Players stretched as the strength and conditioning coach barked out commands interlaced with rap lyrics and motivational messages. It was like any other Monday for the Crimson Tide program with one exception.
That ultimate carrot was ripped from the string dangling before them when LSU handed down loss No. 2 of the season Saturday. So how will they respond? That’s the question that Nick Saban asked without really answering Monday.
“Am I concerned that this team has the pride and performance to do that?” he said. “I think it’s a reality check for them to see how important it is to them, and what they are willing to do to make it happen. I know as a coaching staff we’re very committed to doing the things that we need to do to try to make that happen, and we’ll work very hard starting today to make that happen.”
With 17th ranked Mississippi State coming to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, there isn’t too much time for soul searching now that the Tide is out of the national title hunt in November for the first time in three seasons.
The Bulldogs are 7-2 in Dan Mullen’s second season with the only setbacks coming to top-5 teams Auburn and LSU early in the season.
The sting of Saturday’s 24-21 loss in Baton Rouge was still very evident, though.
“It feels like the end of the world,” quarterback Greg McElroy said. “It really does. It’s disappointing of course, for all of us, with the aspirations we had coming in for the season. That’s why I think expectations, they can become so far out of reach.”
Following Alabama’s first loss in 19 games at South Carolina four weeks ago, McElroy said he didn’t want to be alone the Sunday afterwards as he surrounded himself with close friends and teammates. The day following the LSU letdown, he went to the football complex.
“I came to the conclusion that if I was sitting around moping all day, that I’d be mad at myself for letting it get me down, and if I was sitting around happy all day, I’d be mad at myself for blowing it off,” McElroy said. “It’s one of those situations that we still don’t have a lot of experience doing it. Hopefully we’ll just try to bounce back this week.”
Doing that will mean stopping a vastly improved Mississippi State program coming off a bye week and playing with momentum that Alabama suddenly lacks again. The Bulldogs have six straight wins to their name and plenty of emotion following last Tuesday’s death of player Nick Bell.
For Saban, the postgame message was similar to the one delivered Monday. The team lost sight of its objective and allowed the outside influences and high expectations cloud their perspective by focusing on “the result” before considering “the process.”
“So the reality check of it all is “where do you want to go from here?” Saban said. “I think the real glory of it is, sometimes when you get knocked down, it’s your ability to get back up, to overcome adversity, and that’s a true test of character. When you play good teams and you don’t do things right, you get exposed.”