What Nick Saban said about how Steve Sarkisian coached in Alabama football's Iron Bowl win
Nick Saban watched the Iron Bowl from the recruiting room in his house Saturday. Forced there by the SEC’s isolation protocols after his positive COVID-19 test on Wednesday, Saban watched Alabama “and felt a little helpless,” he said after the game.
Saban said Sarkisian handled the responsibilities well, leading UA to a 42-13 win over Auburn with little incident.
“I think our coaching staff did a marvelous job,” Saban said. “They played the situations, we had a good plan, they stayed with the plan, they executed the plan. (Sarkisian) did a nice job of managing things.”
Sarkisian was fortunate to avoid many sticky situations. His offense never stalled out in field goal territory, requiring a decision to kick or go for it. All but one of UA’s possessions that reached the Auburn 35 ended in a touchdown, the one exception being a fumble inside the 5. UA did not attempt a fourth down, but didn’t have much need after building a two-possession lead in the first minute of the second quarter and never relinquishing it.
One action of Sarkisian's worthy of second-guessing was his approach to UA's penultimate possession of the first half, when UA got the ball with 4:07 left on its own 17. The offense was retaking the field after three straight touchdown drives, all of them spanning at least 65 yards in 2:27 or less.
Sarkisian elected to go with conservative runs, gaining 23 yards on four runs from Brian Robinson Jr. The result was a third-and-7, incomplete pass and punt back to Auburn, which promptly drove inside the UA 40 just to throw away a scoring chance with an interception.
“I didn’t think there was a lot of those real tough situations that came up. A couple of situations where we made it on third down that we might have gone for it on fourth down,” Saban said. “Those decisions really didn’t come up, but I thought he was well-prepared for what he needed to do, and I thought he did a really good job.”
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That being the case, Sarkisian’s primary job was to be the presence Saban typically is on the sideline. For quarterback Mac Jones, at least, that was a critical factor.
“For me, talking with him on the sideline, he always keeps me calm, but Sark did a great job,” Jones said. “He’s calling plays, he’s managing a rivalry game and I think he did a great job, too; kudos to him.”
Saban said he felt helpless sitting at home, but his players thought he helped them well before either of his positive tests.
“Not having Coach Saban is difficult, and obviously he did a great job of preparing us for a situation like this to happen,” Jones said. “It was clear we were prepared for this type of situation.”
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