TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For the first time since Nov. 30 of 2019, Nick Saban had to do something on Saturday night that he hasn't had to do since that date.
He had to address his team after a loss.
In College Station against Texas A&M, the top-ranked Crimson Tide fell to the Aggies on a last-second field goal. The loss ended Alabama's 19-game winning streak, which was the longest in the nation at that point.
After the game, Saban had to approach the locker room to speak to his players who were no doubt in very low spirits after experiencing the loss. For the freshmen and sophomores in the program, it was the first loss of their young careers.
"I think that players have to remember how they feel when they don't have success," Saban said on Monday during his weekly press conference. "And I think they got to remember how that feels. And then I also think that they have to think about 'How did what we did sort of contribute to this feeling that I have?' And then, 'What am I willing to do to fix it?' basically is the message. So when I say 'How do we respond to this?', that's what I'm talking about: how do you respond to the feeling that you had when you didn't have success and what are you willing to do to fix it?”
After Saturday's game, Saban emphasized that his players need to take advantage when confronted with failures and to not waste the opportunity to improve. The Crimson Tide's loss ended several streaks, including the program's 100-game winning streak against unranked opponents.
On a personal level, Saban's perfect 24-0 record against former assistant coaches is also now tarnished with a loss to Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher.
In addition to Saban on Monday, running back Brian Robinson Jr. and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. took to the podium to speak with the media. Both players emphatically stand by Saban in his quest to turn the team's shortcomings from last weekend into positive motivating factors for improvement.
After the game, spirits in the Alabama locker room were at their lowest point since late 2019. Being a redshirt senior, Robinson has been with the team since 2017 and has seen the program through its highest highs and lowest lows.
Robinson said that following the Crimson Tide's loss, several voices emerged in the locker room.
“You had guys like me and Will Anderson and Phidarian [Mathis] and all the guys — older guys on the team — who’s played a lot of football who’s been on great teams and that been on ok teams, the guys that have been here over those years who understand why we go through the things that we go through and what we need to go through to respond to it," Robinson said. "So most of the guys like the older guys on the team and the leaders on the team stepped up and put this team on their back.”
Saban has repeatedly remarked this season about how the team has needed to have leaders emerge on both sides of the football. While the team has its customary captains, lack of leadership and discipline has been a common issue voiced by the head coach.
On Saturday, the loss might have finally revealed who the team's true leaders are.
Anderson, despite being just a sophomore, has emerged as one of the team's strongest leaders on defense. Always vocal in the locker room and on the field, Anderson serves as part of the glue and forms the defense into a unit.
When asked on Monday about what the message was in the locker room after the loss, Anderson — who is usually a man of many words and typically jovial in nature — took several seconds to shrug, seeming to not want to answer the question.
After being prompted further, a somber Anderson responded.
"We have to do a better job," Anderson said. "Football has to be the most important thing. That’s the biggest thing when you come to Alabama, that’s the standard. Football is the most important thing, and that’s what I expressed to the team, and that’s what it has to be, and it’s going to be that."
Anderson did also state that he believes his team can bounce back after the upset.
A quiet and somber Alabama football team is oftentimes when it is at its most dangerous. Since Saban joined the Crimson Tide in 2007, four of his team's six national titles have come from seasons where the team was not undefeated. Bouncing back is no new concept to Alabama football, and the Crimson Tide is still in the playoff picture provided that it maintains success moving forward.
Robinson is a firm believer that Alabama will learn from Saturday and will come back strong.
“I feel like this team will respond in a great manner," Robinson said. "Like, you see the look on everyone’s face and you see how guys feel about the outcome of last game and you feel the energy of people just wanting to come back and get better and just see all the little things that we can do to fix the errors that we had just try to clean up everything we screwed up in the game to try to come back better next week.”