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McCollum's Column: A few observations from Alabama-Auburn

Posted: December 2, 2013 - 5:35pm

The good, the bad, the ugly, the ironic and the questions from the Alabama-Auburn game:



On a day of several dramatic endings and games, this was one of the best ever — and most unusual.

The videos of Auburn and Alabama fans reacting to Chris Davis’s final return are about as good as the return.



Alabama place-kicker Cade Foster, who missed three field goals, probably prompting Nick Saban to pass up an attempt on fourth and one, received death threats and hate mail from a few Crimson Tide “fans.” One tweeted he needed to “drink bleach.”

C’mon. It’s a game and nothing should take the luster off a great game. Foster was 11 of 12 for the season going in, although none in that kind of setting under that kind of pressure.

Everyone has a bad day.

Every fan of every team is going to have his frustrations — even Alabama.

The Tide turns every once in awhile.



Saban, a master of precision and detail, has not appeared to have quite the zeal for recruiting place-kickers as great defensive backs, linemen, linebackers and running backs. His talent at place-kicker doesn’t seem to balance that everywhere else.

Is Saban’s recruiting of place-kickers similar to Bobby Petrino’s recruiting of defensive players?



Saturday proved that Saban is not infallible.

Saban, supposedly the king of college football coach who has acquired an aura of invincibility, did not handle well the final seconds.

The whole scene illustrated that no one in charge of 18- to 20-somethings playing a high intensity game can get it right all the time.

With the score tied and the game apparently headed into overtime, Saban begged for another second to be put on the clock after a sideline pass.

Obviously, he wanted one more play so overtime wasn’t his first choice.

He had two other choices: Try a Hail Mary with Heisman candidate A.J. McCarron or attempt a 57-yard field goal. McCarron had completed a 99-yard TD pass earlier. How amazing would it have been for Alabama to beat Auburn in about the same incredible way Auburn had beaten Georgia in its last game.

Because his regular place-kicker, Foster, (11 of 12 for the season) had missed three earlier field goals and Auburn had blocked one with not much more of an effort than a lineman raising his hands.

Saban brought in a freshman place-kicker (Adam Griffith) who had not booted one beyond 40 yards, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here because he probably knew his capabilities from practice.

What this 57-yard attempt represented, if missed, was a kickoff without the regular kickoff team, which is usually well-schooled in tackling and angles.



In Saban’s mind (particularly after the earlier block), the worst case scenario was probably having the field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown. Stacking the field goal unit with big guys, slow guys and linemen used to blocking seemed the safe kick choice.

However, when the attempt was fielded by Davis 9 yards deep in the end zone, Alabama was caught with what Auburn coach Gus Malzahn described as “probably only two or three guys who could tackle.”

And one of the most versatile athletes on the field for Alabama at the time was probably the place-kicker. Once, Davis got to the sideline under a full head of steam and the initial line of coverage was passed or blocked (many of them probably still fuzzy or what was happening or how to cover the field), Davis just had to make a couple of players miss, get the angle on a couple of others and had clear sailing.

What Saban thought was the worst case scenario was not. Auburn was in return mode. Alabama was in confused mode.



And consider this. Alabama had earlier been stopped inches short on fourth down. And if that field goal attempt had been just a couple of feet farther, Davis might not have been able to field it. And if Saban hadn’t gotten that final second back.


Even with great teams at the highest level, it’s still a game of seconds, inches and luck.

That’s what makes college football so captivating and exciting.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)


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