Saban Passes First Big Test

Mitch Dobbs' column on Alabama's improbable comeback win over Arkansas, and what it might mean for the Crimson Tide's future.

BAMA IS BACK!

Right?

After taking and then losing a commanding second half lead, only to come back and pull off a stunning 41-38 victory over Arkansas in the final seconds – in a two-minute drive no less - Alabama is back.

Right?

Well, not exactly. Championship football teams don't get "back" in the month of September. Championship teams don't get "back" even on the first day of October, as we learned a couple of years ago.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…? Forget it. We're not going down that road again.

Right?

Just listen to Bama Coach Nick Saban.

"The ups and downs that we played with is not how you want to play," he said. "With consistency, is how we want to play. Even in winning I hope we can learn that lesson today. You usually learn it in losing."

"We didn't psychologically go toe-to-toe and beat ‘em," he said.

This column is not meant as a cautionary tale, however. It is meant as a warning for Crimson Tide fans to hold onto their hats, because as exciting as Saturday's win was, there will certainly be more exciting times to come on The Capstone.

Those fun times will come in November, December, and dare I say it, January. Maybe it will be this year or maybe it will be some other time down the road, but that's where we're headed.

No more asking ourselves if we're going in the right direction. Not every team can say that right now.

Right?

And despite Saban's articulation of weak points that can be approved upon, there are far more reasons to be encouraged rather than concerned.

Alabama's offense broke the huddle with 20 seconds or more on the play clock most times, getting to the line with plenty of time to get set, look over the defense and make calls at the line. Despite the late-game heroics, that was the most impressive change I saw Saturday night.

The defense, led by Darren Mustin before he suffered a stinger injury, contained Arkansas' Darren McFadden - the best football player in the country - for a half just enough to keep Arkansas to 10 first-half points.

The last time McFadden played in Bryant-Denny Stadium, he left three guys who are now starting in the National Football League in his wake as he raced up and down the field.

Then, after wilting in the second half, the Crimson Tide defense, without Mustin's help, when it needed a stop the most, held Arkansas in order to get the ball back in the late fourth quarter.

Then of course, the offense executed a two-minute drive to perfection (with the aid of a couple of pass interference calls) to win the game.

Regardless of what we heard all throughout the summer and fall camp, Western Carolina and Vanderbilt were and probably always will be tune-up games for Alabama. The first big test for Alabama under Nick Saban comes in three parts: Arkansas-Georgia-Florida State.

The first part might have been the toughest.

"We got worn down. We were tired. We got physically pushed off the ball," Saban said. "This is one of the best running teams in the country. This is a really good football team. Hopefully, our team can learn from the experience that we had out there. Our team played hard for 60 minutes, but we didn't get it right relative to the consistency that we needed."

Still, the Crimson Tide passed the first test. Maybe it wasn't with flying colors. But with rare exceptions, football games are graded strictly on a pass/fail basis.


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