Sports Outside the Beltway

Did Saban Run Up the Score?

Mike Tomasky and Matt Yglesias both argue that Alabama head coach Nick Saban showed a distinct lack of class by scoring a meaningless touchdown with 47 seconds left in last night’s championship game.

Almost to a man, their commenters vehemently disagree. And they’re right to do so.

Alabama Texas Scoring Summary (ESPN) I’m an Alabama alumnus and fan, so I’m biased. But having the backup running back score on a run up the middle with nearly a minute left in a national championship game you’re only leading by 10 points isn’t exactly rubbing it in.

Indeed, one need only to look at the beginning of the game to see why: Texas had already scored twice in roughly a minute.

This wasn’t the local high school powerhouse up against a weakling school from across town. Or even Steve Spurrier running and gunning when he’s up 40 points against some Division II school. It’s a run up the middle against the second best team in the country with the national championship on the line.

And, frankly, Alabama had already come perilously close to giving away a game they had wrapped up by playing ridiculously conservatively. Alabama’s offense essentially sat out the second half, playing not to lose rather than to win. That allowed Texas and their freshman quarterback to find a rhythm and come back to within a field goal with 6:15 left in the game.

It took a dynamic play on defense to end the Longhorn’s momentum and take the game back. A fumble recovery after a hard-hitting sack gave the Alabama offense the ball back a few feet from the goal line and Mark Ingram pushed it in three plays later to get the margin back to 10.

When they got the ball back with 2:01 remaining, Texas apparently didn’t think the 10-point margin meant the game was over. They were throwing the ball, hoping for another quick score. Instead, they gave up another interception, giving Alabama the ball back inside the 30 with 1:48 left.

Texas still had timeouts remaining, so Alabama couldn’t just take a knee and run out the clock. They ran the ball and, combined with a Texas penalty, got the ball on the 5 with 1:41 left. Two runs later, Trent Richardson scored, putting them up by 16 with 47 seconds left.

Surely, this brutality was too much for the Longhorns, who broke down crying and went looking for their mommies?

Not so much.

With 47 seconds left, they kept playing football. They got another nice pass completion but then threw yet another interception with 27 seconds remaining.

Naturally, the evil Saban immediately called for a trick play to get another quick score?

Well, no. With the game in hand, the quarterback took a knee and ran out the clock.


Alabama gives Nick Saban a contract extension through 2017

The Crimson Tide went 12-2 in 2008. From AP-

Pledging his commitment to Alabama for the rest of his coaching career, Nick Saban signed a contract extension Saturday that will keep him in charge of the Crimson Tide football program through the 2017 season.

Saban, accused by some of being a coaching nomad and not willing to set down roots, said prior to last season that there were “no other horizons” for him in the coaching profession. This latest deal would appear to be another clear indication that he has dug in at Alabama.

I never thought of Saban as a coaching nomad. His namesake, the late Lou Saban, was the ultimate nomad in college football coaching.

Alabama officials had been working on a contract that would not change Saban’s base salary over the next several years, but would award him with a three-year extension, bumping up his total financial package to an average of more than $4 million per year.

Saban is scheduled to make $3.9 million this year. His original eight-year contract was worth $32 million and escalated each year. He’ll go to $4.1 million in 2010 and is scheduled to make $4.2 million in each of the final three years of that deal (2012, 2013 and 2014).

A long term contract locks in Saban in Tuscaloosa for a long time. It comes with disadvantages, which to me outweigh the advantages. A coach may underperform or bring scandal to the school. The University will then, and often with good reason, want to move on but are restrained from doing so because of the cost of buying out a coach’s contract.

Alabama football fans, no disrespect to my friend and owner of this blog James Joyner, seem fickle to me. They want the Bear Bryant days back and when a coach doesn’t live up to these high expectations, they soon long for the next candidate. That is just my humble opinion.


Alabama Vacates 21 Wins over Books Scandal

Alabama’s football program is getting spanked yet again by the NCAA,  ESPN reports.

The NCAA will reveal later Thursday that the Alabama football program must vacate victories from 2005 through 2007 that included players who improperly obtained free textbooks for other students, the Birmingham News is reporting.

Alabama could be forced to vacate as many as 21 wins under the watch of former coach Mike Shula and current coach Nick Saban, sources at the university told’s Mark Schlabach. Citing a source, the News reported the number of wins to be at least 10.

The Crimson Tide will not lose future scholarships, according to the News. The university also will be placed on probation for the second time in the past eight years and ordered to pay a fine, the newspaper reported.

The NCAA alleges the violations began at the start of the 2005 season; the university reported the violations after uncovering them during the ’07 football season, when starting linemen Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis, running back Glen Coffee and defensive backs Chris Rogers and Marquis Johnson were suspended for four games.

Under NCAA rules, the players would be ruled ineligible from when they first received the “extra benefits” and would have been ineligible until they were suspended and reinstated.

It is not clear which additional sports programs at Alabama are affected. The NCAA’s ruling will be announced in a 3 p.m. ET teleconference.

University officials aren’t permitted to comment until the NCAA releases its findings. The investigation also included athletes in other sports that the university has not disclosed.

Alabama appeared before the Committee on Infractions on Feb. 20 to answer allegations of potentially major violations involving the improper disbursement of textbooks and “failure to adequately monitor” the textbook distribution process for student-athletes.

The violations occurred during the 2005-06 school year and into the fall of 2007. That left the university subject to potentially stiffer penalties as a repeat violator because the football program was placed on probation on Feb. 1, 2002.

The new case also reopens the five-year repeat violator window.

Saban replaced Shula as coach after the 2006 football season and suspended Caldwell, Coffee, Johnson, Rogers and Davis when the university uncovered the violations. The Tide was 5-2 at that point in the 2007 season and their only wins in the next six games came against Tennessee and Colorado in the Independence Bowl.

The sanctions come at a time when Alabama fans were celebrating the program’s return to national prominence. Saban led the Tide to a 12-0 regular-season record and a No. 1 ranking last season, before the team lost to Florida in the Southeastern Conference championship game and to Utah in the Sugar Bowl.

As an Alabama alumnus — I was enrolled when we won our most recent national football title in 1992 — I’m sick over this.  Just as the program recovered from the last set of sanctions, here we go again.

It sounds like Nick Saban is uninvolved and acted correctly here.  If there are sanctions beyond losing past games, though, I wouldn’t be at all surprised for him to pull a Franchione and leave for greener pastures.

As an aside, I think retroactive forfeits are silly.  You can’t change history and it only penalizes fans, not students, athletes, or others responsible.


Alabama Whips Georgia 41-30

Alabama went into Athens a decided underdog against #3 ranked Georgia and stunned everyone with a 31-0 blowout in the first half.  The defense took the second half off, giving up 30 points — it would have been 31 had Georgia not gone for and missed a 2-point conversion.  Thankfully, the offense managed to add another 10 and hold on.

The AP’s Paul Newberry, who either didn’t watch the game or only cared about the outcome rather than the process, saw it much differently than this Alabama fan.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban gestures to the fans as he leaves the field after defeating Georgia 41-30 in an NCAA college football game in Athens, Ga., Saturday, Sept. 27, 2008. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Forget the blackout. This was an early knockout. Backed by a dominant defense and John Parker Wilson’s accurate passing, No. 8 Alabama raced to a stunning 31-point lead by halftime against self-destructing Georgia and held on to beat the third-ranked Bulldogs 41-30 Saturday night, establishing Nick Saban’s team as a national championship contender in his second season.


Alabama (5-0, 2-0) is poised to move up at least three or four spots when the new poll comes out Sunday, and the Tide certainly looked as impressive as anyone all year in winning decisively on the road against a team that started the season at the top of the heap.

Wilson went 13-of-16 passing for 205 yards and a touchdown, while Glenn Coffee ran for two scores in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. Georgia scored two touchdowns in the waning minutes.

Not even the most optimistic Alabama fan could have expected Saban, who won a national championship at LSU, to turn the Tide so quickly. This again looks like a program more in keeping with the tradition of Bear Bryant, not Saban predecessor Mike Shula.

Looking for a motivational edge, Georgia came out wearing black jerseys, and most of its fans at 92,000-seat Sanford Stadium also took part in the “blackout.” But the biggest cheers came from the white-clad Alabamians sprinkled throughout the massive stands.

Georgia showed some disturbing tendencies even while winning its first four games, and those sure came back to bite the Bulldogs. They were flagged twice in the opening half for roughing the passer, crucial but familiar mistakes for a team that already was the most penalized in the SEC. Also, an offensive line featuring two freshman and two sophomores was no match for Alabama’s massive front led by 365-pound Terrence Cody.

Knowshon Moreno got only nine carries for 34 yards, and quarterback Matthew Stafford spent much of the game running for his life as Georgia’s 11-game winning streak ended.

The Bulldogs actually made Alabama a little nervous in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, closing to 31-17 on Prince Miller’s 92-yard punt return. But the Tide calmly wrapped it up on the next possession, driving 51 yards in eight plays for Leigh Tiffin’s second field goal.

Oddly, both Newberry and the ESPN game announcers repeatedly refer to an early pass interference call on Georgia as a critical play in the game.  In reality, that “mistake” was absolutely the right move on the part of the Georgia defender, saving a sure touchdown and forcing Alabama to drive fifteen yards to achieve a result they would otherwise have had easily.

I’m obviously thrilled by the outcome.  After the season opening win, also in Georgia, against then-highly ranked Clemson, I thought this team had a chance to knock off the Bulldogs.  I had no idea, though, that they’d dominate them so thoroughly in the first half.

My only fear is that the second half letdown bodes ill for the team’s ability to focus against some of their lesser opponents in upcoming weeks.  In college, which lacks a playoff system, you can’t have a bad week if you want a shot at a national championship.


Alabama Rolls Over Clemson, 34-10

Doug Benc/Getty Images  Nick Saban watched the Crimson Tide dominate No. 9 Clemson on Saturday.The Alabama Crimson Tide came in as heavy underdogs against the #9 ranked Clemson Tigers but surprised everyone by dominating the game from start to finish.


Nick Saban may face his toughest task yet: Holding down runaway expectations for his inexperienced Alabama team. Crimson Tide’s $4 million-per-year coach gave Alabama backers a reason to think big Saturday night, leading ‘Bama to a thorough 34-10 beating of No. 9 Clemson 34-10 at the Georgia Dome.

“Nobody can be satisfied with a one-game performance,” Saban said. “This will be a challenge for our team and it’ll be interesting to see how they respond.”

Still, as the Alabama band broke into Queen’s “We Are The Champions,” at the end, you had to wonder if they were honoring the Crimson Tide’s past, with 12 national titles and years of dominance in the Southeastern Conference under Bear Bryant, or gazing into the near future.

“It’s still early. We still got a long way to go,” cautioned quarterback John Parker Wilson, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third. “But we’ve got a good group of guys here who can do it.”

The statistical comparison was overwhelming:

Team Stat Comparison
1st Downs 25 11
Total Yards 419 188
Passing 180 188
Rushing 239 0
Penalties 6-40 6-43
3rd Down Conversions 11-17 1-9
4th Down Conversions 0-0 1-2
Turnovers 0 2
Possession 41:13 18:47

It’s worth pointing out that Clemson’s vaunted offense was held to a measly field goal, with 7 of the 10 Tiger points coming on a kickoff return.

ESPN’s Ivan Maisel thinks Alabama is ahead of schedule after a disappointing first year for head coach Nick Saban:

Alabama coach Nick Saban wanted to play No. 9 Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic for a lot of reasons. He wanted the national prime-time exposure of the opening Saturday night. He wanted his No. 24 Crimson Tide to have a presence in this recruiting hotbed. He wanted his young team — 14 freshmen on the two-deep — to play in a bowl-like atmosphere.

Saban, in sum, wanted this game in order to prepare his team for a future when they would be ready to contend for championships. In the wake of Alabama’s 34-10 victory, that may have been Saban’s only miscalculation.

Future? The future is now. If Alabama continues to play as well as it played Saturday night, the Crimson Tide will play in the Georgia Dome again this season — in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.

It’s an exciting start to the season. Clearly, Saban has done wonders in recruiting. But Alabama faces an absolutely brutal schedule, playing at Arkansas, at #1 Georgia, at #18 Tennessee, at #7 LSU, and closing the regular season at home against #10 Auburn. If they can even win three of those games, it would be a spectacular year. Even that, though, wouldn’t be enough to guarantee them a spot in the SEC title game, let alone the BCS championship game.


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