Smith-less Tide tanks at the hands of the Utes

January, 3, 2009
1/03/09
1:27
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Nick Saban prides himself on building teams that are physical, resilient and disciplined.

They were all the ingredients that made this season so special for Alabama.

They were also the ingredients that were nowhere to be found Friday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, as Alabama uncharacteristically melted in a season-ending 31-17 loss to Utah that will resonate all offseason in Tide Land.

It was supposed to be a feel-good offeseason with all the Crimson Tide accomplished this year.

Not anymore.

The Tide (12-2) were outcoached and outplayed in their first venture onto the BCS stage in nine years. Saban admitted afterward that he didn't have his team ready to play.

And you can't help but wonder what Andre Smith is thinking right now.

His suspension because of improper dealings with an agent rocked this team in more ways than one, and it only got worse after Mike Johnson went out in the first half with an ankle injury. Johnson was the one who slid over to Smith's left tackle position after playing left guard all season.

Without Smith, Alabama's offense was anemic, and it's hard to call it a coincidence, either.

Smith, this season's Outland Trophy winner, didn't play in two games this season. The first one was against Tulane in the second week, and Alabama was held to 172 yards and one offensive touchdown in an ugly 20-6 win.

The second time was Friday night in the Superdome, and Alabama was held to 208 yards of total offense. The Utes feasted on the left side of the Crimson Tide offensive line and sacked John Parker Wilson eight times.

For perspective, Alabama had allowed 16 sacks in 13 previous games. But without Smith, the Tide looked helpless. They couldn't run the ball (31 rushing yards) and only generated three points with their offense. The first touchdown came on Javier Arenas' punt return, and the second came after the defense forced a fumble at the Utah 30.

But the defense wasn't without blame. The Tide missed an alarming number of tackles, especially in the secondary, and they were spread out by the Utes and torched by Utah quarterback Brian Johnson.

In short, it wasn't the same Alabama team that we saw sweep through the regular season to 12 straight victories

That team was up to every challenge it faced this season.

The team we saw in the Big Easy was an easy out after falling behind 21-0 and unraveling.

It doesn't ruin everything Alabama accomplished this season, but it sure does water down what was otherwise a memorable ride.

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