When a team loses on a last-second field goal, the “what-if” game can be played all day and in a variety of ways.
It’s an exercise in futility, but let’s play it anyway.
Texas A&M had just tied the game at 38 on Saturday with about three minutes left. Alabama got the ball back on its own 25. It went three-and-out, but its best opportunity to get at least one first down came on a pass to a wide-open Jahleel Billingsley.
And he dropped it.
The throw could have been higher, but Billingsley also could have easily caught it, too. If Alabama completes that pass, it takes more time off the clock, gets a first down and a gain of about 15 that could have provided the momentum needed to keep driving the field to get into field-goal range. Instead, the Crimson Tide had to punt after a third-down pass was tipped. Then Texas A&M drove the field for the game-winning kick.
It’s one drop, but drops happened a bit too frequently for Alabama in the loss. They slowed down the offense against the Aggies, and if not minimized moving forward, drops could continue to have that effect.
Alabama finished the game with six drops, based on Pro Football Focus’ charting. And that number doesn’t even count the play tight end Cameron Latu couldn’t make in the end zone. PFF counts drops only when a receiver is at fault and not when the pass falls incomplete because of a play the defender made on the ball or the receiver. In Latu’s case, the ball fell incomplete when a defender hit him.
Based on that definition, John Metchie III had three drops, Billingsley had two and Jameson Williams had one.
The six total drops are half of Alabama’s total for the season with 12, according to PFF. By comparison, Alabama had 17 total drops through 13 games in 2020.
How does Alabama minimize drops? Slot receiver Slade Bolden said it’s about repetition when a player is trying to improve his catching.
“That’s getting on the JUGS (machine), catching balls after practice and just working on different skill-hand work,” Bolden said. “There’s definitely things you can (do) to improve confidence and also to improve the way you catch a ball.”
Drops are bound to happen occasionally, and defenders will make plays to dislodge footballs. It should also be mentioned that incompletions are far from the only thing that didn’t go right for the Crimson Tide offense against Texas A&M. But Alabama needs to minimize the kinds of drops that are only a result of the receiver not securing a catchable football.
Otherwise, if there’s another close game where every single catch matters, the Crimson Tide might be playing the “what-if” game again soon.