Just a few words that describe the looks on the faces of Alabama’s players as the final score to the Sugar Bowl showed a 45-31 victory for Oklahoma.
The 45 points are the most Alabama has given up since the 1996 SEC Championship game against Florida.
“We have a formula that we try to follow here, and I think it’s important that the players know that it’s a formula that will help us be successful,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “And some of the things we did tonight did not allow us to be successful.”
Make no mistake about it. Alabama wanted this game, or at least they said they did.
All week, every player harped on how important it was to send the seniors out on a high note. Each player and coach said all the right things about how the team was focused on the task at hand.
But when time expired, Alabama players could do nothing but wonder. Wonder what went wrong. Wonder how they got here. Wonder how they move on from ending the season with back-to-back losses. It left everyone else wondering if there was an Iron Bowl hangover.
“I can’t blame it on that,” Saban said. “I thought our team late in the season didn’t have the focus we needed to have. We didn’t pay attention to detail, didn’t do little things right, didn’t practice well.”
Oklahoma flatout outplayed Alabama and Alabama couldn’t stop shooting itself in the foot.
Four turnovers that led to 28 points. McCarron threw two interceptions, Yeldon fumbled in the red zone and McCarron was strip sacked on the Tide’s final offensive drive.
“Oklahoma did a good job of mixing things up, showing us some things we hadn’t seen,” McCarron said. “But you put it all on me. I had two turnovers, (they) ending up scoring 14 points, and we lost by 14. So, you know, it’s football. It happens. I wish it wouldn’t have happened, but I’ll definitely take the loss and definitely take the blame because a lot of it is probably my fault.”
But wide receiver Kevin Norwood wouldn’t let his friend shoulder all of the responsibility.
“It’s not just a one-man team,” Norwood said. “We all win and lose together. AJ can’t put it all on himself. I can’t let him do that. … It’s not all on AJ; it’s all on us, and we didn’t come out and play like we should.”
From an offensive standpoint, Alabama actually outgained Oklahoma in total yards 516-429. But on top of the turnovers, McCarron was sacked seven times. There was a four-game stretch in which Alabama didn’t take a single sack. In the previous four games, McCarron was sacked just four times. And even when he wasn’t sacked, he ran for his life on nearly every passing play.
“It was all just being lazy on technique,” Tide left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio said. “They’ll take advantage of that because they’re good players.”
Defensively, the Tide had no answers. Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight carved up the secondary for 348 yards and four touchdowns while completing 32 of his 44 pass attempts.
The Sooners simply were able to spread the Tide’s defense out and exploit matchups at will.
“They just had more intensity than we had,” Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard said.
So what’s next for this Alabama team? Gone is McCarron, Norwood, C.J. Mosley Anthony Steen, Ed Stinson and a host of other seniors. Where will the leadership come from?
For starters, a departing star offered one final piece of advice.
“Buy in. Buy into the system all the way,” McCarron said. “We have a lot of guys that don’t buy in. Some selfish guys. It’s all about them. I feel like the three leaders that we have on the team, me, C.J. and Kevin are the best examples of buying into the system. From the time we came in to us leaving now, us three we really bought in and you see all the success we had. If everybody else buys in, this team can be very dangerous next year. They got to buy in.”