TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Win or lose, Nick Saban gives his team 24 hours to move on.
The failure at Ole Miss on Saturday had to be forgotten. The undefeated season forever lost that day had to be laid to rest. The memory of Bo Wallace's comeback and Blake Sims' failed attempt at heroics had to be disposed of like the goal posts inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium -- carried out, hand in hand, never to be returned.
But dreams don’t die that easily, especially ambition ones.
"Our mindset for the season was, 'This is a reckoning. Restore the order: who we are, what Alabama football is,'" Brian Vogler told reporters after the game.
Vogler, a senior tight end, insisted that those goals are still attainable. The SEC is still up for grabs. A shot at making the College Football Playoff is still within reach. A last-minute loss on the road by less than a touchdown to a ranked football team isn’t anyone’s version of a death knell.
But Monday afternoon, 48 hours after Alabama’s free fall to 4-1, the sense in Tuscaloosa wasn’t overwhelmingly optimistic. An air of disappointment lingered. Players instead clung to what went wrong.
The communication was lacking, said left guard Arie Kouandjio.
The team didn’t play up to its ability, said defensive end Jonathan Allen.
They played scared, said H-back Jalston Fowler
"Everybody wasn’t playing their A-Game," he explained. "They were just, 'Oh, if we escape with a win we’ll be alright.'"
"We’re supposed to be grown men," said linebacker Reggie Ragland. "We’re supposed to be Alabama football, and we didn’t play like we should have."
The reckoning, it seems, is still ongoing.
Said coach Nick Saban: "Everybody's got to ask themselves the question, from the coaches on down, starting with me: Who's making this team better?"
Alabama isn’t lacking for talented replacements, but talent has never really been the problem. It wasn’t on Saturday.
No, it was the offense which struggled to convert on third down and mustered only one touchdown. It was the defense which got inconsistent pressure on the quarterback and gave up too many big plays down the stretch. It was the special teams which missed two field goal attempts, gave up quality field position and turned the ball over on a fumbled return.
Getting those things corrected won’t be easy. Not with the much improved Arkansas Razorbacks coming up this weekend and the ever dangerous Texas A&M Aggies on their heels a week later.
How do you respond to a loss? That’s the question.
"If you respond to the loss the right way and do the right things to fix what we need fixed so that we can get better as a team, that’s going to give us the opportunity to be successful," Saban said. "Look, playing in our league is like climbing a mountain. Every game is a critical game, every game is an important game, and every team that you play in our division could beat anybody."
What happened Saturday won’t determine whether Alabama has regained its championship identity. What comes next will. What happens this coming Saturday, the next Saturday and the Saturday after that will speak volumes about whether or not a reckoning has taken place and order has been fully restored.
More than 24 hours have passed. It’s time to move on and see what Alabama is all about.