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Did Lane Kiffin Convert Nick Saban To More Open Offenses, Or Was It Aunt Katie?

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Virtually everyone, including Alabama coach Nick Saban, has credited Lane Kiffin with ushering in the modern age of spread, no-huddle offense to Alabama while he was offensive coordinator there from 2014-16.

“He’s very bright, a very good play caller. I learned a lot about offensive football from him,” Saban said on Monday of Kiffin, who is in his second season as Ole Miss’ head coach after three seasons as the head coach of Florida Atlantic.

No. 1 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) hosts No. 12 Ole Miss (3-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS. It will be Kiffin’s first game in Bryant-Denny Stadium since the 2016 season when the then-defending national champion Crimson Tide reached its second straight national title game before losing to Clemson – without Kiffin, who had been relieved of his duties the previous week.

“Lane did an outstanding job for us here,” Saban said. “We were wanting to make some changes in the offense.”

Alabama has kept Kiffin’s offense through the four offensive coordinators post-Kiffin: Brian Daboll, Michael Locksley, Steve Sarkisian and now Bill O’Brien.

The offense Kiffin will bring to Alabama Saturday is No. 1 in the nation in total yards a game at 635, No. 4 in rushing at 298.7 and No. 11 in passing at 336.7 behind Heisman Trophy favorite quarterback Matt Corral.

But was it really Kiffin? Or was Saban just finally realizing again that his aunt Katie Saban was right all along?

It was the week of the Ole Miss game in October of 2001 when Saban, then in his second season as LSU’s coach, was preparing his Tigers (4-2) to play the Rebels (5-1) and rising sophomore quarterback Eli Manning. Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher was prepping for innovative, blitz-happy Ole Miss defensive coordinator Don Lindsey, who had previously been a very successful coordinator at Georgia Tech, USC and Arkansas.

Aunt Katie, who passed away in 2017 at age 86, used to write Saban weekly game plan letters during football seasons. She apparently knew about Lindsey, who was known for stunting and disguising.

“She watched all the games,” Saban said Wednesday on the SEC teleconference. “When we were getting ready to play Ole Miss, she put in her game plan letter to me that we should go no-huddle because they played what she called a ‘radar’ defense. ‘And it’s going to confuse your quarterback.'”

LSU senior quarterback Rohan Davey had been anything but confused in 2001. He had just thrown for 255 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-0 win at Mississippi State and for 383 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-25 win at Kentucky.

“So, like always, I didn’t pay any attention to her,” Saban said. “Even though Eli played really well in that game (28 of 44 for 249 yards, 3 TDs), Rohan had one of his worst games ever because of the confusion their defense caused. And we should’ve gone no-huddle, like my aunt said.”

Saban usually speaks in a somewhat bored monotone on the SEC teleconferences and at press conferences, unless he is dressing down someone. But he literally could not stop laughing when discussing Aunt Katie.

Davey completed just 9 of 23 passes for 183 yards with a touchdown and an interception around two sacks. LSU also lost two fumbles.

Using more no-huddle the very next week, Davey completed 35 of 44 passes for 528 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-21 win at Alabama. The 528 yards remains the school record.

“I paid a little more attention to what she had to say after that,” Saban said through more laughter.

Davey finished with 3,347 passing yards, which was the LSU record until Joe Burrow broke it with an SEC record 5,671 yards in 2019.

Saban was about tell his aunt story during his appearance on the ManningCast show during the Dallas-Philadelphia Monday Night Football this week with Eli and Peyton Manning, but they broke for a commercial and didn’t get back to it.

His belief in his aunt’s strategy did still come through, though. While discussing offensive strategy with the two Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, Saban said:

“I can’t understand why anybody gets in the huddle now. It’s so much more difficult to play when the defensive players can’t get in a rhythm (that the offensive huddle provides).”

Just then, Philadelphia scored a touchdown without a huddle.

“Dallas was not even lined up yet,” Peyton said.

Aunt Katie – right again up there.

SATURDAY’S GAMES (All times central with FanDuel point spreads.)

No. 8 Arkansas at No. 2 Georgia (18.5-point favorite), 11 a.m., ESPN; Tennessee at Missouri (3.5 favorite), 11 a.m., SEC Network; No. 12 Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama (15.5 favorite), 2:30 p.m., CBS; Troy (2-2) at South Carolina (6.5 favorite), 2:30 p.m., SEC Network; No. 10 Florida (7.5 favorite) at Kentucky, 5 p.m., ESPN; Mississippi State at No. 15 Texas A&M (7.5 favorite), 6 p.m., SEC Network; Connecticut (0-5) at Vanderbilt (14.5 favorite), 6:30 p.m., ESPNU; No. 22 Auburn at LSU (3.5 favorite), 8 p.m., ESPN.

GUILBEAU POLL

1.Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC). 2. Florida (3-1, 1-1). 3. Georgia (4-0, 2-0). 4. Arkansas (4-0, 1-0). 5. Ole Miss (3-0). 6. Kentucky (4-0, 2-0). 7. Texas A&M (3-1, 0-1). 8. Auburn (3-1). 9. LSU (3-1, 1-0). 10. Mississippi State (2-2, 0-1). 11. Missouri (2-2, 0-1). 12. South Carolina (2-2, 0-2). 13. Tennessee (2-2, 0-1). 14. Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-1).

STAT OF THE WEEK

Ole Miss has gone for it on fourth down 14 times this season, converted 12 times and leads the nation in both categories.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“I don’t lie to y’all. I just keep stuff from you.”

-Arkansas coach Sam Pittman when asked about center Ricky Stromberg and right tackle Dalton Wagner starting in the win over Texas A&M Saturday despite injuries after Pittman never said during the week that they would play.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau has been on the LSU beat since 1998 with multiple outlets in Louisiana, prior to that he had covered both Auburn and Alabama. He won first place for his game feature on LSU's upset at Florida last season from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He was also named Beat Writer of Year, by Louisiana Sports Writers Association in July; placed in three Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) categories – Beat Writer, Explanatory, Game Coverage – last spring. Guilbeau was also the FWAA first-place winner for columns in 2017 and was also the top overall winner in 2016 FWAA placing first for his game story, second in columns, and receiving honorable mention for features.

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