TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama fans aren't the only ones treating the Louisiana-Monroe loss as a monumental event.
Coach Nick Saban described the humbling defeat in almost apocalyptic terms Monday, mentioning the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Pearl Harbor in talking about how his team must rebound like America did from a "catastrophic event."
"Changes in history usually occur after some kind of catastrophic event," Saban said. "It may be 9/11, which sort of changed the spirit of America relative to catastrophic events. Pearl Harbor kind of got us ready for World War II, and that was a catastrophic event."
If the comparisons seem over the top, well, it is Iron Bowl week.
Saban didn't compare the embarrassing 21-14 loss to Louisiana-Monroe to those events, but picked those historical references to illustrate that this could be a pivotal week for the Crimson Tide.
A Saban spokesman said the coach chose the 9/11 and Pearl Harbor references to illustrate this could be a pivotal week for the Crimson Tide.
"What Coach Saban said did not correlate losing a football game with tragedy, everyone needs to understand that. He was not equating losing football games to those catastrophic events," football spokesman Jeff Purinton said in a statement to The Associated Press. "The message was that true spirit and unity become evident in the most difficult of times. Those were two tremendous examples that everyone can identify with."
Alabama (6-5, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) is preparing to face its biggest rival, No. 25 Auburn. The Tide is in a precarious spot leading up to Saturday's visit to the Tigers, having been stung by three consecutive losses that have put Saban's first Alabama team in danger of getting snubbed by bowls and having a .500 record.
The latest defeat was definitely a low-point, especially following on the heels of losses to No. 1 LSU and Mississippi State. It led Saban to another non-football analogy.
"They talk about alcoholics and people like that who never ever change until they hit rock bottom," Saban said. "Well, they change because when they hit rock bottom they have an awareness, they have an acceptance and a commitment to change.
"That's what our players need to do right now because in the past two weeks since the LSU game, I haven't seen the same spirit, I haven't seen the same work ethic. That's something we've got to get right."
The Tide has had off-the-field troubles in addition to a disappointing season. In the latest cases, five players were suspended for the past four games for improper receipt of textbooks and receiver DJ Hall was held out in the first half of the Louisiana-Monroe game for violating team rules. All those players are back for the Iron Bowl.
Those issues are part of the reason Saban is so bothered by his team's situation.
"I don't think anyone in this room would have bet that we would lose back-to-back games to Mississippi State or ULM," Saban said in his weekly news conference. "There's really a reason for that."
He said that reason has to do with suspensions, players being late to meetings or not focusing in practice. Then, there's the on-the-field problems.
"Not finishing plays. Not finishing games. Not finishing the season," Saban said. "You get humiliated, and that's basically what happened."
The Tide players also struggled to put the loss in perspective, though none used quite the same approach as their coach. Alabama was favored by 24½ points in the game, but had a series of costly mistakes that included four turnovers, a blocked field goal and three fruitless trips well into Louisiana-Monroe territory in the fourth quarter.
"I don't know if you really can put it into words," safety Rashad Johnson said. "We lost to a team that wasn't better than us, and it was all on us why we lost the game."
Receiver Matt Caddell said the team can't dwell on that loss -- or forget it.
"You've got to put it behind you, but you can't forget about it," Caddell said. "You just have to use it as a motivator to not be in that situation again. That's a lifelong lesson."
A win over Auburn would take some of the sting off, and likely erase any doubt that Alabama is bowl-bound. Plus, the Tide wants to stop a five-year losing streak to its biggest rival.
"I don't think there is a guy who doesn't know the seriousness of this game," linebacker Darren Mustin said. "I don't think there is a person on this team who doesn't know how big this is for us, how we need this game for our future, for our present, for everything." Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press