6 November 2011: Saban’s strange Saturday

Posted: November 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

I’m not trying to turn this site into a sports blog, but after watching the best college football game of the season (that’d be last night’s LSU vs. Alabama game), I have a few observations.

First, I wanted Alabama to win. Yes, I’m an Ole Miss graduate, but I also grew up 60 miles from Tuscaloosa (not to mention that about half of my 13 cousins are Alabama fans or live in Alabama), and have been surrounded by Alabama football since the days of Bear Bryant. In fact, the first college game I ever attended was at what was then called Denny Stadium (Alabama beat the snot out of Mississippi State).

Second, LSU won the game, fair and square. They played hard, stayed focused and played like the #1 team in the nation, so good on them for doing so.

Next, and this is in no way apologizing for Alabama, Nick Saban made some of the most curious calls I’ve ever seen him make last night. I mean, true head-scratchers, as if somebody in Louisiana had worked some voodoo before the game and given Saban Les Miles’ brain. Miles is usually one making calls that make you go, “Hmmm…”

Alabama came into the game with a placekicker not known for his particularly strong leg nor his accuracy. But, early in the game, when Alabama’s drive fizzled, it was time for a field goal attempt. Good call. It was a 43-yard try, a bit long, especially for this kicker. And he missed. I mean, he shanked the thing. Wasn’t even close. Still, good call on Saban’s part because, at the time, it was the right thing to do.

But on a subsequent, also-stalled drive, Saban sent the kicker back onto the field for another — longer — attempt rather than pooch punt the ball. Hmmmm … Another miss.  This one was not only wide, it was considerably short. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a total of 6 potential points.

Then, on a third stalled drive, Saban sends the special teams back onto the field, this time with the “short-yardage” kicker, rather than the “long-yardage” kicker who had already missed two. This kick was dutifully blocked by LSU. Yep, 9 potential points. Hmmmm …

Then, in the fourth quarter, LSU was forced to punt. Saban sent his ace punt returner, Marquis Maze in to receive the kick. Problem is, Maze had twisted his ankle earlier in the game and was in considerable pain. He had enough tape on his ankle to look he was walking in a cast. The kick came and Maze, visibly hobbled, couldn’t adjust to the ball, which sailed over his head and rolled another 25-30 yards, putting Alabama deep in its own territory. Hmmm  …

Finally, in overtime, Alabama faced a 3rd down and long from the left hashmark. Conventional wisdom (and common sense) called for a safe running play toward the center of the field, then kick a field goal (a mercifully short one this time), then hope your defense can hold off the LSU offense. Instead, Saban called a pass play — a straight drop-back pass play. Hmmm ….

LSU blitzed, sacked the QB at the 35. Now, Alabama has no choice but to try a 52-yard field goal. Which was promptly and dutifully missed. LSU ball. The Tigers drove to the Alabama 8, kicked the ball and remained the #1 team in the country.

I’ve watched a lot of Alabama football. I’ve watched a lot of Nick Saban football, and this was the most perplexing set of calls by this particular coach I’ve ever seen. I’m not going to say he made dumb calls because (a) Saban is far from dumb and (b) he’s surrounded by a superb coaching staff. Maybe it was hubris. I don’t know.

But in the end, I was scratching my head.

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