Passing on the run

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama knocked on the door against Texas A&M, a chance at keeping its title hopes alive waiting on the other side. All the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide needed to do was run the final 6 yards to the end zone, stave off the upset and live to fight on.

Instead, Alabama threw it away. The Crimson Tide had four plays to score a game-winning touchdown, but chose to run the ball only once. On fourth down from the 2-yard line, AJ McCarron forced a pass and was intercepted. Texas A&M took the gift and ran out the clock for the upset, taking out Alabama 29-24 in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama's identity disappeared in the silence that wrapped Bryant-Denny Stadium in defeat. The usually strong-willed, overpowering Crimson Tide lost their purpose. The offensive line, regarded as the best in the country, stopped being the undertow that drowns defenses. Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon stopped being the dynamic rushing combination that slowly chips away at opponents' will. Coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier stopped using their greatest weapon when the game was on the line.

"I wish we would have run it ... because passing it didn't work," Saban said when asked why on fourth down he opted to throw the ball, rather than power behind Jesse Williams and the offensive line.

"I'm not going to criticize the call. But I'm like everybody else, when it doesn't work, I wish we had done something else."

Alabama turned away from the run in the second half, insisting on a passing game that was inconsistent at best. McCarron finished with a career-high 34 pass attempts, completing 21 with two interceptions and one touchdown. It was the second time all season Alabama had more passing attempts than rushing attempts -- the last coming the week before in shaky last-second win over LSU.
Instead of taking what was given, Alabama got greedy. Taking 4 yards per carry and marching down the field lost its appeal.

"They made adjustments just like we did at halftime," Alabama guard Chance Warmack explained. "They did a good job of that. It just came down to the wire, and they won and we lost."

Lacy certainly wanted to give the running game a shot. He said he would have liked the chance to try to run the ball in for the final score, but those decisions weren't his.

"Whatever they call, you have to execute," he said.

Alabama center Barrett Jones said after the game that you can question everything in a game, but it came down to making the plays when they needed to be made.

"We got down there, we just couldn't punch it in," he said.

All Texas A&M players could do after the game was smile, which they did when asked why Alabama stopped running the football. There was no need to elaborate. It was the look of someone who had dodged a bullet. Better to grin and be thankful. Leave the second-guessing to the other side.

"We forgot why it is we win," Jones explained. "It's not because we're better. It's because we practice harder, we work harder. I don't think we did a good job of practicing hard all week."

Blame it on poor practice or poor execution. Blame it on a bad pass or a breakdown on defense. Blame it on whatever is convenient, but the truth remains -- Alabama lost to Texas A&M and likely lost a chance to compete in the national championship game. The Crimson Tide had relied on a strong offensive line and a dominant running game all season before Saturday night. When they needed it most, they went the other direction.

"We knew we could run the ball, but you can't run the ball every play," Lacy said.

When it's working, why not?