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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne doesn’t remember how tired he was during the Crimson Tide’s defeat to Clemson in the national championship, just that and his teammates left everything on the field.
It’s been more than two months since Payne had to watch purple and orange confetti rain down over Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., following a 35-31 loss to the Tigers. The defensive lineman says he’s moved on from that, but as much as he doesn’t want to admit it, the sting from the game hasn’t worn off.
“It’s something that you think about every now and then,” Payne said. “We can’t do nothing about that. We just have to work hard this season and try to get back there.”
Alabama players have gone back and watched film of the game several times this offseason in order to dissect what went wrong and what they can fix in the future. Much of the blame has been placed on Alabama’s inability to keep Clemson off the field, as the Tigers ran 99 offensive plays and wore down the Tide late in the game.
However, during a heated rant Tuesday, Alabama head coach Nick Saban made sure to point out that wasn’t the Tide’s only flaw on the night.
“We didn’t block them, we didn’t execute very well, we didn’t throw the ball accurately when we had open people, and a couple of times we dropped it,” Saban said Tuesday. “I think it was more a lack of execution than it was something schematically that we were doing. And that’s on us as coaches and not to blame anybody but us for not having the players more prepared. The defense also needs to get themselves off the field on third down so they don’t have to play as many plays. So it was a combination of things.”
Saban’s reaction is the most telling sign that the wounds of defeat are still fresh around the program. That’s to be expected in any last-second defeat — especially in a national championship game, and especially with an Alabama team that isn’t used to losing.
“Some guys took a little bit longer than others,” Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “Some guys played really well, so it kind of didn’t stick around too long, and other guys who didn’t play well it kind of hit them harder. But everybody learned from the game and that’s the most important thing.”
While no one on the Tide is pretending to hide the pain of coming so close to a second straight national championship, the difference as Alabama opened its spring camp this week was the team’s focus on taking the next step.
“We could have done better,” Alabama offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman said. “You can say we could have done this or done that. It doesn’t really matter, though. We lost the game. We’re on to this next year. That’s our main focus now.”
No pouting, no excuses, just improvement.