Alabama, Saban face big offseason challenges after loss
  • Monday, March 18, 2019
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Alabama, Saban face big offseason challenges after loss

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa reacts after the championship game against Clemson.

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Alabama coach Nick Saban is famously quick to start focusing on his postseason to-do list, whether the Crimson Tide just won a national championship or fell short.

It’s how he’s wired, and there’s plenty of work to do this offseason.

Saban needs to regroup from easily the worst beating of his Alabama tenure, Monday night’s 44-16 loss to Clemson in Santa Clara, California.

That will certainly include plotting how to better match up with the Tigers, the opponent in four playoff meetings already.

“I don’t think that one game necessarily defines who you are, and that’s certainly what I’d like for our players to know,” Saban said after the loss. “I think you learn a lot from experiences like this.”

It was undoubtedly a humbling experience for a team that won every regular-season game by at least 22 points. And both Clemson and Alabama will be among the favorites to return to the College Football Playoffs next season.

Alabama hadn’t lost by more than 14 points since Saban’s arrival in 2007, winning five national titles in that span. There’s clearly another huge obstacle beyond even the Southeastern Conference itself: The Clemson Tigers .

The Tide finished 14-1 and ranked No. 2, won a Southeastern Conference title, and still didn’t measure up to the program’s own elephant-sized expectations.

“We had a great season, but five words: Good is not good enough,” said quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the Heisman Trophy runner-up and Saint Louis graduate. “We didn’t finish the way we wanted to finish. We didn’t do the things we needed to do to execute and be successful in this game, and that’s all it is.”

The talent conveyor belt continues to roll in and out of Tuscaloosa. Alabama is poised to complete the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in February, but also figures to endure its typically high attrition of players leaving early for the NFL.

That group could include left tackle Jonah Williams, defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and safety Deionte Thompson.

Center Ross Pierschbacher, tailback Damien Harris, defensive end Isaiah Buggs and linebacker Christian Miller are among the departing seniors.

But even with Harris on his way out, and fellow tailback Josh Jacobs possibly joining him, Saban’s most prolific offense has a number of top playmakers returning alongside Tagovailoa. That includes tailback Najee Harris and all the top wide receivers, including Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy .

New Maryland coach Mike Locksley worked his last game as the Tide’s offensive coordinator. Quarterbacks coach Dan Enos appears to be the likely heir apparent, though Alabama hasn’t made an official announcement.

The defense has rebuilding to do, even if some draft-eligible players like defensive lineman Raekwon Davis and middle linebacker Mack Wilson return.

Alabama allowed 482 total yards to Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers, getting burned for big plays and key third-down conversions. The Tide ranked 19th in run defense to end a decade-long streak of Top 10 finishes in that category and the rebuilt secondary showed its inexperience at times, though talented players like freshman Patrick Surtain Jr. figure to only get better.

“I just know me personally that I’m going to try my hardest and make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” defensive back Xavier McKinney said. “We had a great season, it just didn’t end the way we wanted it to end.”

And Saban accepted some of the blame for that, especially for the defensive performance. Offensively, the Tide had a botched fake field goal and went for it on fourth down six times, converting half of them.

But on the other side of the ball, Saban said he never felt good in how his defensive backs matched up with big receivers like Justyn Ross.

“I just have a feeling that I didn’t do a very good job for our team, with our team, giving them the best opportunity to be successful,” Saban said. “I always feel that way. Even sometimes when we win, I think there’s things we could do better or that I could have done better.

“But particularly in this case, (I) never really ever got comfortable with what we needed to do to win this game, especially on defense, especially the match-ups we had in our secondary versus their receivers.”

Then again, this is the fifth time under Saban that Alabama has ended with a loss. Three times, the Tide followed it up with national titles.

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