Sunday, November 11, 2007

Miss St. loss threatens to make Saban's 1st season at Alabama a footnote

Oh, Nicklaus.
Baton Rouge favorite son and Alabama offensive coordinator Major Applewhite probably thought he'd gamble his future like LSU's Les Miles has done this season.
In the final moments of the second quarter on Saturday, Alabama's two-minute offense moved the ball down inside the Mississippi State 10-yard line of nice calls by Applewhite.
Alabama had a 9-3 lead, all the momentum, and were poised to take a 13-point lead into the locker room at halftime.
The momentum-killing play occurred with 21 seconds left and the ball inside the MSU 2-yard line. After two running plays had netted a yard, Alabama called its final timeout of the half.
Applewhite elected to call for a naked bootleg, a play that had worked for a TD against Tennessee three weeks ago. The plan is for the quarterback to roll to his right and if he has daylight he can run it in, if he can't run it simply toss it to the receiver or running back who should be in the end zone pretty open.
Instead, the ill-advised pass from John Parker Wilson was intercepted by Bulldogs' Anthony Johnson and returned 100-yards for a touchdown at Scott Field and the game was on.
“In three hours, we changed the way people look at this program across the nation.”
That was Sylvester Croom, the former assistant coach and player at Alabama, after coaching his Mississippi State Bulldogs to its second straight win over Alabama with a bruising 17-12 upset on Saturday.
“We’ve got bragging rights now,” Croom, the Tuscaloosa, Ala., native said. “I don’t have to say anything, but if I want to I can.”
Wilson threw for a season-low 121 yards and two interceptions. He rarely found receivers open and often had to throw the ball away under pressure in the second half, completing 16 of 34 passes.
None of his passes were bigger than the interception before the half. After the game Parker tried to rationalize. "We're taught to get deep after the fake," Wilson said of the role a quarterback plays in the naked bootleg, "but their guy got through on the blitz. You've got to get rid of it then. You can't take a sack because the clock would run out. You've just got to throw it away."
Nick Saban didn't take up for Wilson as he did in earlier losses this season, instead ridiculing the quarterback.
"When you tell a guy he's got to throw the ball away, you don't necessarily think he's going to throw it to them," Saban said. "There is nobody that feels worse about that than the quarterback."
What made his comments stand out? Saban, a man of few, well-crafted words, suddenly got diarhea of the mouth about his quarterback's feelings.
"You think he doesn't know it's a bad play?" Saban asked. "You think he doesn't feel bad about it? I'll bet you he feels worse about it than anybody who roots for Alabama, anybody who writes for Alabama, anybody that coaches for Alabama. I'll bet you he feels worse about it than anybody.
"He knows he shouldn't have done that. He needed to throw the ball away. Get sacked there and we don't have any more timeouts so we may not get the field goal off. But on the play before, if we had blocked it right, we would've scored on it. So we wouldn't have even been in that situation."
The "situation" is that two weeks after being looked at as the Second Coming of the Bear, ole St. Nick's first season at Alabama is in danger of becoming a footnote. Two straight losses will do that to you in the SEC.
Meanwhile, the Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) are bowl eligible for the first time since 2000.
The resurgent Bulldogs, who were 9-25 in Croom’s first three seasons, have won six games in a season for the first time since 2000.
Saban's group, on the other hand, must learn to lick its wounds and forget the past.
"We came here to compete for 60 minutes," Saban said, "and I told the players at halftime that when you get adverse circumstances and adverse conditions, everyone's going to judge you by how you respond to it. So forget about it, it's over, look forward to the next play. We need to make adjustments in terms of what we need to execute in the second half and I thought they were OK. I didn't see anybody hang-doggin'."
Mississippi State beat then-No. 14 Kentucky two weeks ago, and the win over No. 21 Alabama made the Bulldogs 2-2 during a streak of four consecutive games against ranked opponents.
Alabama (6-4, 4-3) and first-year coach Nick Saban have lost two straight. The Bulldogs limited Alabama to four field goals by Leigh Tiffin.
Croom was hired by Mississippi State four years ago, making him the first black head coach in SEC history, but he inherited a team on N.C.A.A. probation.

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