The best team in the country lost Saturday, this according to the team that lost. Actually, it was incredibly hard to tell No. 2 Alabama had lost by listening to the Crimson Tide players talk afterward.
"We are still the best team in the country," ‘Bama wide receiver Marquis Maze said. "If we played them again, we wouldn’t lose."
Say this for the Tide, they handled losing The Game of the Century, 9-6 in overtime to No. 1 LSU on their fourth missed field goal of the night, with unusual aplomb.
"It was nothing they did, it was all on us," Tide wide receiver Darius Hanks said when asked about LSU’s defense.
So, who is better?
"Alabama is still the better team," he said. "Definitely."
It was like the verbal version of the LSU punter and kicker, the most insanely cocky special teams duo in the country, all taunty and talky except without a ‘W’ to be all taunty and talky about. And this post-loss swagger came directly from ‘Bama coach Nick Saban’s message to his team afterward, although he merely hinted around that conclusion himself when talking to the media. What he told his players and what they believe is they beat themselves, and LSU was merely the beneficiary.
What Saban did not say, what no one said because they wouldn’t dare, was Alabama had help beating itself — from one Nick Saban.
The better team might have indeed lost, but if so, it was at least in part because of its coach getting outhatted by The Hat.
He got outsmarted by the man they call "Lesticles."
The worst coach on the field was not the worst coach after all. Although, at this point, only an idiot would be unwilling to acknowledge that LSU coach Les Miles is just a plain genius. The guy may be unorthodox, but he took his team — without the benefit of a competent quarterback — into a jammed-packed, insanely loud Bryant-Denny Stadium and won the most hyped game in a long time in college football. And he did so by not letting his team beat itself, by not beating his team.
Meanwhile, Saban was doing all kinds of questionable things.
What was up with the pass by Maze with 11 minutes left in the fourth and the score tied? Maze himself admitted he had only thrown three times at Alabama, though he "does it a lot in practice" and talked about the game plan being to "run it down their throats."
Having Maze back to field the ensuing punt was equally questionable.
And the insistence of repeatedly going back to his field goal kickers, who were struggling, and from crazy long, almost un-makeable distances, was infuriating even for those without rooting interests. By the time ‘Bama reached overtime with a 52-yard field goal needing to be made, his kickers were mentally fried. Nobody in the stadium thought Cade Foster was making it, certainly not Cade Foster.
"The things that were wrong is guys missed kicks and the guy didn’t field a punt. What else?" Saban said when asked about his kicking game. "Those weren’t easy kicks, so I don’t put that all on the kicking game."
Absolutely not, I put a lot of that on the coach who refused to punt and pin LSU deep. That was not up for discussion, as talk stayed on missed opportunities and being "inconsistent getting a hat on a Hat."
And though Saban definitely did not mean this as a coaching comparison, and all capitalization is mine and mine alone, that perfectly sums up the battle of the sidelines.
If this were Miles, he’d be getting roasted for too much Lesticles with the Maze pass, for sheer stupidity on his first-half field-goal use and for his laissez-faire attitude leading to costly second-half penalties. This was Saban, though, so his hands stayed mostly clean.
We tend to put coaches in boxes; Saban gets to be a calculating genius while Miles is the mad genius who lucks his way into victories. Neither is totally true. Miles makes a lot of his own luck, and Saban makes his share of mistakes.
I am not saying Saban is a bad coach. It is absurd to even suggest.
He just did not have his best game in the biggest game — better than his kicker and worse than his running back Trent Richardson, which is why I do not totally discount the idea of a rematch. As good as this game was, and I thoroughly enjoyed the throwdown of defenses, it could have been better.
"Coach Saban told us in the locker room it’s not over," Hanks said. "There is definitely a chance of seeing those guys again if things go our way."
So the to-do list for ‘Bama is: 1) Root for Arkansas, and 2) beat LSU in a rematch.
The latter will be the much easier task because, as the Tide repeated again and again, they are the better team.
"It’s going around the locker room. I could see it on everybody’s face," Richardson said. "We felt like … we still feel like we are the best team out there even though they did win the ball game."
There it was, finally, an admission Alabama did indeed lose. The Tide do not see themselves losing again, if given the chance over Boise and Stanford and Oklahoma State.
A good start would be to get a better effort from their coach.