Following the game Alabama's coaches chose their words carefully, but the players didn't hesitate in affixing blame. "It was busted assignments," said nickel back Roberto McBride. "That's what it was. It wasn't the coaches' fault. They give us the calls. We just busted the plays. You can't do those things. We've got to do our job in the secondary."
"We had a good scheme for the LSU offense," starting strong safety Waine Bacon agreed. "We just didn't execute."
A loss is one thing. Certainly, there is no doubt that the Bengal Tigers boast a talented group of receivers. But LSU's 528 yards passing was the most ever given up by an Alabama defense.
Following the game, Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione made no attempt to sugarcoat what happened. "We tried just about everything Saturday. We tried zone blitz; we tried zone; we tried man; we tried man blitz. It wasn't like we didn't have a lot of options that we tried. We gave up too many big plays. It was a tough day on defense."
Cornerbacks Coach Chris Thurmond added his perspective. "We were mixing up between man and zone coverages. But the one thing that happened Saturday was their quarterback got into a rhythm. You don't ever want that to happen, but he got into a rhythm. He got his confidence. Therefore he was hitting on all cylinders."
‘Hitting on all cylinders,' indeed. For the game LSU failed to complete only nine out of 44 passes attempted. And in terms of total yardage, Saturday's 35-21 loss translated into the worst day in the history of Crimson Tide defense.
From a coaches' point of view, it's got to be tempting to blame the players. After all with the exception of true freshman Todd Bates, every current athlete was recruited by the previous staff.
But when asked his assessment of what happened, Cornerbacks Coach Chris Thurmond chose a different route. "I could talk all day about how this is wrong and that's wrong," Thurmond said. "But I'm not going to do that. We're dealing with kids that are playing hard. As coaches, we've just got to keep trying to make them better, keep trying to find the answers."
In truth, the problems probably won't be solved this season. True freshmen currently being redshirted will get their chance in 2002. But the ultimate answers to Bama's secondary problems are most likely finishing their careers on various high-school fields around the South.
However, there are three games left to play this season, and giving up is not an option. "We've got to find answers," Franchione said. "We've just got to continue to try to search for ways to not put our players in bad situations. We've got to keep searching on that side of the ball."
"When things are going badly, you've just got to keep working," Thurmond added. "Things aren't going as we'd like, but we've got to keep improving on technique. You've got to keep improving on disguising (coverages). There are numerous things that go into playing good pass defense, and you've got to improve on all those things."
The feelings of frustrated fans to the contrary, the one thing a coach doesn't do midway through the season is denigrate and crush the spirt of present players. Thurmond explained; "I told my players in the locker room after the game. ‘Anybody can put their arm around you and tell you they love you after you've won a championship. That's the easiest thing to do.' It's like being a parent. You've got to love your children the same if they come home with an ‘F' on their report card or come home with an ‘A.'"
The relationship between a player and coach is simply vital--and that's especially true for position coaches like Thurmond. "It can't be a conditional deal," he continued. "If it becomes a conditional deal, then you have no credibility with your players. You've got to build up people to keep them coming back. You can't just destroy them."
"There are always changes each week," Bacon said. "We've got to figure out what went wrong and make those changes. We've got to bounce back."
Almost by definition, athletes are a proud breed. But it will take uncharacteristic resolve to rebound after such a dominating defeat. "The biggest thing is we've got to keep our heads up," McBride explained. "I was walking around in the locker room Saturday saying, ‘Guys, keep your head up.' We've got a chance to play four more games. We've got to fight hard and come back and win.
"We've got to put the LSU game behind us. There's nothing we can do about it now."