Week Calls for Moving Past Troubling Loss

That was a troubling loss for Alabama last weekend. The kind that gets in your head and spins around and frustrates every time it comes back up.

When you own the clock as the Crimson Tide did, with an almost two-to-one edge in time of possession;
When your defense gives up one touchdown in regulation;
When you allow the opponent three offensive snaps in a span of 20:58 in the second half and those plays result in two interceptions and a 7-yard loss;
When you have the ball at the Arkansas 9-yard line in a tie game with three minutes and change remaining;
When you line up for two field goals in chip-shot range that will either: a) force the Hogs to drive down and score with time running out, or b) end the game, or as Wallace Gilberry said, "slit their throats";
When you outgain the other guys by nearly 100 yards;
When you win the turnover battle 3 to 1;
You are SUPPOSED TO WIN that game.

That Alabama didn't beat the Razorbacks with the outcome within their control twice is disturbing. A team that has designs of crashing the upper tier of the SEC doesn't let a victory so easily within its grasp slip away like that.

While the frustration lingers, the task at hand only toughens. If the Crimson Tide saunters into The Swamp feeling sorry for itself, mired in self-doubt over its showing in the Ozarks, well Florida is liable to administer the same kind of hurting that Alabama put on the Gators last year.

I don't think that's going to happen. One thing coach Mike Shula and his staff have ingrained in this team is stability, and a sense of inner focus.

I passed a milestone in my Alabama football coverage last week. I covered my 100th game when the Crimson Tide smacked the University of Louisiana-Monroe 41-7 two Saturdays ago. You know what Alabama's record was in my first 100? A very round 60-40.

Folks, that falls in the margins of mediocrity by most people's standards.

There are reasons, for sure, as we all know. Most significantly was the tail end of one round of NCAA sanctions, and the complete gamut of NCAA scrutiny and the eventual hammer on the other end of this time span. That many lost scholarships -- and the ones like Carnell Williams who got away almost certainly because of NCAA troubles or the threat of them -- is bound to have the NCAA's desired effect: a wounded team, down in quality numbers that will lose games.

Alabama football fans have the right to expect their team to power its way back to the top of the SEC. The Crimson Tide nearly did it last year with a special senior class that was a partial by-product of Dennis Franchione tucking away nearly the entire signing class of 2001 as redshirt freshmen.

Alabama's scholarship numbers are essentially restored. The structure of the team, in terms of numbers of players in the various classes, looks to be much more balanced in 2007. There is exciting talent in all of the classes, but it's particularly loaded up in the three lowest groups.

The experts didn't see Alabama as a contender heading into 2006, what with all the personnel losses on defense, the change to John Parker Wilson at quarterback, and the unavailability of superstar Tyrone Prothro, but there have been signs that this team could surprise.

Wilson's groove as a passer with Keith Brown and DJ Hall as his top targets has succeeded beyond expectations, and it might be the key that unlocks an upset win down the road. That passing prowess will have to be balanced out by a running attack that is at least serviceable. As things stand, there are too many clogged rushing lanes and too much juking by Kenneth Darby to make the run dangerous. If Alabama is one-dimensional on Saturday at Florida Field, I don't like their chances.

Even as the strides of improvement are making themselves apparent on both sides of the ball, this year's team, by frittering away a precious road win, has dug itself a hole that will be difficult to exit.

Editor's Note: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat reporter for the Mobile Press-Register. He writes a weekly column for BamaMag.com.


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