- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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By now, with all due respect to Steve Spurrier, we know that Alabama probably couldn’t beat any NFL teams.
Actually, I don’t think the Head Ball Coach ever really believed that the Crimson Tide would have a prayer against an NFL team, but it sounded like a neat thing to say at the time.
The truth is that Alabama was, is and continues to be a team with warts.
The coaching staff knew as much before the 29-24 loss to Texas A&M this past Saturday. For that matter, Nick Saban and crew knew it before the Crimson Tide had ever played a game this season.
You don’t lose three of four starters in the secondary and six players off your defense who were NFL draft selections, including three in the top 35 picks, and not experience some sort of a drop-off.
Even at Alabama with its powerful recruiting machine, there are going to be holes that are difficult to plug.
Those holes have been most glaring the past two weeks in a secondary that has been exposed and on the edge up front, where the Crimson Tide simply don’t have the explosive finishers to disrupt the opposing quarterback the way they have in the past.
To be clear, Alabama is still plenty talented on defense, and there are some talented young guys coming.
But Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Josh Chapman, Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron aren’t out there in crimson running around anymore.
This is not the same defense that spearheaded Alabama’s national championship procession last season.
That facade took a body blow two weeks ago against LSU, which racked up the most yardage against Alabama (435) since Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa in 2007.
The knockout punch came last Saturday when Johnny Manziel and the Aggies jumped out to a 20-0 lead before anybody could blink and rolled up 418 yards and 23 first downs in their upset win over the Crimson Tide.
Just like that, Alabama went from a team marching toward history to a team that’s now not even a lock to play in a BCS bowl game.
ESPN’s Brad Edwards had Alabama in the Outback Bowl in his latest bowl projections, while ESPN’s Mark Schlabach had the Tide in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
Something says the Tide won’t just roll over and play dead now that they’ve lost a game, but it is a stark reminder of how razor-thin the margin for error is in this league and how quickly things can change.
And let’s face it. Alabama’s secondary really hadn’t been challenged until these past two weeks.
The thought going into the Tennessee game back on Oct. 20 was that QB Tyler Bray and the Vols’ receivers could give the Tide something to think about. But Alabama got to Bray early, and he looked rattled the rest of the game.
The same thing happened to Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell, who never got on track.
Nobody envisioned LSU’s Zach Mettenberger finding his groove against Alabama, but that’s exactly what happened. Mettenberger got hot, and Alabama didn’t cover well, didn’t tackle well and didn’t play with the kind of discipline it typically does on defense.
And then last week, it all unraveled. Manziel had 345 yards of total offense, and the Aggies didn’t turn the ball over.
That’s two games in a row that Alabama hasn’t forced any turnovers after forcing 23 in its first eight games.
The bigger problem, though, is that teams are starting to pick on Alabama’s secondary. Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope had a field day with 11 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. Three Texas A&M receivers had catches of 24 yards or longer.
The bottom line: If you can keep your quarterback upright, you can have some success throwing the football against the Crimson Tide.
A month ago, not many people would have believed that.
Privately, the Alabama coaches always had their concerns.
Now, the secret is out … and Alabama may be out of the national championship race.