Alabama threw the ball 59 times in its upset loss to Ole Miss this past Saturday. That fact did not sit well with fans who simply wanted offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to hand the ball off to Heisman contender Derrick Henry.
The Tide’s loss to Mississippi was a popular topic during head coach Nick Saban’s weekly radio show on Thursday night, and one caller asked Saban if he ever overrules Kiffin or defensive coordinator Kirby Smart on certain play-calls.
“I don’t like to interrupt,” Saban said. “I might say, ‘If it’s 3rd-and-1. Run the ball.’ Down by the goal line. Or I’ll say (before third down), ‘We’re gonna go for it on fourth down,’ so that they know in advanced what’s gonna happen.
“But Kirby will sometimes ask me, ‘What do you want to do here? Do you want to blitz or do you want to cover?’ And I’ll give him an answer. But I’m not going to second guess the calls, because I’ve been a signal caller before.”
Saban was the Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator from 1991-94. His head coach during that stint was future Hall of Famer Bill Belichick, who has since gone on to win four Super Bowls with the New England Patriots.
During one game against the New York Giants, the Browns needed a stop late in the game. The Giants were facing a long third down in their own territory with the game tied.
“I called a blitz,” Saban said. “And Bill goes, ‘No, no, no, no. Cover! Cover! Cover!’ So we drop eight (defenders). No pass rush. And they hit about a 20-yard dig route in the seam to get a first down.”
The Giants moved the ball down the field and converted the game-winning field goal. Afterwards, Browns middle linebacker Pepper Johnson got in Saban’s face.
Johnson: “Why didn’t we blitz?”
Saban: “Well, I got kind of overruled on that one.”
Then, Johnson — who later served as a coach under Belichick — offered up a plan.
“You signal in to me,” Johnson said. “I’ll hit my facemask when I’ve got it. Then you tell Bill what we’re doing.”
Saban laughed at the memory before touching on several other topics, including one fan’s demand that the team return to “old-fashioned, smash mouth, Alabama football.”
“I like that kinda ball,” Saban said. “But look … old-fashioned Alabama smash mouth football is great. And I think there was a time around here a few years ago when people knew what we were gonna do, and they couldn’t stop it. That’s probably as demoralizing as anything that you could ever have a team do. I’d love to be that kind of team. I really would. And I think we want to work toward being more of that kind of team.”
“I also think that football has changed to some degree,” he said. “People score a lot more points now. And you have to be able to open it up and make explosive plays downfield, and that requires doing some other things. All these people who spread and run spread — and everybody talks about it — you can talk about it all you want, but it’s very effective.”
Saban mentioned that Ole Miss is not strong on the offensive line, but the Rebels found success by using speed, option plays and misdirection.
“If you don’t do some of that,” he said, “you’re not taking advantage of the rules or the game.”
He also acknowledged the recent hubbub about a certain ineligible lineman downfield.
“People can talk all they want about guys going downfield, but we do some of those plays now, too,” Saban said. “And we did a whole year’s worth of those plays last year with (former quarterback) Blake Sims that helped us have an effective team.
“So we’re gonna have to do some of these things to be able to beat some of these really good teams. That’s what we’re trying to establish, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”