none named
- Offensive back: none named
- Offensive scout team: Matt Miller.
- Defensive scout team: Marc Miller.
Wortham was starting his second game for Alabama at strongside linebacker, and his running mate Brooks Daniels also played well. "Both those young men are getting better every week," Franchione said. "Cornelius had maybe his best game. Those two young linebackers can run. They're serious in their approach to practice, and it's paying off. They're getting better in the games. They're learning, and their improvement is showing on a weekly basis."
Many fans will focus on two fourth-quarter Rebel touchdowns and reflexively blame the Bama defense, but Franchione sees it differently. "Defensively we had made a great stand and stopped them on fourth down. But given the circumstances, we've got to be prepared to go back out and stop them again. The game is never over until it's over, and you have to prepare to go back out there. We have to get stronger on the mental side."