Alabama did not lose to Auburn because of a couple of poor coaching decisions. Well, at least not what the masses have deemed to be poor decisions. The Crimson Tide lost because they failed to execute, and if coaching is to come into question, it should be based on choices made much earlier in the game, not the two late decisions people have latched on to for dear life.
Joe Posnanski at NBC Sports talks about it in his column, and he is far from the only person to do so. The collective world of college football observers are lining up to take a shot a Nick Saban's game management to end the Iron Bowl. Starting with the failed decision to go for it on fourth down and carrying through to the field-goal attempt with just one second to go before overtime.
Two situations where the outcome is coloring the discussion. Two situations where, if things went as Saban planned, as Alabama had rehearsed, no one would be questioning him as the best coach in the game. Two situations where, in the grand scheme of things, players did not do what they were supposed to do to make winning happen.
Saban was not rolling the dice when he made his decisions. He was looking at what he spent time working on in practice, what his team has done all year, and made a measured choice, as Bleacher Report's Marc Torrence quoted Saban stating after the game.
"I don't ever like to say I don’t have confidence in a player," Saban said about declining the field goal. "But I think the percentages were we would make the first down. We've been a very good short-yardage team all year. It didn't work out that way."
The fourth-down decision did not work out. That's football. A field goal might not have worked out, and given that field goals had failed recently, another failure was certainly a possibility. So, why risk it when it is just one yard. Alabama's been picking up one yard all season. Alabama's been built to pick up one yard. Alabama has been taught and conditioned to pick up one yard.
The Tide failed to get that yard. They failed to block the play. More specifically, the left side of the offensive line failed to win its battle against the right side of Auburn's defensive front. That is a coach believing in his team's ability to get one yard, based upon a season's worth of evidence, and the team not getting it done. For Auburn, that's the Tigers' front seven showing up in a big moment.
As for the field goal, a kick that fell just a few yards short of the destination, and even fewer yards from being impossible to catch inbounds, blaming Saban again ignores execution. It ignores that this has been practiced more than once and yet the Tide players failed to follow through on the teachings.
As Brian Volger noted to Michael Casagrande of AL.com, "It's one of those things you practice so many times, but when it happens, you're not expecting that kind of speed."
Saban pointed out the failure of the right side of his field-goal team to get wide to prevent the return, telling AL.com, "It looked like we didn't have anybody out on the right side—the right wing, the right tight end. Everybody was supposed to fan the field. We covered to the left; that's why he went to the right. So I couldn't see it that well down there on the sidelines."
The head coach with multiple national championships is far from perfect. However, in these instances, there is a tremendous difference between bad outcomes and bad decisions. The outcomes in both situations that people are pointing to were unfortunate for Alabama, but the choices themselves were far from reckless or wild gambles on the part of Nick Saban.
Now, if one wants to second-guess decisions that were made in coaching, one need look no further than in Alabama's reluctance to add an additional run defender to the mix against Auburn. Obviously, 'Bama's lack of faith in the cornerbacks is what caused the decision to keep two safeties high for large portions of the game, but Auburn moving on the ground was aided by the choice.
Of course, that decision, a move directly related to Auburn's 296 yards on the ground, goes unmentioned. After all, why talk about why Auburn was able to put up the most yards in an SEC game against the Tide since Arkansas' 301 yards against Alabama back in 2007. Why talk about something that impacted the very core of the game and put Auburn in a position to win?
Saban did make a questionable coaching call in this game; it just had nothing to do with field goals.