The Mercer fans in the visitor’s corner of Bryant-Denny Stadium gave the Bears a standing ovation after losing 48-14 Saturday at No. 1 Alabama.
Before the game, Mercer coach Drew Cronic told AL.com the top priority was leaving Tuscaloosa in good health while winning a few small battles along the way. After it ended, Cronic spoke about what just happened outside the visiting locker room.
“It’s an honor to be here. You go into a game like this, and you just want to find small victories and find ways to improve. I think we’re going to find that. Obviously, when you’re playing against a team like that, everything is magnified, every mistake you make is magnified. But I appreciate where kids can fight the battle and find ways to make a few plays, and I felt like we left some things out there, I really do. When you play a team like that, you have one positive thing happen and then you take a step backwards.”
Four years earlier, Alabama steamrolled Mercer 56-0 before Cronic arrived as the new head coach in 2020. The former Georgia Bulldog player knows SEC football so he was blunt with his second Mercer team.
“I don’t blow smoke at them. I tell them the truth. They’re better than us,” Cronic said he told the Bears. “They’re the best team in the country. Can you go hang in there with them? Can you show you belong on the same field as them and find a way to make some plays? I felt like some kids did that.
“I’m sure I’m going to turn on that film and be pissed off about some stuff because there were some things that had nothing to do with them that we screwed up. But at the same time, I think I’m going to find some kids who made a few plays and I’m really proud of our kids because we kept playing hard.”
Still, they weren’t going to pop bottles for scoring two touchdowns.
“We’re going to live in reality, but at the same time, it’s never OK to lose,” Cronic said. “We’re going to expect to win every time we show up but I’m going to turn on the film … I’m going to watch it on the bus on the way home. I can’t wait.”
It took some time for Mercer’s offense to find its footing as it netted just 35 first-half yards or 1.5 per snap. The Bears then played with Alabama in the second half when the top-ranked hosts outscored Mercer just 17-14 after halftime. The visitors gained 181 second-half yards or 6.0 per play while Alabama had 232 yards.
“I think early, it took a second to get comfortable because it’s loud and you’re trying communicate and you’re going against a bunch of big dudes but I think we held in there,” Cronic said. “You can’t get a punt blocked … against anybody so that was disappointing that that happened because I felt like that was kinda what started some of the floodgates opening up. We certainly didn’t need that but then we sorta held them a couple of times and then in the second half, we started to put a drive or two together.
“Even on the last drive, they didn’t … I mean, what did we do? We fumbled the exchange and then we had a snap go over our head. That has nothing to do with who we were playing.”