Column: Saban outcoached in Iron Bowl, titles hopes dashed in l - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Column: Saban outcoached in Iron Bowl, titles hopes dashed in loss

Posted: Updated:
Alabama head coach Nick Saban watches from the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) Alabama head coach Nick Saban watches from the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
  • Related LinksMore>>

  • Alabama fans, teammates rally around Cade Foster

    Alabama fans, teammates rally around Cade Foster

    Tuesday, December 3 2013 1:53 PM EST2013-12-03 18:53:32 GMT
    MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama kicker Cade Foster was inundated with support from teammates and thousands of fans on social media after missing two field goal attempts and having a third blocked inMore >>
    Alabama kicker Cade Foster was inundated with support from teammates and thousands of fans on social media after missing two field goal attempts and having a third blocked in the Crimson Tide's loss to Auburn.More >>

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Nick Saban threw his hands in the air and disgustedly tossed his headset aside.

Too bad he didn't have a mirror, so he could see who was to blame for this Miracle on the Plains.

The Alabama Crimson Tide was denied a shot at an unprecedented third straight national title because the greatest coach in America got outcoached.

No one could've seen that coming.

With one of the most stunning plays in college football history, No. 4 Auburn returned a missed field goal the length of the field with zero on the clock, giving the Tigers a 34-28 victory over the top-ranked Crimson Tide on Saturday night.

Auburn moves on to the Southeastern Conference championship game, its national title hopes still alive.

Alabama, in all likelihood, was eliminated from the race. Hard to see the Tide getting another mulligan like it did two years ago.

But, while the celebration in this little hamlet went on into the night, Saban was surely taking a cold, hard look at some of the decisions he made that sent the Tide back to Tuscaloosa with the most improbable of Iron Bowl defeats.

"It is my responsibility," he said.

First and foremost, why hasn't he recruited a reliable field goal kicker?

Alabama missed four field goals — FOUR! — and passed on a chip shot that could've given the Tide a 10-point lead with 5 1-2 minutes remaining. It's not like this is a mystery to Saban, whose team nearly squandered another national title during the 2011 season because his team missed four field goals in an overtime loss to LSU.

The Tide got lucky that year, working its way back into the No. 2 position in the BCS standings even though it didn't even win the SEC West. Alabama totally stifled the Tigers in the national championship game, ensuring there was no need for any clutch field goals.

Saban, who essentially has the pick of whatever high school players he wants each year, has clearly never made kickers much of a priority.

Thus, the perfectionist who treats his college football program like a business, who talks endlessly about a "process" that leaves no stone unturned, left Alabama vulnerable against a clearly inferior team. Nothing against Auburn, but there's no way a squad that went 3-9 last season and has one of the lowest-ranked passing games should've beaten a team that claimed three of the last four national titles.

"They're usually beating teams by a lot," said Auburn safety Jermaine Whitehead. "Maybe they don't work on (kicking) much in practice."

Then, he took the ultimate dig at Saban and the Tide.

"They always get the best players in the country," Whitehead said. "I guess they don't get the best kickers."

Zing.

Senior Cade Foster had actually been quite reliable this season, making 11-of-12 field goals including a 53-yarder. But none of those kicks came in the pressure-cooker of Jordan-Hare Stadium, where the bitterest of rivals went at it in a game for the ages.

"It's hard to find ways to win when the pressure's on," said first-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who was coaching high school ball just eight years ago but schooled Saban on this night. "And no doubt, there was unbelievable pressure out there."

Auburn thrived in that environment. Alabama didn't. And here's how the Tide threw it away:

— The Tide raced to a 21-7 lead in the second period before Malzahn put his fast-paced offense into overdrive, which seemed to catch Alabama off guard. An 81-yard touchdown drive included nothing but running plays and took barely 2 minutes. Down 21-14, Auburn took the second-half kickoff, quickly went 69 yards in nine plays (six runs, three short passes) and, voila, the game was tied.

— Alabama had plenty of scoring chances, but Foster kept missing. A 44-yarder on Alabama's opening possession was wide left. He knocked through a 28-yarder early in the fourth, but a false start penalty moved the Tide back five yards. Then, seeming to tighten up, Foster shanked a 33-yarder, the ball wobbling far left of the upright.

— The Tide reclaimed the lead on a 99-yard touchdown pass and could've iced it on fourth-and-1 at the Auburn 13. But Saban decided to go for it instead of attempting a 30-yard field goal for a 10-point lead. Auburn stacked the line and stuffed T.J. Yeldon for no gain.

— Foster got one more chance, but was surely a basket case when Saban sent him on for a 44-yarder with 2 1-2 minutes remaining. Trying to get more distance, Foster kicked the ball too low. The Tigers blocked it simply by sticking up their hands.

— Still down by only a touchdown, Auburn kept running its read option in the middle of the line, the clocking ticking down under a minute. Finally, quarterback Nick Marshall gave Malzahn a look, and the Auburn coach knew it was time. He called for a play where Marshall ran to the left, the ball tucked under his left arm, and Saban's defense bit on it just as expected. Suddenly, just before the line of scrimmage, the quarterback switched it to his right hand and flipped a pass to Sammie Coates, all alone behind the secondary. The 39-yard touchdown tied the game with 32 seconds remaining.

— Overtime loomed, but Alabama wound up with one more play after a video review showed one second left on the clock at the end of Yeldon's 24-yard run. Instead of a Hail Mary into the end zone, Saban sent on Adam Griffith, a freshman with a stronger leg than Foster's, for a 57-yard attempt. On the opposite sideline, Malzahn pondered going for a block, then sent Chris Davis deep into the end zone.

"With the field goal team out there, I knew they had a lot of big guys on the field," the Auburn coach said. "I knew that Chris would only have to make a couple of guys miss."

Miss they did. Davis returned it from 9 yards deep in the end zone for the winning score.

With that, the greatest coach in America had been thoroughly outcoached.

___

Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry@ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

  • UAB SportsMore>>

  • UAB cruises to 48-10 win over Troy in season opener

    UAB cruises to 48-10 win over Troy in season opener

    Saturday, August 30 2014 10:29 PM EDT2014-08-31 02:29:34 GMT
    Cody Clements passed for two touchdowns and ran for another, while Jordan Howard rushed for two more in helping the University of Alabama-Birmingham beat Troy University 48-10 on Saturday.More >>
    Cody Clements passed for two touchdowns and ran for another, while Jordan Howard rushed for two more in helping the University of Alabama-Birmingham beat Troy University 48-10 on Saturday.
    More >>
  • Fans ready for start of football season

    Fans ready for start of football season

    Thursday, August 28 2014 7:45 AM EDT2014-08-28 11:45:46 GMT
    For some people, tonight is just as exciting as Christmas Eve! Thursday kicks off the college football season. Many fans have been counting down the days.More >>
    For some people, tonight is just as exciting as Christmas Eve! Thursday kicks off the college football season. Many fans have been counting down the days.
    More >>
  • UAB names Cody Clements starting quarterback vs Troy

    UAB names Cody Clements starting quarterback vs Troy

    Tuesday, August 26 2014 3:13 PM EDT2014-08-26 19:13:29 GMT
    UAB will open the season with Cody Clements at quarterback. Clements, a junior college transfer from Cerritos College in California, beat out redshirt freshman Jeremiah Briscoe for the starting job.More >>
    UAB will open the season with Cody Clements at quarterback. Clements, a junior college transfer from Cerritos College in California, beat out redshirt freshman Jeremiah Briscoe for the starting job.More >>
  • All other Local CollegesMore>>

  • Samford loses to TCU, 48-14

    Samford loses to TCU, 48-14

    Sunday, August 31 2014 1:10 AM EDT2014-08-31 05:10:40 GMT
    Samford loses its season opener on the road to TCU...More >>
    Samford loses its season opener on the road to TCU...
    More >>
  • Samford coach Pat Sullivan will not travel with team to TCU

    Samford coach Pat Sullivan will not travel with team to TCU

    Wednesday, August 27 2014 2:59 PM EDT2014-08-27 18:59:15 GMT
    Samford football coach Pat Sullivan will miss Saturday's season opener against TCU. The school announced that Sullivan has been advised against traveling by doctors while he recovers from offseason surgery."Unfortunately I will not be able to make the trip with my Samford team this weekend for our game against TCU," Sullivan said in a statement released through the school. "My doctors have advised me not to travel at this time due to a complication from a surgery earlier this year. We have an...More >>
    Samford football coach Pat Sullivan will miss Saturday's season opener against TCU. The school announced that Sullivan has been advised against traveling by doctors while he recovers from offseason surgery."Unfortunately I will not be able to make the trip with my Samford team this weekend for our game against TCU," Sullivan said in a statement released through the school. "My doctors have advised me not to travel at this time due to a complication from a surgery earlier this year. We have an...More >>
  • No. 8 Michigan State readies defense for opener against JSU

    No. 8 Michigan State readies defense for opener against JSU

    Tuesday, August 26 2014 7:54 PM EDT2014-08-26 23:54:33 GMT
    Mark Dantonio cares more about how Michigan State plays than how many plays Jacksonville State can run with its fast-tempo offense in Friday's season opener for both teams.More >>
    Mark Dantonio cares more about how Michigan State plays than how many plays Jacksonville State can run with its fast-tempo offense in Friday's season opener for both teams.
    More >>
  • Latest StoriesMore>>

  • Saban: Bama's QB competition continues

    Saban: Bama's QB competition continues

    Monday, September 1 2014 10:26 PM EDT2014-09-02 02:26:09 GMT
    Alabama still has competition for the starting job at quarterback. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban says both Blake Sims and Jake Coker will play Saturday against Florida Atlantic. He says he hasn't determined how the rotation will work for No. 2 Alabama.More >>
    Alabama still has competition for the starting job at quarterback. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban says both Blake Sims and Jake Coker will play Saturday against Florida Atlantic. He says he hasn't determined how the rotation will work for No. 2 Alabama.
    More >>
  • City of Clay to defend pit bull ban in court Tuesday

    City of Clay to defend pit bull ban in court Tuesday

    Monday, September 1 2014 7:14 PM EDT2014-09-01 23:14:16 GMT
    The city of Clay will defend its Vicious Dog Ordinance Tuesday morning in court. The city council passed the ordinance last year. It bans pit bulls. Mayor Charles Webster calls it the biggest safety issue in Clay since he's been elected.More >>
    The city of Clay will defend its Vicious Dog Ordinance Tuesday morning in court. The city council passed the ordinance last year. It bans pit bulls. Mayor Charles Webster calls it the biggest safety issue in Clay since he's been elected.
    More >>
  • Friday Night Blitz: Coverage lineup for Week 3

    Friday Night Blitz: Coverage lineup for Week 3

    Monday, September 1 2014 6:32 PM EDT2014-09-01 22:32:55 GMT
    Week 3 Blitz Game of the Week:MOUNTAIN BROOK vs HOOVER (The Met)Blitz Cheer:BESSEMER CITY at BROOKWOODBlitz Brigade:HUEYTOWN at MINOROther Notable Matchups:VESTAVIA HILLS at OAK MOUNTAINNORTHRIDGE at MCADORYHILLCREST at CLAY-CHALKVILLE CENTRAL-CLAY at SHELBY COUNTYDEMOPOLIS at CALERAMUNFORD at LEEDSCHILTON COUNTY at PELL CITYPIEDMONT at ASHVILLEMOODY vs SPRINGVILLEJACKSON-OLIN vs BRIARWOODTHOMPSON at SPAIN PARKHEWITT-TRUSSVILLE at TUSCALOOSA COUNTYCORNER vs FAIRFIELDGREENE COUNTY vs GORDOTHOR...More >>
    Week 3 Blitz Game of the Week:MOUNTAIN BROOK vs HOOVER (The Met)Blitz Cheer:BESSEMER CITY at BROOKWOODBlitz Brigade:HUEYTOWN at MINOROther Notable Matchups:VESTAVIA HILLS at OAK MOUNTAINNORTHRIDGE at MCADORYHILLCREST at CLAY-CHALKVILLE CENTRAL-CLAY at SHELBY COUNTYDEMOPOLIS at CALERAMUNFORD at LEEDSCHILTON COUNTY at PELL CITYPIEDMONT at ASHVILLEMOODY vs SPRINGVILLEJACKSON-OLIN vs BRIARWOODTHOMPSON at SPAIN PARKHEWITT-TRUSSVILLE at TUSCALOOSA COUNTYCORNER vs FAIRFIELDGREENE COUNTY vs GORDOTHOR...More >>
  • Member of biker club speaks about fight before shooting

    Member of biker club speaks about fight before shooting

    Monday, September 1 2014 6:29 PM EDT2014-09-01 22:29:44 GMT

    Police: suspect in fight before shooting into crowd

    More >>

    Police: suspect in fight before shooting into crowd

    More >>
  • Labor Day Moon Pie eating contest

    Labor Day Moon Pie eating contest

    Monday, September 1 2014 6:22 PM EDT2014-09-01 22:22:19 GMT
    Dozens of folks got their ''fill'' of a popular Alabama treat this Labor Day.Tannehill State Park hosted the largest Moon Pie eating contest. All total there were 65 people who signed up. The winner receives a cash prize of $100. But this is about more than money. Park administrator, Stacey Green says, "I thought at times it was about the cash prizes, because the adults will win $100. But we've had so many repeat competitors, that I really think they're more in it for bragging rights. I re...More >>
    Dozens of folks got their ''fill'' of a popular Alabama treat this Labor Day.Tannehill State Park hosted the largest Moon Pie eating contest. All total there were 65 people who signed up. The winner receives a cash prize of $100. But this is about more than money. Park administrator, Stacey Green says, "I thought at times it was about the cash prizes, because the adults will win $100. But we've had so many repeat competitors, that I really think they're more in it for bragging rights. I re...More >>
  • UPDATE: Car belonging to elderly stabbing victim found

    UPDATE: Car belonging to elderly stabbing victim found

    Monday, September 1 2014 6:07 PM EDT2014-09-01 22:07:42 GMT
    Birmingham police say a neighbor found the woman lying on the floor of her house on the 600 block of 39th Street South Sunday evening. They believe she was the victim of a burglary and was stabbed to death.More >>
    Birmingham police say a neighbor found the woman lying on the floor of her house on the 600 block of 39th Street South Sunday evening. They believe she was the victim of a burglary and was stabbed to death.More >>
  • Job growth under microscope this Labor Day

    Job growth under microscope this Labor Day

    Monday, September 1 2014 5:50 PM EDT2014-09-01 21:50:56 GMT
    Keeping a roof overhead and putting food on the table. That's still difficult for many Alabamians on this 130th Labor Day. A just released report by Arise Citizens Policy Project warns Alabamians will continue to feel the effects of the great recession for years to come. Arise is a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition that believes low-income people are suffering because of state policy decisions. Bottom line is that Alabama's unemployment rate stands at seven percent. Yet, the stat...More >>
    Keeping a roof overhead and putting food on the table. That's still difficult for many Alabamians on this 130th Labor Day. A just released report by Arise Citizens Policy Project warns Alabamians will continue to feel the effects of the great recession for years to come. Arise is a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition that believes low-income people are suffering because of state policy decisions. Bottom line is that Alabama's unemployment rate stands at seven percent. Yet, the stat...More >>
  • Birmingham security talks underway for Magic City Classic, Dalai Lama visit

    Birmingham security talks underway for Magic City Classic, Dalai Lama visit

    Monday, September 1 2014 2:46 PM EDT2014-09-01 18:46:22 GMT
    This year's Magic City Classic week in Birmingham may be a classic one for security. That's because the annual game is happening the same week as the Dalai Lama's multi-day visit to the city, as ABC 33/40More >>
    Security preps.More >>