Down, but not out
Tide players set on usual lone day to reflect after game, even loss to A&M
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Eddie Lacy put his arms on both sides of the podium and did his best to answer the questions: What happened? How does it feel? Where do you go from here?
"There's only one emotion," he said. "Everybody is down. It is what it is."
The starting running back for the University of Alabama looked at the lectern where notes would usually be, grasping for the right thing to say in such an unfamiliar position. The No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide had just lost at home to No. 15 Texas A&M. It was an unimpressive loss for the team and for Lacy, who never quite got going running the football. His 92 yards and a touchdown wasn't enough when Alabama faced first-and-goal from the 6-yard line, down 4 points with less than 2 minutes remaining.
Lacy, who had lost just four games since signing with Alabama in 2009, was left to wonder why the football didn't go to him. He wouldn't second-guess his coaches, but he wanted a shot at the end zone, too. It was the second time all season that Alabama ran the ball less than it passed -- the last coming the week before in a shaky last-second win over LSU.
"I don't think we found the balance we needed," Lacy said quietly.
But the "why" of it was almost irrelevant after the game. Lacy didn't want to wander into that territory just yet, and neither did most of his teammates. Sunday they would watch film and chew on the mistakes that likely cost them a chance at the national championship.
"At the end of the day, you have to go on and continue," Lacy explained.
Alabama and coach Nick Saban have a rule: You get to dwell on the outcome of the game for 24 hours. Usually that means a day of celebration. This weekend meant a period of mourning.
"Hopefully we'll refocus and realize why this happened," UA center Barrett Jones said. Like so many of his teammates, the word "disappointment" colored his postgame comments, lamenting a lack of execution and focus. "As good as Texas A&M played tonight, it's not because of how good they played, it's because of us."
Jones said something telling in his comments to the media. The redshirt senior is the unofficial spokesman for the team, so take it for what it's worth. The team, he said, forgot what it was that got them there, what earned them their lofty ranking.
"We forgot why it is we win," he said. "It's not because we're better. It's because we practice harder, we work harder. I don't think we did a good job of practicing hard all week."
A string of three games against ranked opponents caught up with Alabama. The Tide dominated Mississippi State at home, squeaked past LSU on the road and finally lost to Texas A&M in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Fatigue played its part, both physically and mentally, Jones and others explained.
"We just couldn't seem to get the kind of mental energy and intensity that we needed to play against this kind of team," Saban said, noting that the team looked out of gas. "We have had a pretty tough stretch here -- and that's no excuse. ... We were going to need to play our best game today and we didn't do it and that's my responsibility."
Now, Saban's job is to refocus a team reeling from defeat and remind them that all is not lost. It wasn't even one year ago that Alabama made it to the national championship with one loss, a run that did not include a trip to the SEC title game.
"There are a lot of lessons to be learned here, relative to what we can do and what we didn't do, and if we are making the progress we need to make," Saban said. "This team can still accomplish a lot. We have two games left. Everyone needs to recommit themselves to playing a little better."
Jones called the SEC championship a huge deal and said he and his teammates need to take care of business from here on out in order to give themselves a shot at returning to the national title game. All it takes is other undefeated teams going down, he said.
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Said McCarron: "We don't have time to be down. ... We just have to get back to business and finish up strong, win the SEC championship and maybe some teams will fall off and we'll be back in the national championship."
McCarron wasn't as dejected after the game as one might think. Even as the pack of reporters picked at every aspect of the loss and tried to pull emotion out of him, he remained stubbornly unshakeable.
"We don't have an option," McCarron said. "We have to get back to what we do. We have to win and let everything fall in place."
It fell in place last year and it has done so before. In fact, Saban has a pretty good track record of having the chips fall the right way. For Alabama, the hope is it can happen again.
"Two of the three national championship teams that I've coached both lost a game," Saban said. "This team still has an opportunity to win the West, go to the SEC championship game and have a chance to win the championship game. There is still a lot for this team to play for, and a lot for them to set their mind to and recommit themselves to."
Note: An earlier version of this story contained erroneous information provided to ESPN about the number of times this season Alabama has passed more than it has run.