I guess it’s all about priorities.
When Alabama coach Nick Saban did not suspend wide receiver Jermaine Burton in the next game after he swatted a female in the back of the head in the postgame field rush at Tennessee on Oct. 15, he was asked one question about it in the postgame press conference.
But lose a second game in a regular season at the earliest point since his first Alabama season in 2007, and look out. Saban was asked more about that than the non-suspension heard ’round the sports world.
The first question after Saban’s No. 6 Crimson Tide lost 32-31 in overtime at No. 10 LSU Saturday was about a “disconnect” between game preparation and the game. Saban, one of the best game planners there is, has rarely been asked such a question.
And his game plan did lead to Alabama outgaining LSU, 465 yards to 367. But the sloppy Tide drew nine penalties for 92 yards to seven for 64 by LSU. Alabama also suffered a critical interception by quarterback Bryce Young to the end zone from LSU’s 4-yard line on Alabama’s first drive. LSU had zero turnovers.
“I don’t think there was a disconnect,” Saban said. “I mean, we went right down the field on the first drive (76 yards in eight plays) and just turned the ball over. We played defense really well in the first half (trailed 7-6). So, I don’t know that there was a disconnect.”
Saban also got asked about a failed two-point conversion by his team after taking a 15-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. Even though, the book does say that is 2-point time. This is because a two-point lead is no better than a one-point lead as a field goal gives the opponent the lead either way in that situation. But a two-point conversion secures a tie should the opponent get a field goal.
Alabama Coach Nick Got Testy
“So, it makes sense,” Saban said, growing testy. “Does it not? I’ve got the chart right here. You want to see it?”
Strategy is not the problem this season with Alabama. They have dropped to 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the SEC and out of the College Football Playoff. The team just is not playing well. It’s just flopping around, compared to every Tide team from 2011-21.
The real problem continues to be penalties. Alabama is tied for 131st and worst in the nation among upper level schools in penalties per game with 8.6 a game. This is amazing for a team coached by Saban. His teams going back to his time at LSU were usually among the least penalized.
Alabama has near pedestrian numbers in rushing and total offense – fifth in the SEC and 23rd nationally at 202 a game and fifth and 17th with 482 a game, respectively.
Saban has just not been able to reach this team, and should be criticized for that.
Alabama was nearly pathetic in the red zone against LSU. It reached the Tigers’ 4, 25, 18 and 20 by midway through the third quarter and had all of nine points to show for it. The offense under coordinator Bill O’Brien has too often lacked punch.
Nick Saban’s Team Just Not Scary
Alabama is just not scary anymore.
This is why LSU coach Brian Kelly’s decision to go for two was surprising to many. That included LSU athletic director Scott Woodward, who hired him.
“Holy Crap,” Woodward was heard saying when LSU lined up for the two-point conversion after a touchdown in the first overtime put the Tigers within 31-30.
LSU scored its OT touchdown in one play – a 25-yard sprint by quarterback Jayden Daniels. He finished with 95 on the night to lead all LSU rushers. Alabama needed nine plays and a gift pass interference call against LSU that turned a third-and-four into a first-and-goal at the 2. The ball was clearly tipped at the line by LSU, which should’ve negated the interference.
Surely, had overtime continued, LSU had a better chance of stopping Alabama anemic offense than the other way around. LSU’s defense had been forcing field goals in the red zone most of the night.
Saban Tries Not To Blame His Players
“Look, I can’t blame the players,” Saban said after he sort of did. “I’m responsible for all this stuff. So, if we didn’t do it right, that’s on me. And we’ve got to do a better job coaching the players to give them a better chance. And when we get opportunities, we take advantage of them.”
Saban does look tired, as people have said, including former Alabama basketball coach Wimp Sanderson on a recent radio show. And Sanderson should know. He’s 85. Saban is 71, and he probably looked tired when he was on his way to national title games in 2020 and ’21. Still, he looks better than most of his age. And he takes care of himself.
But it did sound strange to hear him talking about winning 10 games. The Tide has won fewer than 13 games just once since the 2014 season.
“We have a goal of trying to win 10 games. Which I think just about every team we’ve had since 2006 or ’07, or whatever, has been able to do that.”
Saban was still in Miami in 2006, losing 10 games. Just a little slip, yes.
But this guy and this team rarely slip. But this season, Alabama just keeps looking average. It could have easily lost at Texas and against Texas A&M as well and would be shooting for eight wins to close the regular season.
And with No. 11 Ole Miss (8-1, 4-1) waiting in Oxford for a 3:30 p.m. game Saturday, that goal of 10 wins may have to be adusted to nine. Alabama hasn’t had single digit wins since Saban’s first year in 2007.
With Saban’s own digits already at a milestone, how badly will he want to return Alabama to being Alabama-like after this season? Particularly with two things he hates – the NCAA Transfer Portal and Name, Image & Likeness – likely not going anywhere any time soon.