Monday, December 3, 2012

I Am Smarter Than Nick Saban, And This Proves It

Eddie Lacy

University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban has a pretty sweet gig. After he won the national championship last January, his second BCS title in three years, Saban received a raise and contract extension worth $5.62 million a year. That means Saban is set to make $45 million over eight years in base salary and "talent fees."

The final BCS rankings for 2012 were released yesterday, with undefeated Notre Dame at No. 1 and once-beaten Alabama at No. 2. The two schools will meet for the national title on January 7 in Miami, and my bet is that Saban's Crimson Tide will steamroll the Fighting Irish, giving Alabama it's third championship in four years. In fact, I don't think the game will be close.

Saban already is adored by Alabama's far-flung fan base, which spreads in all directions, far beyond our state's borders. And college football cognoscenti regularly toss the noun "genius" in his direction.

Me? I'm adored by my wife--sort of. (OK, let's get real--she tolerates me, most days.) As for descriptive nouns, one of my blog readers called me a "twit" last week. Can't remember the last time anyone used the word "genius" and my name in the same sentence.

But I am smarter than Nick Saban--and we have evidence from Saturday's SEC Championship Game to prove it.

Alabama beat Georgia 32-28, in a game that was much more dramatic than it should have been. Georgia came within five yards, and a few seconds, of upsetting Alabama. My wife and I watched the closing moments from a seafood restaurant on Highway 280 in Birmingham. When Georgia's last play came up short of the goal line, and the final seconds ticked off, patrons and employees started whooping, hollering, and hugging each other.

Alabama had not won a national title in . . . oh, about 10 months . . . so you can understand the excitement.

We are regulars at this establishment and know that several of its staff members are from Athens (Greece, not Alabama--or Georgia, for that matter). The way these folks were carrying on, you would think they had been conceived in Tuscaloosa. Even people from the land of Socrates get carried away with Saban Mania. Heck, our guy Nick probably could get elected mayor of Thessaloniki.

But the Georgia game proved Nick Saban ain't all that. In fact, he's not even as smart as me--in at least one respect.

Here's the deal: Alabama outgained Georgia by a significant margin--512 yards to 394--and it should have won the game by two touchdowns, at least. Instead, it came down to the last gasp, and Georgia darned near pulled it out, all because Nick Saban isn't as smart as me.

Alabama had all sorts of screw ups in the game, including a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown. But the Crimson Tide's biggest blunder came earlier than that--and it can be laid directly at the feet of Saint Nick.

Midway through the second quarter, Alabama was trailing 7-0 when it drove to the Georgia 1-yard line. With bruising tailback Eddie Lacy chewing up yardage, the Crimson Tide was poised to tie a game that looked like it might settle into a defensive struggle. But when quarterback A.J. McCarron handed the ball to Lacy on second and goal, the Tide's star runner made a fundamental error that has become all too common in college football.

Upon meeting a wall of Georgia resistance, Lacy thought he saw a space where he could reach the football across the goal line. For reasons that escape me, football players at all levels have started doing this in recent years. I can't attach a date to the trend's origins, but it seems to be driven by TV color men who make it a point to repeatedly say, "If the ball crosses the plane of the end zone, it's a touchdown."

That seems to be an accurate description of the rules, and it applies all over the field. For example, stretching the ball out an arm's length might give you an important first down to continue a drive. The official spot goes where the ball reaches, not where the body lands.

But here's the rub: Players are taught at the junior-high level, if not earlier, that there is a right way and a wrong way to carry a football. It is to be cradled and tucked in close to the body. In heavy traffic, it's a good idea to wrap both arms around the football. Players also are taught at an early age that one of the biggest no-no's in the game is to fumble the football. Possession of the ball wins games, and ball security is a must.

So what happened to Eddie Lacy, who otherwise played a game for the ages? When he reached the ball toward the goal line, that gave a Georgia player the chance to swat it loose. The ball bounced backwards for about four yards before McCarron recovered it at the Georgia 5. On the next play, McCarron threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted in the end zone.

Alabama came away with no points--not even a field goal--because Lacy failed to secure the football when trying to "break the plane" of the end zone.

As my wife and cats can tell you, I've been railing about this "breaking the plane" trend for years. It's terrible fundamental football. Yes, it's great to make a first down or score a touchdown. But possession is paramount, and that means the football must be secured at all times. Attempting to stretch the ball across "the plane" probably increases the chance of a fumble 10 fold. And fumbles are likely to be recovered by the defense, ensuring that you will get zero points on your drive.

This "breaking the plane" stuff is the sporting trend that won't go away. It's worse than the Macarena, I tell you.

In our state, I see Auburn players do it, UAB players do it. On a given Saturday, you can watch television for hours and see players from almost every conference do it.

If I can readily see that this is bad football, why can't coaches with their multi-year contracts and "talent fees" figure it out.

Here is what Nick Saban should have done way back in August, during preseason practice: After gathering all of his players, especially the ones likely to carry the ball, he should have spoken thusly: "If I catch any of you stretching the ball to 'break the plane,' I'm going to have the entire team running stadium steps while I watch Gone With the Wind in the shade. When Clark tells Scarlett, 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn,' you can stop running. I think that's about 3 hours and 35 minutes into the movie.

If that didn't get their attention, Saban could have added this: "I don't care what you hear some announcer say on TV. I am Nick Saban, the smartest coach in football, and I say, 'Protect the damn ball at all times, in all areas of the field.' If you come up short of a touchdown or a first down, we'll make it on the next play or the next possession. But under no circumstances are you to try stretching the ball 'across the plane.' If one guy tries it one time, all of you will be running stadium steps--while I take in the glory of GWTW, probably in surround sound.

"It's your choice."

If Saban had gotten that message across, stressing ball security above all else, Alabama fans could have relaxed during the fourth quarter of the Georgia game. Instead, Roll Tiders--even the ones from Greece--were holding their collective breaths until the final seconds.

Nick Saban already is hailed by many as the sharpest mind in college football--and that bandwagon is likely to get even more crowded after Alabama crunches Notre Dame.

So why isn't Nick Saban smarter than me? More importantly, why don't I have an eight-year contract, with "talent fees"?

I posed that question to our cats as we watched a late game on Saturday night. They still have blank looks on their faces.


Redeye said...

Why doesn't Eddie Lacey have a multi million dollar contract and talent fees? :)

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 8:32--

You nailed it. That's the way it should work. Lacy's the one who won the game.

Anonymous said...

I would say A.J. McCarron and Amari Cooper need big contracts and talent fees, too.

Spasmoda said...

Hey, don't forget those big hogs up front.

Nice piece, LS. Gave me some laughs.

Anonymous said...

As an Auburn fan, I'm convinced Alabama players receive plenty in "talent fees."

Anonymous said...

Hey Schnauzer, if you are smarter than Saban, how come he has a big-ass contract, and you are out of a job?

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 9:49--

Can I get back to you on that one?

Barb said...

LMAO. Love it, LS!

Anonymous said...

What I can not understand why FOOLSBALL is a god to folks and we pay someone 45 million to run a stupid ball on the field like Forrest Gump and we have teachers losing jobs because of ZERO FUNDS Fireman getting laid off and police officers. Kids are barely making it out of high school. Our society is headed down the toilet when we care more about sports than academics.

legalschnauzer said...

In Alabama, many of our K-12 students go to school in trailers. Citizens are fine with that. But they would not tolerate less than cutting-edge facilities for UA football.

Anonymous said...

Got to agree with you, LS. That "breaking the plane" stuff drives me nuts. Can't imagine Bear Bryant letting players get away with that.

I love Eddie Lacy, but that one play could have cost Bama the game and a shot at national title. They had two more downs to give it to Lacy from about the 1/2 yard line. I guarantee he would have made it on one of those.

James Greek said...


I KNOW you are smarter than Nick Saban and here's why:

You know the ugly truth behind Alabama football. The shady past of it's biggest booster. Yet, I am sure Nick knows it yet doesn't give a damn.

legalschnauzer said...

I wrote this mainly for laughs, but you raise a serious point, James. I wonder how much of Nick's "talent fees" and contract cash come from Paul Bryant Jr. And of the part that comes from PBJ, how much of it is the result of insurance fraud?

I have a number of friends who are big Tide fans, and I am happy for them. But there is a dark side to this picture, for those who care to look.

Anonymous said...

Get that Aubie out of here! You're about to hire Petrino, so you have no business questioning anyone's ethics! Roll Tide!

Anonymous said...

At last, someone else sees the stupidity in this. I've been throwing things at the TV for years. Coaches, wake up!

David in S. Alabama said...

The folks in the Nick Saban birther movement are claiming to have obtained his birth. certificate. It shows that he was born on Oct. 31, 1951 in Fairmont, WV. Is also lists his birth name as Nicholas Lou Satan.

A devil of a guy born on Halloween making an onscene salary who can't tell his players to keep the ball close to their chest.

Anonymous said...

As a Tennessee fan, I agree with the Auburn fan above.

Anonymous said...

Roger, lay off Coach Saban! With all of the corruption that I witness each day from our courts, please let me have Bama football! You may not believe it, but when times have been their darkest sometimes the only thing I would have to look forward to was watching the Tide take the field. The 2011 season gave me the only happiness I had that year. Once the corrupt judge taken what is/was most precious to me, I had a hard time finding a silver lining in anything. I found it in football.

And for those with unsubstantiated rumors of pay-for-play, see $cam Newton...

Tennessee program: Dumpster Fire
Auburn program: Port-O-Potty Fire

By the way, I hear Miami is nice this time of year. Happy to have tickets to the 'ship...again!

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 3:57--

I hear you, and I'm glad many of our citizens enjoy Tide football. I'm neutral on the whole thing, as a Missouri grad, but even I enjoyed the SEC title game. Please know my being hard on Coach Saban is mostly tongue in cheek. He obviously is good at what he does. The "breaking the plane" deal has become one of my pet peeves, and I still don't know how it got started. I wish coaches would tell their players, "Protect the ball at all times, and don't worry about sticking it out there to break the plane." Glad that fumble didn't wind up costing UA the football game. Amazing how Alabama keeps churning out great running backs--from Mark Ingram to Trent Richardson to Eddie Lacy to T.J. Yeldon. That's quite a legacy.

Anonymous said...

I saw a great battle Saturday, but today I saw what will undoubtedly be a bigger fight in the Jefferson County Domestic Relations arena. The lawyers are afraid to discuss the matter. I did pick up bits and pieces, though. If any of your readers know what is brewing, please inform us.

legalschnauzer said...

Can you provide more details? Did this involve one specific case? Did involve the parties, the lawyers, the judge--all of the above? I welcome more info.

I assume Scott Vowell was involved at some level? If so, that means incompetence was present.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the Auburn Fan... ALSO I am just about willing to bet the referees receieve a big amount in their paychecks to call in favor of a certain team. A lot of things that AL does is overlooked and it is right in their face. I wonder if they get paid by the favors?

Anonymous said...

So spill it. You obviously want to! You know you do! Come on

Anonymous said...

Please tell

Anonymous said...

Your the DA did you even play FOOTBALL or even sit on bench I dought it

legalschnauzer said...

Ever heard of the phrase "tongue in cheek"? It applies to this post, and I think that's pretty clear to most folks.