Four days after Alabama’s 38-19 win at Missouri, Nick Saban’s frustration with how his team played in the second half of its opening game was still palpable.
Alabama was outscored, 16-10, and out-gained, 209-99, in the second half by the Tigers, who scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns against a mix of Tide starters and backups on defense.
Offensively, Alabama gave freshman quarterback Bryce Young playing time beginning late in the third quarter and finished the second half averaging only 3.5 yards per play, compared to 7.9 in the first half.
“I came home and felt really bad that I must’ve done a really, really bad job not in getting the players ready to play the game but maintaining their intensity throughout the game,” Saban said during his Wednesday video news conference. “And doing a good job at halftime to try to get them to come out and maintain the energy they needed to maintain to be able to play for 60 minutes in the game.
“Not thinking that, hey, looking at the scoreboard — we always say there’s no scoreboard.”
Alabama led 35-3 midway through the third quarter and the result of the game was hardly in doubt even as Missouri made its late run. But from a teaching standpoint, Saban believes that outcome could be more dangerous for its players than a major upset that did occur Saturday — Kansas State toppling third-ranked Oklahoma.
The Sooners led, 35-14, late in the third quarter of that game before allowing 24 unanswered points to record their second damaging loss to their conference foes in as many seasons.
“I guess you can ask Oklahoma that question,” Saban said Wednesday of his team not playing a complete game. “Because I’m sure their coach is saying some of the same things we said. Their players respond a little bit better because they have negative consequences.
“Our players — it’s the worst thing you can do is play poorly and win. We played poorly in the second half. I don’t think anybody’s immune from that. I told the players that, so I’m not talking about them behind their back.”
In his opening statement Wednesday, Saban said performance coach Kevin Elko spoke to the team although he did not specify when.
“I think he made a good point,” Saban said. “You can always ask yourself, ‘What if?’ You ask yourself, ‘What if play with discipline? What if a dominate the guy? What if I play hard for 60 minutes? What if I maintain intensity?’ Those are all questions you ask yourself before something happens. Aight?
“And then you can say, ‘Only if,’ and that’s what you ask yourself after it happens. ‘Only if I would’ve done this. Only if I would’ve prepared better. Only if I would’ve played for 60 minutes.’ I think those are all lessons that we’re trying to understand, that you got to pay the price for success up front.”
The Tide’s sluggish second half offensively caught the attention of Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt, who spoke about Alabama during Wednesday’s SEC coaches teleconference while discussing the defense of his upcoming opponent, Missouri.
“I think they held Alabama to 95 yards offense in the second half,” Pruitt said. “That’s probably the lowest total maybe, for a half, in Nick Saban’s era. I don’t know. That’s pretty impressive.”
Alabama opens its home schedule Saturday against Texas A&M, which narrowly defeated Vanderbilt at Kyle Field last Saturday. Saban on Wednesday said the Aggies are better than last season and chalked up their opening performance to “first-game mistakes.”
As such, an irritated Saban had a message to send to his players to close his news conference.
“When we play a good team like Texas A&M,” Saban said, “That is capable, with a quarterback, of coming back in the game, 28-3 or whatever the score was [at halftime] — game ain’t over then! Not when there’s two quarters left to play! Aight?
“So that’s the thing I was most disappointed in. So if I was most disappointed in it, that’s the thing we need to improve on the most.”
Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mikerodak.
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