ATLANTA – Saturday’s meeting with Georgia will be Nick Saban’s ninth SEC championship game. The Alabama coach is 7-1 in those games. He recalled his first SEC championship, a 31-20 win over Tennessee while at LSU, on Friday.
“I think in that game I probably made the biggest blunder of my coaching career,” he said.
Tennessee had beaten LSU earlier that season in Knoxville and was 10-1 and ranked No. 2, while LSU was 8-3. The Volunteers jumped out to an early 14-7 lead, and Saban felt like he needed to make something happen to keep his defense from being overwhelmed while Tennessee’s offense hummed.
“We got the ball, we got fourth and an inch on our own 29 yard line after a kickoff, and I say, if we don’t keep the ball on offense, we may get beat 100-0,” Saban said. “So we went for it, and (Tennessee ‘s) John Henderson was the nose guard, and Rohan Davey was the (LSU) quarterback. John Henderson knocked the center back to about where we got the huddle, and we didn’t make it, and we went in and stopped them on defense and they kicked a field goal, so now we were behind 17 to whatever.
“For the next ten minutes of the game, I’m thinking this is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done in your coaching career.”
But LSU rallied from there. Quarterback Rohan Davey was injured, and Saban inserted backup Matt Mauck into the game. The Vols weren’t ready for the change, and LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher helped guide the offense to 21 points in the second half. Mauck ran for two touchdowns and LSU finished the upset, 31-20.
“So we kind of played pretty well,” Saban said. “I was still a little shook after the game, and a couple of seniors came up to me and said, you know, Coach, when you went for it on fourth down, that’s when we really thought you thought we could win, and that changed the way we played. So the dumbest thing I ever did turned out to be one of the smartest (laughter). That’s what I remember about that game.”