TUSCALOOSA — Alabama coach Nick Saban calls it the “Bluegrass Miracle phonemenon.”
The Crimson Tide has played two down-to-the-wire games in two weeks, winning at LSU before losing its first game of the season to Texas A&M. In Saban’s mind, this stretch is a lot like 2002 when he coached at LSU, which beat Kentucky with a 74-yard touchdown pass on the last play — the “Bluegrass Miracle” — but then lost by 31 to Alabama the next week.
As the Crimson Tide (9-1) prepares to host Western Carolina (1-9) on Saturday, this marks Saban’s most vexing problem: How does he get his Alabama players to wake up and return to playing the way he wants after two lackluster performances?
“I’d put both those (games) in the same category,” he said. “You guys don’t think so, because we won one and lost the other one. If we’d won this one, you wouldn’t be concerned, either. I was concerned then.
“But you all live in the results world. We kind of live in the process world. It’s hard to get people to respond. It’s kind of the Bluegrass Miracle phenomenon. You play bad, you win the game, then the next week you get your (rear end) kicked, because nobody responded to playing bad. Because you won on the Bluegrass Miracle.”
Before the loss to Texas A&M, Alabama held the most direct route to the BCS game. The Crimson Tide had more than enough support in the human polls and computer rankings that make up the BCS formula.
Now, Alabama is fourth in the BCS standings, trailing three unbeaten teams: No. 1 Kansas State, No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Notre Dame. But only two weeks of the regular season remain, and only Oregon would play in a conference championship game.
“The hope for playing for the national championship is slim to none,” Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said, “but we have to go out and play our best ball. We haven’t played our best ball the last couple of weeks and it showed.”
Johnson said he, quarterback AJ McCarron and guard Chance Warmack spoke in front of the team after Saturday’s loss, trying to get their teammates to look forward.
“Wesaid we were in the same situation last year,” he said. “We can’t just give up because we had a loss.”
As Saban tries to re-invigorate his team, he has made a change to the practice schedule. On Monday, instead of a full workout, the Tide went through a short walk-through. It essentially was a day off, and Saban said he marked it on the schedule after the LSU game and not after the loss Saturday.
Also, he has emphasized to the players they can’t worry about their circumstance. Instead, they should worry about what they can do about.
Saban said nobody is more aware of the Tide’s circumstance than him.
“I catch it from everybody: ‘My wife’s mad. My kids are upset.’ Everybody. I am, too,” he said. “But how am I going to affect everybody around me so that we respond the right way to the circumstance that we’re in? It’s keeping the focus on the vision of what you want to accomplish, not the circumstance.”
He just doesn’t want his players to come out and play without passion again.
“I know the questions are, why didn’t you do this, why didn’t you do that, why did we call this play, why didn’t we call that play,” he said. “But it still goes back to why are we even in that situation relative to how we played the rest of the game. Why are we in the situation that we don’t really respond as a team emotionally with any aggressiveness or energy level until we get behind 20-0?”
Alabama running back Eddie Lacy said the team is trying to do as Saban has asked and just worry about their games — not the scoreboard of other BCS contenders.
“If we finish the rest of the games we have left, then hopefully we’ll have the same chance we had last year to play for the national championship, but we just have to take it one day at a time and one week at a time and see what happens,” he said.