— TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama coach Nick Saban calls it "the Bluegrass Miracle phenomenon."
The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide plays poorly in one game but survives a desperation scenario and so no warning bells go off on the team that there might be problems.
"The last two games, I'd put both those in the same category," Saban said on Monday. "We didn't play as well as a team. You all (reporters) don't think so because we won one and we lost the other one. If we'd have won this one, you wouldn't have been concerned now either. I was concerned then.
"You all live in the results world out there. We kind of live in the process world. It's hard to get people to respond. It's kind of a Bluegrass Miracle phenomenon. You play bad, you win the game. Then the next week you get your (butt) kicked because nobody responded to playing bad because you won. You won the Bluegrass Miracle."
This time the Tide (9-1) beat No. 8 LSU on a last-minute touchdown then followed it up by digging an early 20-point hole and losing to No. 9 Texas A&M.
Ten years earlier (minus one day), Saban's LSU team survived to beat Kentucky on a last-play, 74-yard Hail Mary pass from Marcus Randall to Michael Clayton that became known as the Bluegrass Miracle.
The Tigers were pounded 31-0 by Alabama a week later.
Now, the Tide finds itself at least temporarily on the outside looking in at the national championship race and hoping two of the unbeaten teams — No. 1 Oregon, No. 2 Kansas State and No. 3 Notre Dame — fall by the wayside. Alabama hosts Western Carolina (1-9) Saturday and then can secure a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 5 Georgia with a victory over Auburn (2-8).
Linebacker Nico Johnson said he, quarterback AJ McCarron and offensive lineman Chance Warmack spoke after the defeat about last year's one-loss team that still wound up winning the national title.
"We can't just give up because we had a loss," Johnson said. "The hope for playing for the national championship is slim to none, but we have to go out and play our best ball. We haven't played our best ball the last couple of weeks and it showed. I'm going to try my best insofar as a defensive leader to re-motivate everybody, understand our purpose and what we have to do to affect everybody else. We've got to play better on defense. I'm going to hold everybody to that standard from here on out.
"We've got to be better."
A defense that was leading the nation in all the major categories has struggled the past two games. Alabama has allowed LSU and Texas A&M to combine for 853 yards and convert 21 of 38 third-down opportunities.
Saban said some of the issues are physical and some emotional, citing execution and tackling as glaring things.
"You can make excuses and say, 'Well the team was emotionally tired so they weren't quite focusing like they needed to,'" he said. "But they played a heck of a lot better when they got behind 20-0. Everybody all of a sudden got emotionally better. Why couldn't it have been better at the start? Those are the questions I ask myself."
He can cite a more recent example than the Bluegrass Miracle for his team. Alabama won its final four games by 17-plus points a year ago after dropping the game and handled LSU in the BCS championship game rematch 21-0. He said that team responded the right way.
A similar finish still might not be enough to land Alabama a trip to Miami and a shot at a third national title in four years. Johnson doesn't think the Tide was taking that trip for granted before the last two uneven performances, but said focus was an issue.
"I think everybody lost their focus, lost their 'why,'" he said. "I don't think we understood how important every game was. I don't think we understood that you can get beat week in and week out in the SEC, and it showed. I think everybody understands now. I hate it that we had to lose, but if that's what it takes, that's what it takes. We're going to re-motivate ourselves this week and go forward."