Has University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban lost his magic in creating college football’s best of the best? With Saturday afternoon’s Iron Bowl loss in Auburn, where some key decisions by Saban may have lost the Crimson Tide the game, that just may be the case.
The 78th rendition of the Iron Bowl will undoubtedly be talked about for a long, long time. First off, this was a game in which the Auburn Tigers shouldn’t have even had a chance. The Tigers had already lost to a lackluster LSU team in late September, and should have lost against a very, very lackluster Georgia team on Nov. 30. It was during that game, Auburn’s Ricardo Louis amazingly caught a desperation 73-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds left in the game to win it, 43-38. It was a touchdown that should have never happened, but it did.
Going into what is, perhaps, the best college football rivalry around, you’d think Auburn would have its troubles against the seemingly unstoppable, practically perfect Crimson Tide. Alabama was rolling toward its fourth National Championship in five years under Saban, and even though the Iron Bowl would be held in Auburn this year, my money was on Saban’s boys. But as anyone who watches enough football knows, rivalries are rivalries, and anything can happen in these games. And that anything certainly happened Saturday, when Auburn stole a 34-28 victory in what will be the most memorable college football game of this season.
I am the first to admit that I was completely wrong in thinking Alabama would simply blow Auburn away, and the 10-and-a-half point spread was a lock. To Auburn’s credit, they stayed in the game just long enough for Alabama to make some monumental mistakes, led by Nick Saban’s questionable decisions.
First, with Alabama leading 28-21, with just under six minutes remaining in the game, the Tide faced a fourth-and-one on the Auburn 13 yard line.
Up to this point, Alabama hasn’t been playing that great a game on the offensive or defensive side of the ball. Even more worrisome for Saban and Co. was that their field goal kicker was having a terrible night. Cade Foster, up until that point, had missed all three of his field goal attempts (two from 44 out, and one from 33).
So on fourth-and-one from the Auburn 13, Saban decided to keep his kicker out of the game and go for the first down. I completely understand Saban’s hesitation to use his 0-3 kicker at that point, but making it a 10-point lead was important. Take the points. Instead, a fired-up Auburn defense shut the Tide down on that fourth down play. No points from the 13 yard line in a close rivalry game will bite you in the ass, and that decision bit Nick Saban in the ass.
“I do not ever like to say I do not have confidence in our players, but we have been a very good short-yardage team all year,” Saban told The New York Times. “It did not work out that way. So myself and a lot of other people will probably say that we should have kicked a field goal there, but we had a field goal from that same spot that we missed.”
So with three missed field goals and one field goal that wasn’t even attempted already, it was obvious this was becoming one of those games that truly proves special teams are for real. They may not always win the game, but they can emphatically lose the game.
Fired up after their fourth-and-one stop, Auburn was able to drive the field and tie the game at 28, thanks to a 39-yard touchdown from Nick Marshall to Sammie Coates. Yes, there was some offensive pass interference on the play, but oh, well. It was in Auburn, right?
So the stage was set for a last-minute Alabama drive. With one second on the clock, Saban decided to get crazy and go with his field-goal unit for a long, very long, 57-yard attempt. This time, however, Saban pulled Foster from the game and let freshman Adam Griffith give it a try.
Hell of a stage for a freshman kicker, huh? One second left in the Iron Bowl, game tied, and it’s up to you, young man, to kick a 57-yard field goal to win the game? Instead of giving the ball to your team in overtime, Saban went for the gutsy call and let Griffith have at it.
Why Saban didn’t let Griffith have a shot on the Auburn 13 yard line, instead of forcing him to try at the 57-yard field goal is beyond me. Maybe Saban needed a hero that day, and Griffith was going to be that hero. What could go wrong?
When Griffith’s kick, the best attempt of the night, fell short, Auburn’s Chris Davis pulled off the unthinkable and returned the kick more than 100 yards to give the Tigers the 34-28 victory. What wasn’t supposed to happen, happened.
It was a grand night to be an Auburn fan. It was a terrible night to swim with the Crimson Tide, with their crucial loss that will be attached to Saban’s resume forever.
Before the Nov. 30 game, Saban’s name wa being thrown around as a possibility for big name coaching positions, particularly at University of Southern California and at the University of Texas, if they had enough money to take him away from Alabama. Make no mistake about it, Saban will go where the money is. His allegiance to Alabama is as only as good as his next paycheck. I don’t know if his coaching in Texas or USC was a possibility, but after Saturday’s loss, his value as a head coach dropped.
He shouldn’t have gone for it on fourth down. He should have pushed the game into overtime. His team should have been better prepared. Saban, as head coach of one of the best football organizations in the country, should have had a better field goal kicker. If you ask me, Saban isn’t worth the high price people think he is. I wonder if those in the University of Alabama athletics office are questioning his salary right now as well. I would be.
Alabama’s Iron Bowl loss makes me wonder if that was the start of Nick Saban’s decline as one of the nation’s best head coaches.