By: Adeel Anwar
Now I know that this viewpoint won’t exactly be the most prevailing or popular Tuesday, the first morning after the epic National Championship game between the Clemson Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide but I believe it is necessary in our national dialogue. Pride cometh before the fall. I want to preface this article by saying that I believe Nick Saban is one of the best college football coaches to ever have lived, if not the best, and is one of the premier eminent minds on the defensive side of the ball ever. What he has been able to do at Alabama has not been matched by any coach in history, bar maybe Bear Bryant, and his accomplishments and accolades cannot go unnoticed but due to these same accomplishments, he lost the game to the Tigers 35-31. The Crimson Tide lost this game before they even stepped foot in Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida. Let’s go over why.
Early on, it looked as though this Alabama team would have their way with the Clemson Tigers, much like they had their way with opposing teams throughout the entire year. Offensively, the were able to make great use of their bludgeoning offensive line with at least 2 first round draft picks anchoring it. Bo Scarborough was able to use that line to provide 2 touchdowns and put the tide up 14-0 by just the 10:42 mark of the 2nd quarter. Throughout the latter part of the season, after his return from injury, Bo Scarbrough has looked primed to fit in the long lineage of fantastic running backs that have played under Nick Saban’s tutelage. On his 63 carries since his return, he has racked up 454 yards at a rate of 7.2 yards per carry versus the likes of Auburn, Florida, Washington and Clemson, stats that let you know that Alabama has their next star in the making at the half back position. When he went down in the 2nd quarter, a collective gasp ripped through the stadium. He was listed questionable to return with an injury to his right leg and made successive trips to the medical tent but as we know now, had a fracture in lower right leg that will not require surgery. After his loss, the team had to depend on quarterback Jalen Hurts to provide all of the offensive power, whether it be through the air or on the ground as the Tide only had 4 running plays for 24 yards from half-backs after Bo’s injury with half of those coming from Damien Harris’s first run. Other than his 68-yard pass to O.J. Howard, which was the machination of a trick play, properly executed, Jalen Hurts was 12-30 for the night with a putrid 63 yards and it is really sad the amount of blame that will be heaped on his shoulders in the media and in kitchen tables across America in the coming days, weeks, months and while I do not disagree that he didn’t play his best game, I simply can’t blame him.
Now this is where we get into the reason why the Crimson Tide lost. If you remember, earlier in the week, Nick Saban got on TV to tell us non-chalantly that the Tide and Lane Kiffin had mutually parted ways after agreeing that this was what was best for both parties. Never had I seen this before in my life, in the middle of the College Football Playoff, the offensive coordinator who also has primary play calling duties would be leaving the team to join his new employer, Florida Atlantic University as their new Head Coach. For this to be mutual, Lane would have had wanted to leave because he had pressing concerns at Florida Atlantic that were being impeded by his coaching one final game and staying on for one more week as the Tide’s coordinator and that is simply nonsensical. If you are like me, you didn’t think that stern, serious, methodical Nick Saban would be able to deal with “immature”, intense, goofy Lane Kiffin for more than a season and were surprised it even got this far. You also probably remember the “ass-chewings” that Nick imparted upon Lane numerous times throughout his tenure at Alabama. It was almost cringeworthy to watch, a grown man yelling at another grown man and in Lane’s defense, he took it far better than I ever could have. So now that we can agree that the firing was not mutual, why on earth would a head coach fire his offensive coordinator one week before the National Championship and in my mind, it’s simple and it makes for the premise of this article.
If you were someone born in the dark ages and I gave you a pump shotgun unloaded, and left you in the room with a Navy Seal with just his bare hands, you would die every single time. That is why preparation matters and practice makes perfect. Even hearing a different voice come on through the headset can be odd for a player, as one myself, I know that consistent repetition of the same actions, in the same conditions is what allows for greatness to shine through. Muscle memory does not exist in the sense that if you keep throwing a ball a certain way, your muscles will remember how to throw it and do it better the next time you do but what does exist are neuronal pathways that are able to be trained over time through repetition to become more consistent and effective at performing a task. Saban robbed Hurts of the chance to shine on the grandest stage of them all.
Nick Saban has become so accustomed to winning all of the time at Alabama that he did not think it really mattered who the offensive coordinator would be when it came time to play the Tigers, his defense would have their way with them and the offense would put up more than enough points to close out the match-up. Just look at this picture of Nick Saban getting doused in Gatorade and making a scowl of a face rather than being jubilant as anyone else would be in his situation after last year’s championship game versus this same ball club as shown in the image above.
On top of this, I believe there was a second, more sinister motive at play by Saban here. After hearing multiple times about how “Kiffin caused Saban to change his mind on including running up-tempo football with a running quarterback”, something Saban detested prior to the inclusion of Kiffin. Saint Nick wanted to prove to the world that he decided to make the change on his own and that Kiffin was nothing more than a ceremonial figurehead with his time at Alabama, similar to the Queen of England, while he was the Prime Minister, the Army, Navy and Parliament. It seems as though anytime someone leaves the apprenticeship of Saint Nick, he makes sure to let them know to not let the door hit them on their way out, taking a very hypocritical stance early in the year when talking about Blake Barnett and how he was basically a coward for leaving Alabama. This seems to be a consistent theme and also has to do with the arrogance that this man possesses. Now don’t get me wrong, if a person is in the position that Saban is in, and is widely viewed as one of the most prolific people to ever have performed your job, it is very difficult to not start to thinking your shit doesn’t stink.
To think that Steve Sarkisian could come in and just pick up where Kiffin left off is meant to show the viewer, whether consciously or subconsciously that Kiffin was completely expendable (in doing so, he’s saying that Sarkisian is also expendable, but I digress) and that the only reason they are where they are is because of him. If the Tide didn’t leave Deshaun Watson 2 minutes and change to play catch up when the score was 31-28 Tide, we would all be singing the praises of Nick Saban and how it didn’t even matter that he switched offensive coordinators because “ALABAMA IS JUST THAT DAMN STRONG” and “NICK IS JUST THAT GREAT!” but now we are forced to sit and wonder what could have been. With a team that was poised to make history, winning it 5th national championship in 8 years, we would proclaim the Tide as the best college football dynasty of all-time.
Alas, as we have all learned, it is pride that comes before the fall. It was Icarus who flew too close to the sun and because of his hubris, had his wings melt and feathers fall off to fall into the sea and drown. Do I think that Saban will metaphorically drown after losing this match by only 4 points? No. Not in the least. But I do think that this time, Nick let his ego get the best of him and because of that, he had to give post-game interviews with the same elation that he would have, had his team won. Actually, let me correct that, after watching his post-game interview last night, I actually think Nick was nicer to his team rather than if they would have won. He is one odd fellah, but that odd fellah is the best coach to ever coach College Football. With Interestology, I’m Adeel Anwar.
Bo Scarborough did great until his injury in the 2nd quarter.
At this point Alabama had to rely on their True Freshman Quarterback, Jalen Hurts.
Nick Saban Fired Lane Kiffin because he wanted all the credit for Alabama’s offensive prowess utilizing Hurts.
Hurts wasn’t used to hearing play calls from Sarkisian and Sark wasn’t there as long as Kiffin, so there is no way he would be as in tune as someone who had been there 3 years with the True Freshman.
Nick Saban’s arrogance got the best of him and is the main reason they lost this match-up.