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Before Getting Blown Out by Alabama, The Citadel Made Us Believe the Impossible

Let's remember The Citadel as the team that had Alabama tied up at halftime instead of the team that lost 50–17.

It was fun while it lasted—and it lasted much longer than anyone expected.

It, in this case, was a rare state of affairs in which Alabama looked mortal in 2018—and not against a ranked SEC opponent, nor against a Power 5 nonconference foe, but against The Citadel, an FCS opponent that entered Saturday 4–5 on the year. At halftime, the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs were tied at 10.

In the end, the Citadel put up 275 rushing yards, logged 13 first downs and even converted two of three fourth-down attempts. Its defense forced two fumbles. And it lost, 50–17. The fun didn’t last more than a few minutes beyond halftime.

Before this week, Alabama had not entered the locker room with a lead of fewer than 16 points. But against The Citadel’s triple-option offense, the Tide were thrown off their usual quick-strike rhythm, allowing the visitors to piece together a 7:08 opening drive that resulted in a punt and finding the end zone on their opening drive, even though they needed eight plays and 4:23 of game clock to do it. A few minutes later, the Alabama defense gave up its first points of November, when Citadel running back Dante Smith took the pitch and ripped off a 45-yard run to the pylon. At the half, the Bulldogs had 149 yards on the ground, zero passing yards (which would not change by game’s end), 10 points and the tweet of the day. They were chewing up so much clock on their possessions that Nick Saban’s team simply didn’t have the ball in its hands enough to score its usual eye-popping early totals—although the Citadel did force a first-half punt and then a Jerry Jeudy fumble.

In his postgame interview, Saban suggested his team hadn’t approached Saturday with the right mindset. “When you’re not ready to play, things don’t happen.”

Anyone who tuned in for the second half of the game looking to derive some glee from Alabama’s frustration came away disappointed—and should have known better. The Bulldogs came within feet of a third-quarter lead early, when they missed a 45-yard field goal attempt wide right after a false start negated a perfect 40-yarder, and from there, the Tide were off to the races. Jaylen Waddle caught a touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa with 10:26 remaining in the third quarter, and exactly 12 seconds of game clock later, Anfernee Jennings returned a Citadel fumble for another six points. Apart from a 75-yard Citadel touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, it was all Alabama down the stretch.

There’s no point in ascribing greater meaning to this game, which actually managed to nudge down the Tide’s average margin of victory, from 35.9 points to 35.6. All it shows is that Alabama couldn’t quite get up for its November quasi-bye week against an FCS team, and it suggests that maybe if there were a talented triple-option team in the running for the playoff , the Tide might get confused for a few quarters. The thing is, no such team exists, and Alabama cruises on. The Citadel finishes its season next week against Charleston Southern, and no matter what happens, it’ll be able to boast that in 2018, it put up as many points against Alabama as Ole Miss, Missouri, Mississippi State and LSU combined.