AUBURN, Ala. — On an afternoon of so many deviations from a normal Alabama football script, the final act remained unaltered.
There was (effectively) no Mark Ingram.
The defense surrendered two historically long touchdowns, Gene Chizik was outfoxing Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide struggled with its emotional energy.
Yet, Alabama found a way to scrape together just enough to slip out of Jordan-Hare Stadium with its 12th win in 12 tries this season 26-21. Every time the Tide needs a fourth quarter hero, a new one emerges.
This time it was Greg McElroy, following Mark Ingram (South Carolina), Terrence Cody (Tennessee) and Julio Jones (LSU). It was the first time the full offense was entrusted with saving the season and everyone responded on that 15-play march.
It was the fifth occasion Alabama either trailed entering the fourth quarter or led by less than a touchdown. The inspired response was the same Saturday even if Saban didn’t see it all night.
“We didn’t have a lot of emotion, we didn’t play with a lot of passion, and I can’t really understand that,” Saban said. “I think it was because of the short week. We were tired, a lot of distractions and a very difficult preparation, which says a lot about their team. But I will say that I can’t say enough about how proud I am of the way our guys competed in the game to overcome the adversity. We expected a tough game, we got a tough game and we overcame what we had to, to win the game.”
The topic of “mental” or “emotional” rest which happens to be a favorite of Saban’s comes into play again this week. While unhappy with the six-day gap between playing Chattanooga and Auburn, Saban is equally pleased with the eight-days it has to regroup for Florida in the SEC championship game.
“Because it was hard to get our players back last year after a very emotional game at the end of the season and then go into the SEC Championship Game for another big, emotional game,” Saban said. “We’re going to give them (Saturday) off and then we’ll stretch and stride on Sunday, which is an optional thing for the players to do. We’ll try to give them some time to recover.”
The Gators, also coming off a rivalry win, have a one-day handicap in the recalibration process after pounding Florida State 37-10 on Saturday.
Now the story of Alabama’s quest for another national championship returns to the same place where it ended last fall with the same villain waiting.
The next script is the one Alabama’s been waiting to write all year.
The hero and antagonist are still to be determined.
Ingram says hip is OK
There was plenty of speculation flying through the television airwaves Saturday afternoon about the status of Ingram’s hip. Although no new information was revealed on the day after the star running back said he’d be just fine, the talking heads contemplated Alabama’s chances without him.
Neither players nor Saban was available to reporters Sunday, but there wasn’t any sense of concern from either after the game.