Alabama is down 13-9. The clock reads 13:02 in the 4th Quarter. The Crimson Tide face a 4th and Goal from the 3. Alabama had been set up by a 28 yard completion to the Georgia 5, but could only muster two yards on the previous three plays. A touchdown here would surely turn the tide of this national championship game and would force Georgia to put together a strong scoring drive, which they hadn’t been able to do to this point outside of one breakaway run. It seems obvious that Nick Saban, with his dominant reputation and long history of winning big games, would go for it. Instead, Saban decided to kick the field goal. Alabama would score again following a Georgia turnover, but Georgia added 20 points in the 4th quarter, beating Alabama 33-18.
This key 4th and Goal call marked the beginning of the end for Nick Saban’s career.
Saban simply does not have the same ruthless instinct that drove him to his illustrious career. The dynasty that he had spearheaded for the last decade was dominant. Any time Alabama took the field you felt that they would inevitably win the game. Even when they were on the ropes, Saban and the Crimson Tide would drive a dagger into the hearts of fans around the country rooting for Alabama’s downfall.
There was always a level of confidence in Saban’s decision making. After all, Saban has won seven national championships, the most by any college football coach. It felt as if he could do no wrong.
However, this key play call showed a lack of faith in his defense to get a stop on the following drive, which is what they did anyway. Instead of being up 16-13, recovering the fumble and scoring a touchdown to take a commanding 23-13 lead with under 10 minutes to play, Saban had left the door open for Georgia to get back into the game while only trailing by five. It was a mistake, but Alabama lost by 15 and Georgia had the best defense in the country, so maybe this could be excused as just a small error that really didn’t have much of an impact on the outcome of the game.
But then Saban did it again.
This time, Alabama trailed 21-7 early in the second quarter against Tennessee. This is a position Saban is not accustomed to being in, but Tennessee had come out fast. Alabama needed an answer to the Vols and had done so, driving 73 yards on 11 plays over a nearly five minute span. The Crimson Tide offense faced a 4th and Goal from the two. A touchdown would slow the Tennessee momentum and keep Alabama one defensive stop away from potentially tying the game. Gaining two yards should be nothing for the big and bad nine point favorites.
Instead, Saban settled for the field goal. There was a lot of football left to be played after this decision, but the difference would still be massive. Alabama lost 52-49 on a last second field goal, making that first half decision to kick a field goal instead of trying to punch it in for a touchdown the difference in the game. But Tennessee is just that good this year. QB Hendon Hooker is a Heisman favorite and their offense is one of the most prolific in the country. Sure, Alabama was outplayed, but they lost to a good team, Nick Saban won’t let it happen again.
And then it did.
Last night, Alabama was flat-out beaten by LSU. There wasn’t a specific play that Saban’s decision making failed the team. Instead, there was simply no fear instilled by Alabama that had been felt by opponents for the last decade. LSU stepped onto the field with the confidence that they had the ability to beat Alabama. Despite being outgained by almost 100 yards, LSU was the one to find a way to win. Head coach Brian Kelly became the aggressor in overtime, electing to go for two to win the game in the first overtime period. His aggressiveness ultimately won LSU the game. The same style of aggressiveness that could have won Alabama the national championship last year or its matchup with Tennessee this year.
Alabama has had more penalty yards than its opponent in seven of nine games this year. They have set records for the amount of penalties committed under Nick Saban. They are not as effective despite having as much talent as any team in the country. Outside of a scenario of complete chaos, Alabama will not make the College Football Playoff.
If this trend continues, it will be time for Nick Saban to retire. His legacy certainly will not be tarnished, as he will always stand as one of the best, if not the best, coaches in college football history. However, it certainly appears that he has lost a step. Alabama is not the same as it was.