Losing the special teams battle will be what most in the Alabama camp point to when explaining the Crimson Tide’s 9-6 overtime loss to LSU Saturday.
Four missed field goals, even though they were all from 44 yards or longer, are enough to be the difference in any game, especially against a defense bursting at the seams with future NFL talent.
But the Crimson Tide didn’t lose because they missed four field goals. They lost because they lost their poise at some of the worst times possible.
That’s uncharacteristic of a Nick Saban-coached team, and it’s certainly uncharacteristic of this team.
Alabama entered the game with the fewest penalties (27) and fewest penalty yards (236) in the SEC.
The Crimson Tide had six penalties for 73 yards in the loss to LSU. Go back and look at when they occurred. What’s more, the Tide had several plays for negative yardage. Go back and look at when they occurred.
They lost two turnovers after losing just one in their previous five SEC games combined.
There were five different times in the game, including the overtime period, when Alabama had the ball inside the LSU 35-yard line and came away with no points.
On each of the five, there was some type of penalty, negative yardage play, dropped pass or turnover on first down.
It happened three times in the first quarter alone.
On the game’s opening drive, Alabama had it first-and-10 at the LSU 30, and Trent Richardson was thrown for a 5-yard loss.
On the Tide’s next offensive possession, they moved to the LSU 23 and had a first-and-10, but were hit with a 5-yard substitution infraction.
On their third possession, it was first-and-10 at the LSU 24 when Marquis Maze was tackled for a 6-yard loss on a reverse.
In the fourth quarter, on the heels of Richardson’s 24-yard run to the LSU 28, Maze was intercepted by Eric Reid at the 1 on a first-down play out of the Wildcat formation.
Alabama’s possession in overtime started with a dropped pass by Richardson on an inside screen. Then on second down from the 25, the Tide were hit with another 5-yard substitution infraction.
It was that kind of night for Alabama, which had specialized in not beating itself for the eight games prior to the LSU showdown.
But the bottom fell out Saturday against an LSU defense that no doubt had a lot to do with Alabama’s struggles any time the Tide looked like they might be getting near the red zone.
Perhaps the most costly blunder of the night for the Tide came when Mark Barron intercepted Jarrett Lee's pass in the third quarter and returned it to the Tigers’ 3. A block in the back penalty on Josh Chapman nullified that return and brought the ball back out to the 35.
"You know from Little League that if you see the numbers in the back, don't hit him," Chapman said. "That was an error on my behalf, a mistake."
Alabama did muster a field goal to go ahead 6-3, but would have been looking at a first-and-goal from the 3 had most of Barron’s return not been wiped out. A touchdown at that point probably changes the entire game.
How many times do you hear coaches talk about doing the little things right?
Well, there were a series of those little things that cost the Crimson Tide last Saturday.
How much it cost the Tide is still to be determined. We’ll see how the rest of this season plays out.
But this much we do know: It wasn't all on the kickers.