TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — On one of those Deep South blowtorch sports talk stations Sunday morning, a host said it was “absolutely ridiculous” that Jeremy Pruitt was not the Alabama defensive coordinator.
Never mind that during Bama’s hiring process to replace Pete Golding, the Tennessee program that Pruit once coached was involved in a massive scandal with the program facing 18 Level I NCAA violations. As part of the eventual penalties in July, Pruitt was given a six-year show cause penalty by the NCAA. That means the one-time Crimson Tide defensive coordinator essentially cannot coach in college again until 2029.
But why let details get in the way of a knee-jerk narrative? Gosh dang it, Bama needs to blow up the defense. And get a new quarterback, recruit better players and get the mighty program out of this malaise that started all the way back on Saturday night.
You’ll hear some or all of that in the next few days because — starting on a beautiful sunny Sunday in the South — the sky has begun falling a little in and around T-Town. Figuratively.
Alabama lost a game to Texas by 10 points — a game it was favored to win by a touchdown. Win or lose, Nick Saban was edging closer to retirement and the prospect of — gasp! — a second consecutive year out of the College Football Playoff.
That will not endure. Not here. Not now. Not ever after what Saban has built. Now, those realities are frighteningly more in focus.
But time is undefeated and the hounds have been released following Alabama’s earliest loss in a season under Saban. It’s that bad here. Not the result, necessarily … the resulting overreaction.
“This was a test for us,” Saban said calmly after the loss. “We obviously didn’t do very well. But it was the midterm, not the final.”
More like the first pop quiz of the school year, but let’s not quibble over one of the few “Ds” of the Saban era. College football doesn’t grade on a curve.
It’s early, but it’s also late. Alabama absolutely cannot afford another loss this season. Not when the standard is the CFP. Last year’s 11-2 season was considered an underachievement, at least to the scores of devotees who are soaked in the glory of Saban’s six national championships since 2009.
In this post-Texas loss world somewhere, Paul Finebaum isn’t doing show prep for Monday afternoon. He’s sharpening (verbal) knives.
We kid, of course, but this kind of thing will sustain local, state and national media for weeks. This is a Saban, The Great One, caught without a difference-making quarterback. Apparently.
And if there is one sure thing that will get you beat on the field or in the court of public opinion, it’s not having a quarterback. Jalen Milroe has the misfortune of following Bryce Young, Mac Jones, Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts. All started for NFL teams in Week 1.
Milroe, at the moment, might as well be in the doghouse.
Let’s not heap this on an innocent kid. There are other holes the Crimson Tide must fill. The offensive line — that was supposed to be a strength — looked disorganized. In the raucous din of Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama was called for a false start. Penalties by the O-line nullified two touchdowns. The defensive backfield got torched by Texas QB Quinn Ewers, who isn’t exactly known for his deep ball. Saban coaches that unit.
Perhaps the scariest sign: Alabama is 6-3 in its last nine games. In seven of those contests, it played with perhaps its best player ever (Young) and the nation’s best defender (Will Anderson Jr.)
This team isn’t the 2022 team, which doesn’t necessarily prove anything. Saban has outcoached his peers before in years when there have been massive personnel losses. However, Saturday’s result will have long-lasted effects until, you know, Bama next wins its next national championship. It’s just that, based on Bama’s last game, it doesn’t look like that is happening anytime soon.
Alabama was exposed against Texas mostly because Saban had inexplicably failed to adequately stock the quarterback room. There is no replacement remotely close to Young. Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner was brought in to add depth (at worst) or perhaps take over the job (at best).
Freshman Dylan Lonergan was rated as a top-10 quarterback by 247Sports in Class of 2023. But if Buchner is the Next Best Thing on the bench, that brings further scrutiny. Buchner has thrown all of four touchdown passes since the middle of 2021. Milroe won the job, but it’s clear he has an uphill climb to win the hearts of fans.
He threw two picks Saturday night staring down receivers. Texas turned those turnovers into 10 points. That was its winning margin. It was that simple and that devastating.
It’s safe to assume Alabama scoured the transfer portal for a QB but failed to land a bigger fish. Stick Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke in crimson and Bama likely wins Saturday night. Van Dyke’s five touchdown passes Saturday were the most against Texas A&M in at least 20 years.
Whining will get you nowhere, but that won’t stop the wolves.
Alabama’s current defensive coordinator is the accomplished Kevin Steele. They’ll come after him, too. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees will take some shrapnel. It’s part of the job.
It was a fantastic national story Saturday. But Alabama’s greatest failure might be if the Longhorns finish 8-4 and don’t win the Big 12. Then how do we evaluate Saturday night?
“Never waste a failure,” said an introspective Saban, trotting out one of his favorite lines.
Forget about waste. Forget about the sky falling. There is a worse-case scenario out there that the wolves and the blowtorches and the fans have already considered.
What if this is the beginning of the end of the greatest dynasty the game has ever seen?
How’s that for an overreaction?
You don’t want to be at that early morning Alabama staff meeting. Saban’s reboot begins there. It will have to if all he has built is going to be sustained.