Now is a good time for a game against a team like Western Carolina for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Not just because Alabama simply needs a quick and easy win to boost their confidence. There is a lot more nuance to it than that. No doubt the Catamounts are unimpressive, to say the least, coming from the Southern Conference with only a 1-9 record on the season. Alabama should have no trouble dispatching them at home even given the demoralized condition of the team following their first loss. The bigger issue at hand for Alabama is that they have been brought crashing back down to earth after their high hopes for a perfect, undefeated season and a National Title shot were dashed by Texas A&M on their home turf. The question is not whether they will win against Western Carolina, but instead how will they respond?
Going into the game against Texas A&M, many thought the vaunted Alabama defense would be able to manage the assault by Johnny Manziel and that the Crimson Tide's diverse offensive attack would be able push the Aggie defense around the field all day long. That turned out not to be the case. Take nothing away from the Aggies for playing an outstanding game of football that day but for Alabama something didn't seem quite right. That poor of a performance was out of character for the Alabama football team this year up until recently. In fact this phenomenon seemed to begin not long before that Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium against Texas A&M.
Against LSU the week prior, where Alabama snatched a last minute victory from the jaws of defeat, the same lack luster performance seemed to play out in much of the same manner as it did against the Aggies the following week. There were too many missed tackles that the Alabama defense had been easily making earlier in the season. This resulted in a lot of big gains against what was thought to be a stingy Alabama defense in both the LSU and Texas A&M games. There were a lot of poor reads, missed blocking assignments, and preventable turnovers made by the offense. The offense seemed to go three and out many more times against LSU and Texas A&M than they had all season. There was just a lot of sloppy execution all around on both sides of the ball, and even on special teams. This did not look like the well tuned machine that Alabama had been up until the LSU game.
The Crimson Tide showed that they can face adversity and rise to the occasion when they drove down the field to score the game winning touchdown against LSU in Baton Rouge. They again showed that they have what it takes to endure adversity when they fought back from a big deficit against Texas A&M and put themselves in a position to win against the Aggies at home a week later, but instead fell just short of the comeback. What they seem to have lost over the course of the last couple of games is the efficiency and consistency needed to play at that same high level before those final moments in the game. Alabama needs to get back to work on the fundamentals of the game and refocus on the little things of this sport that breed success like proper technique, sound tackling, recognizing the right assignments, reading the field to find the ideal matchups, and most importantly, proper execution. They need to make those things more of a habit and not just something they are called upon to use in the final moments of a game.
Now is not the time for Alabama to worry about BCS Championships and SEC titles anymore. In some ways the thought of things to come may in some part be to blame for the lack on focus that the Alabama team has demonstrated as a whole over of the last two weeks. But this is not the time to dwell on the past anymore either. Rather it is time to learn from the past and look to correct the mistakes of the past in the immediate future. Now is the time to test their resolve and see if this team has what it takes to force their way back into the national conversation by clenching the SEC West Title, winning an SEC Championship, and then being ready to face whatever may lie ahead of them beyond that.
That is why this game against Western Carolina is more than just a morale boost or a tune up for a team like Alabama at this point in time in the season. After the devastating loss at home to an opponent that, by all accounts, they should have been able to beat if they had played to their full potential, this current test becomes more significant than it mite have been prior to that loss. This game against Western Carolina will be a barometer that measures how the rest of the 2012 season will play out for the Crimson tide. This game will be a good test to see if the lessons from this past two weeks have been learned. Will the trend of sloppy, undisciplined performance continue into the later stages of the season or has Alabama gone to work on their deficiencies and made an effort to correct their mistakes?
If the players for Alabama can get their minds right and play at a high level for an entire game again, like they did earlier in the season, we may still see the Alabama Crimson Tide playing for the BCS crown by the end of the season. Even if fortune does not favor the Crimson Tide and they miss the opportunity to play for a BCS championship, they can still land in a BCS bowl which wouldn't be a disappointment at all given the circumstances. What they can't afford to do now is continue down the same path they have been on since the beginning of November. This team still has the potential for greatness. The players just need to realize it and play like it.