Nick Saban put foot down when he called for Alabama to run I-formation in red zone | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

Not even Nick Saban could suppress a smile.

After a week of call-in show comments, to which Saban is impervious, and inner reflection about the fortitude of his Alabama football team, the coach took a stand Saturday at Mississippi State. With 3:20 remaining and Alabama facing a second-and-goal at the 2, the Crimson Tide showed an empty backfield indicating a pass. That may have been the right call based on MSU’s defensive alignment. Bryce Young, capable of moments of magic, might have made the play work regardless, running or passing.  

Saban was having none of it. He called a timeout, and when Alabama came back onto the field, it lined up in the I-formation, a subliminal message to every person in the stadium, cowbell-clanging or not, that It was time for the Crimson Tide to assert its will.

Brian Robinson Jr., the former Hillcrest star continuing to enhance his own Alabama reputation, knocked it in for one of his three touchdowns. Perhaps it wasn’t the flashiest, but perhaps it sent the loudest message. 

Saban didn’t give the specifics of what happened, but the smile did.

“You want the truth?” he said. "I’m not going to tell you the truth. I’m not throwing anybody under the bus.”

That may not have even thrown offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien under a minivan, but sometimes a head coach will have what he wants. Especially one named Saban.

That touchdown was part of a redemptive red-zone performance on both ends of the field after failures in the loss at Texas A&M. Saban pointed out that even the head coach can’t change a play whenever he wants to, at least without using a timeout. The play clock, the noise in an opposing end zone, the risk of confusion, makes it almost impossible. But Saban loves holding onto timeouts like they are gold, even in the first half. That only underscores how much he wanted to lay down the law.

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The defensive red zone, after holding Mississippi State to field goals, wasn’t the only area where Saban was pleased. There wasn’t any timeout drama because, as Saban explained, there didn’t have to be. Alabama’s defensive plan was solid. As the field narrowed, State’s offensive options closed off and Will Anderson Jr. dominated.  

“We got some good pressure on the passer,” Saban said. “The fact that we rushed three a lot, and we rushed four some but didn’t have to rush five, was big. Every time we brought pressure with five guys, the ball came out so fast that you didn’t have a chance to to get to the quarterback. So we did it with three or sometimes four. 

“It was the best we’ve played (defensively) in the red zone all year.”

That’s as far as Saban would go, but it spoke volumes.

“Did you ever get humbled?” he said. “Humility is a good thing to have.”

So is authority, when you know the right time to use it  

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt

Sports columnist Cecil Hurt.