Throughout the 2018 College Football season, Alabama has been one of the most dominant teams in the nation. Clemson has been a team that followed the Crimson Tide in the polls. It seemed like destiny that the Tigers and the Tide were to meet for the fourth season in a row. This was the third national championship matchup in four years between the teams. Before the game, it seemed like both teams were evenly matched. After the 44-16 dominance of the Tigers over the Tide for the National Championship, it became clear that the Tide not only met their match but they lost a big step as a powerhouse. The huge wins this season showed the dominance displayed but that one loss showed much more of Alabama than the wins. Here is what the Tide must evaluate after their dominating loss in the national championship to Clemson.
Tide experienced a rare moment of being out prepared
It’s a very rare moment when a Nick Saban led team gets beaten due to the preparations for the game. Alabama might have the better position group than Clemson but, from the beginning of the game, it didn’t matter. Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney evaluated the Tide’s strengths and weaknesses and utilized his team more efficiently than coach Saban did with his Tide against Clemson. Alabama turned the ball over twice with two interceptions from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. In the second half, Alabama experienced three turnovers on downs from their four drives. They could not get momentum after the first half due to the bad playcalling from the Tide coordinators and because Clemson’s coordinators adjusted quickly to the Tide’s points of attacks on offense and defense. This kind of major mistake comes back to coach Saban as he utilized his team’s strengths and didn’t expose the weaknesses of Clemson.
Tagovailoa loses the first game of his collegiate career and must be even better
For most of the season, Tagovailoa was one of the most fantastic players in all of college football. This was the first loss of his career as a starter. Despite his great season, he and his team couldn’t finish the job and secure a national championship. While there were many factors that gave Clemson the win, there was a portion that Tagovailoa failed to consider. Even with a few games with an injury, the game against Clemson was where he was most vulnerable. He was only sacked twice by the highly-efficient Clemson defensive line but he still faced turmoil almost every play. Tagovailoa is so used to throwing in a clean pocket that when the fearsome Tigers defensive line pressured him and the Tigers’ secondary surprising lockdown the receivers, he forced the ball too soon.
Tagovailoa passed for 22 completions (out of 34 attempts) for 245 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, and a QBR of 21.5. Even though he has shown to be playbook smart, keen on film study, and a dynamic passer, he showed too much hesitation in his throws. He and the Tide’s offense weren’t prepared for the multiple blitzing and coverages of Clemson’s defense. Much like the entire Alabama team lost the game mentally in the second quarter, Tagovailoa failed to deliver. Alabama is not the better team despite, at times, being physically dominant. One of the biggest goals for the Tide this offseason now is to become mentally tougher and composed. This starts with Saban and Tagovailoa.
The loss of their coordinators for the fifth season in a row finally shows
At Alabama, you don’t rebuild, you reload. That’s true with both the players and coaches. At times, even the Crimson Tide can be overburdened by the losses of some of the players or in this case, their coordinators. Before the 2018 season, the Tide needed to replace their entire slate of assistants and coordinators under coach Saban. This was when the Tide lost offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to the same position of the Buffalo Bills and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as head coach of Tennessee. The Tide found their coordinators for this season and it worked well for the most part but they suffered the same problem with the previous seasons. They couldn’t secure the stability of constant coordinators where the systems and schemes were thrown away.
During the playoffs, offensive coordinator Mike Locksley secured a position as the head coach of the Maryland Terrapins. Locksley made great strides to have the Tide become the second-ranked scoring offense (47.7 points per game) and the fifth-ranked total offense (528 yards per game). In the national championship game, Locksley had his worst playcalling performance throughout the entire season. The Tide were outgained in yardage 482 to 443 yards and were 4-of-13 on third down conversions. Now, Enos will be taking the same job with the Miami Hurricanes. This comes a time where the Tide will need to secure stability with personnel other than Saban. Alabama needs to secure their assistants to make their team acquire a stronger mental bond and mental toughness.
Tide must go through an offseason with a loss just like any of other
With Saban as head coach of the Crimson Tide, many people and critics proclaim as the team that is high above other teams. Alabama can lose games just like any other program in college football. Whenever the Tide lose one football game, the entire media and nation are shocked and asked if Alabama has lost a step. The answer is simple after the national championship last Monday night, Alabama just lost to a better Clemson Tigers team. Sometimes Alabama is not the better team, especially with the constant turnover of coaches and players along with the poor preparations against Clemson.
This is not the first time that the Tide had to recuperate after a tough loss in the national championship. Alabama had to recover from the 35-31 loss in the 2017 national championship from Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers. The following season, Alabama won the 2018 National Championship 26-23 in overtime against the Georgia Bulldogs. The only difference is that Alabama has to focus more to put that horrible 44-16 loss to Clemson behind them. Each team will go through a long offseason just like their fellow FBS programs. One bad loss will not define their 2019 season, their actions and the way they recover will determine this.
Tide need to get hungrier for a rematch
Five National Championships in the past 10 years is outstanding for an Alabama program. That loss kept it from being six titles in the last 10 years. Even more noticeably, this builds a brand new dynasty in the Clemson Tigers, who have two national titles in three years. The Tide did not match the Tigers’ intensity and didn’t have the mental focus for most of the game. This could come from the overconfidence of the Tide’s two-to-one victories over Clemson. Saban is a coach who strives on building the intensity and focus of the Tide. This game’s loss will be a constant reminder of Saban to keep pushing his team’s success. This includes bringing the intensity when leading by a huge margin.
Rebuild and build experience for 2019
This 2018 season reminds many Alabama fans of the 2010 season where the Tide finished with a 10-3 record. While the Tide finish this season second in the nation and with a 14-1 record, there was a similar issue on defense. After the Tide won the 2009 National Championship, they lost a total of nine starters and deeply hurt the Tide’s defense due to lack of experience. This is with the Tide returning 2009 Heisman Trophy-winning running back in Mark Ingram. After the 2018 National Championship victory, the Tide only returned three full-time starters. The end result for this season was that even though the defense had stout statistics, the offense got the glory.
It is not a shock that a few Alabama players have declared for the 2019 NFL Draft. Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, offensive tackle Jonah Williams, tight end Irv Smith Jr., and running back Josh Jacobs all declared for the draft. Only three players on the defensive side of the ball are leaving the program. The offense will be losing six starters including three offensive linemen. As of right now, the Tide will be returning nine starters on defense and five starters on offense. This kind of experience will be highly crucial for a team that needs leadership from teams that won and lost the National Championships.