The adrenaline was tapering off and the air was slowly leaking from the balloon.
Coming down from the high of Saturday’s thrilling 12-10 win over Tennessee, the reality set in just minutes after Terrence Cody swatted another Vol field goal and saved Alabama’s perfect regular season.
This team is exhausted.
Mentally, physically, emotionally ― the Crimson Tide put itself through the ringer three straight weeks. Now they can rest. The annual off-week couldn’t have come at a better time for Alabama as the progressively tighter victories took a toll on everyone wearing Crimson.
“I didn’t want to say this, but I felt like our team was really tired this week psychologically, probably more mentally than really physically,” coach Nick Saban said after the UT win. “We had a lot of guys beat up, a lot of guys missed practice and a lot of guys struggling to do what we need to do, but there are a lot of positives in this game today.”
With two weeks to prepare for No. 9 LSU’s visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium, the first priority for Saban’s group is to rest. Quarterback Greg McElroy said he would swing back to his suburban Texas hometown to catch a Cowboy game next Sunday before the heavy preparation begins for what appears to be the Tide’s most dangerous remaining regular-season obstacle.
It will be McElroy’s offense that needs the most work in the coming 12 days. While devoid of interceptions against Tennessee, the passing game never managed to establish itself downfield as short patterns accounted for almost all of McElroy’s 120 yards and 18 completions. Still, he said he felt “night and day better than I did the last couple weeks.”
“Looking at the film the last couple weeks, I didn’t play with a lot of emotion,” McElroy said. “You can’t play this game without emotion. It’s got to mean something to you. You’ve got to play with your heart on your sleeve. With only one offensive touchdown in the past three weeks, Alabama has continued to live dangerously. More importantly to Saban, the string of 20 straight regular season wins remains in tact along with conference and national championship dreams.
For now, at least.
Max block: The formula behind Alabama’s season-saving field goal block truly is a numbers game. After the win, Saban explained the thinking behind the “max block” formation.
The calculated risk assumes Tennessee wasn’t going to try a fake, so all 11 Crimson Tide defenders gunned for the deflection. That’s 11 on nine since the holder and place kicker, obviously, can’t do any blocking.
The real mismatch comes in the middle of the line. Three Tide defenders ― Cody and Marcell Dareus backed by Julio Jones ― have just two blockers to deal with.
“The front guys get as much a surge as they can before the guy in the back goes vertical,” Saban said. “He’s not allowed to jump over the top of players, but that’s what happens on max-block, and we had two of them today, right before the half and right at the end of the game.”
Vol kicker Daniel Lincoln missed the 47-yarder on the last play of the second quarter with the Tide in the same alignment. When asked what the Tennessee blockers must have thought in the moments leading up to the final kick, Cody flashed a quick smile and his sense of humor.
“Oh snap. Here we go again,” Cody theorized.
Containing Cody: If Terrence Cody wasn’t already a legend on the Alabama campus, Saturday’s heroics sealed his legacy. So will his head fit through the door this week?
Linebacker Cory Reamer said he’s sure Cody will “keep his head on straight” in spite of the love showered his direction. “A play like that goes down in history in Alabama, beating Tennessee with a last-second block,” Reamer said. “He will be remembered forever for that and many other things. We’ll keep his head on straight realizing we have four more games to go and he’ll be ready to do it again if we need him to.”
Falling in poll: The Alabama bandwagon was little lighter after Saturday’s near-collapse. The Tide slipped from No. 1 back to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll again topped by Florida. The 39 first-place votes from a week ago tumbled to 23 after escaping the Tennessee win.
Alabama remained second in the two polls that factor in the Bowl Championship Series standings and Texas nearly leaped past the Tide in the Harris Interactive poll. The Longhorns’ 2,672 total points in the Harris poll were just two fewer than the Tide received.