Natty Loss Encapsulates ’21 Tide’s Fight Through Adversity
It's been called a down year for Nick Saban's juggernaut program. Alabama fought through tight games all season and enough injuries to challenge the 2019 squad.
For many analysts on the major networks, this team was discussed in a manner that was supported by the hope that it was just a matter of time before everything plaguing this team would catch up with them. Unfortunately for Crimson Tide fans, that's exactly what happened.
There's no doubt Bryce Young's Heisman season was bolstered by the fact that he wasn't surrounded by the same type of talent that surrounded his predecessors. His offensive line struggled all season in pass protection and went through several bodies and names at center and right tackle all season.
That offensive line played its best against the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship but was unable to repeat those efforts in the season finale. Young was sacked three times Monday night, which coupled with the pressure on what seemed like all 57 of Young's passes, affected the Crimson Tide's passing game to a critical degree.
Young was already awarded for his accomplishments in doing more with less, but injuries pulled his game from hard mode to nightmare. Alabama went into the SEC Championship without featured running backs Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams. During the SEC Championship, John Metchie tore his ACL and was lost for the remainder of the season. In the first half of the national championship, the same fate appeared to have befallen Jameson Williams.
With inconsistencies at tight end all year, a running back group consisting of two healthy backs and a wide receiver corp now made up entirely of players with less than 20 receptions on the season plus Slade Bolden, the deck stacked against Young and the Tide offense to an insurmountable disadvantage.
The offensive struggles left little room for error on the defensive side of the ball. The Crimson Tide defense, which had steadily improved all season into a formidable match to Georgia's own, couldn't hold the dam long enough. Koolaid McKinstry and Kyhree Jackson played a whale of a game in the Cotton Bowl, but the inexperienced corners let up vital plays and penalties in the fourth that aided the Bulldogs even further.
But, with all the adversity and injuries, there are no excuses. Alabama played well enough for three quarters to win a 19th national championship. A game of inches that favored Alabama in the SEC Championship was just out of reach for Alabama Monday night.
Agiye Hall nearly hauled in a massive catch that would have put the Crimson Tide in the red zone. Young was just a bit too outside on a corner route to Traeshon Holden in the endzone. Does Metchie or Williams make those plays? Maybe, but it's far from the point.
Alabama fought the adversity all season. The Swamp. College Station. The Razorbacks. LSU. The Iron Bowl.
Each time, those that prayed on Alabama's ultimate downfall, those people were disappointed. Because despite this team's vulnerabilities, despite its flaws, the 2021 Crimson Tide accomplished much more than so many of the college football population believed and hoped it could.
The 2021 Crimson Tide won 13 games, an SEC Championship, the Cotton Bowl and battled to the bitter end against a team it had ripped the heart out of seven straight times in Saban's tenure.
Folks want to call this a down year, but in many ways, it's just another year. And that's not to say this loss doesn't hurt this team or its fans; it most certainly does. But a feeling of pride is the perspective many fans are taking on this team since the clock hit double zeroes.
Of all of Alabama's teams under Saban that failed to win a national championship, it's hard to find the soul this team had. This team had to play the underdog. This team had to hear the noise about why it can't all year. It proved on so many occasions that it was more than capable of hanging with the six teams under Saban that were the last ones standing.
With the same weight of expectations that Alabama has been accustomed to latching onto next year's squad, this team will be left with a singular memory, and that's not that of a failure.
No, this team is an exact demonstration of excellent coaching and the results of perseverance and determination. This team, in its own unique way, is one to be remembered with pride and admiration.