TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - It was an embarrassing, surprising defeat for Nick Saban's first season trying to lead a once-powerful program back to glory.
Alabama's 21-14 loss to Louisiana-Monroe Saturday certainly fits the bill. So does LSU's 13-10 homecoming defeat to fledgling UAB back in his debut season at LSU seven years earlier.
Crimson Tide fans can take heart. Those Tigers rebounded to beat Tennessee the following week.
UAB remained the game that first popped to Saban's mind when asked if this was the worst loss of his career.
Whichever one topped that list, ``This is not the kind of football that we intend to be played here,'' he said.
The loss left the Tide's bowl status and chances for a winning season in doubt leading up to the regular-season finale at No. 25 Auburn. Alabama (4-3 Southeastern Conference) is now one of 10 bowl-eligible teams in the SEC, and South Carolina and Mississippi State also are 6-5.
Saban wasn't looking nearly that far ahead in the game's aftermath.
``I'm going to work my tail off to do everything I can do to fix what we didn't do right, to improve our team,'' he said. ``We've got 24 hours to get over this. I'm not happy about it, I'm not pleased about it. I'm embarrassed for all our fans and everybody that we represent. That's my responsibility.''
What Alabama didn't do right is a long list. The Tide had four turnovers, including a punt that bounced off Simeon Castille and into the hands of a Louisiana-Monroe player. There was also a blocked field goal, plus three stalled scoring chances well into Warhawks' territory in the fourth quarter.
Alabama has scarcely resembled the team that trounced No. 19 Tennessee 41-17, losing three straight games since then. None drew the same level of ire and boos as this loss to the Warhawks (5-6). They came in 2-29-1 against SEC teams and as 24 1/2-point underdogs.
The first two SEC wins came against Kentucky and Mississippi State in the mid-90s during seasons when those teams were a combined 4-18. That track record provided Tide fans with little comfort.
``If you want to stop the booing, you've got to go out and make the plays,'' Tide receiver Matt Caddell said. ``Alabama fans are hurting right now. It's a tough loss. We have to get ready for the Iron Bowl and not worry about any bowl games.''
The Tide has played the last four games without five suspended players. Starting offensive linemen Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis and tailback Glen Coffee return for the Iron Bowl, along with reserves Chris Rogers and Marquis Johnson.
It's a needed boost.
``The biggest thing is that we have not improved as a team since the Tennessee game,'' Saban said. ``Some of the things that have happened to the team since that time have affected our continuity. It's affected our ability to be consistent, it's affected our confidence.
``That's not an excuse. It's a responsibility that we all need to take.''
It wasn't the first time in recent years that Alabama's up-and-down program had suffered a once nearly unthinkable loss. Mike DuBose's 1999 SEC championship team lost to Louisiana Tech. Mike Shula's first team fell to Northern Illinois in 2003.
This, however, is an opponent Alabama pounded 41-7 last season before a late decline that led to Shula's firing.
``It's all about who shows up to play,'' Warhawks quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster said. ``We just fought our tails off the whole game.''
Louisiana-Monroe averaged 4.1 yards per play to Alabama's 6.2 and was outgained by 127 yards. The rash of turnovers negated those statistical gaps.
``You can't give a team like that an opportunity to stay in the game,'' Castille said. ``They start thinking they can win.''
Castille thinks the quickest way to soothe angry, disappointed fans is to snap a five-year losing streak in the Iron Bowl. It still won't wipe out the painful memory for Castille and 21 other Tide seniors who lost in their final home game.
``It's definitely not how we wanted to end our last game at Bryant-Denny Stadium,'' Castille said. ``If we end up winning (over Auburn), a lot of people will forget about this. We definitely can win. Anything can happen in that game. Our fans come out to support us and see us play good football, and we didn't do that.''

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