Paybacks

Alabama football under Nick Saban has lost precious few times, especially since the 2008 season.

And when there is a loss, there’s usually a payback to follow”

* Alabama loses the 2008 SEC championship game to Florida, 31-20, and one year later that loss was avenged 32-13.

* The Tide lost the 2010 Iron Bowl and everybody knew what was coming in 2011.

* LSU won the game of the young century in 2011, but received some serious payback in the national championship game.

That brings us to this week’s opponent, Texas A&M.  In 2012, the Aggies captured lightning in a bottle in the inaugural SEC season.  Along with a new coach, Kevin Sumlin, and a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Johnny Manziel, the Aggies stunned the Tide 29-25 and seemingly derailed ‘Bama’s back-to-back title aspirations.

And since the clock struck all zeroes that evening on November 10, 2012, everyone in the college football world has been waiting to see if Alabama can deliver a payback to Johnny Football and the Ags.

Alabama, as we know, came back to defend it’s title as the crazy football world righted itself by season’s end.  Perhaps that took some of the sting out of losing to A&M, but there’s still a ton of stuff that makes you sick to your stomach when you relive it.  The Aggies beat Alabama fair and square; they won the game and the “W” belongs to them.  But in doing so, there were enough “what ifs” to fill an off-season worth of nightmares.  Take for example…

* Alabama’s defense lost their collective discipline in the first quarter and the Aggies roared to a 20-0 lead.  At the time, that didn’t extrapolate too well.  I had visions of what A&M did to Auburn dancing in my head.  The remaining three quarters, though, ‘Bama outscored A&M 24-9.

* Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was downright stingy with the football all season, but threw two costly interceptions.  One came in the deluge that was the first quarter and the last came on the potential game-winning drive with less than two minutes remaining in the game.

* Another back-breaking turnover came earlier in the fourth quarter on a fumble by T.J. Yeldon.  A&M had just missed a field goal attempt, but was still leading 23-17.  Alabama had a bit of momentum and could have taken the lead for the first time.  A 50 yard pass from McCarron to Amari Cooper had ‘Bama in business at the Aggie 38, but Yeldon fumbled at the end of an eight yard run.

* On fourth-and-one, with less than a minute to play, the Tide jumps off-side, giving the Aggies a first down and a chance to kill the clock for good.

And the game was played one week after one of Alabama’s all-time best wins, a 21-17, last-minute win over arch rival LSU.

But also let this soak in: Through three quarters last year, Johnny Football was 21-of-23 passing, including this gem:

21-of-dadgum-23.  That’s downright Stephen Garcia-esque.

He was playing out of his mind and the Tide defense had trouble stopping him all day.  He didn’t commit a turnover, threw for two touchdowns and rushed for 92 yards.  That’s enough to win a guy a Heisman.  All-in-all, the Aggie offense had the ball 12 times, scored on five of those times, ended halves with two, and missed a field goal with one.  The Tide defense forced three punts – all in the second half – and had one fourth down stop.  Basically, until making some adjustments at the half, the ‘Bama defense couldn’t get off of the field.

So as we look forward to some payback, we’re left to ponder life without the turnovers and what might have been.  We’re left to ponder whether the next game will look more like the 2012 first quarter or the last three.  We’re left to wonder if Manziel will hit 21 of his first 23 passes.  And we’re left to wonder if the ‘Bama defense will play more disciplined football from the opening kick, or if they’ll wait until after half time again.

 

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