Lane Kiffin has called plays for No. 1 Alabama in 26 straight victories, but he will not call plays for the Tide in the national championship against No. 2 Clemson (13-1) on January 9. Indeed, Kiffin, who accepted the head-coaching position at Florida Atlantic in December, will get a head start on his duties in Boca Raton.
It’s always a tough balance for coordinators who are being pulled in two different directions, and Kiffin wasn’t able to strike it. Nick Saban didn’t think so, anyway.
“From my perspective, there were some comments – the whole missing of the buses, (being) late to meetings – there was some talk that this had taken place, and I don’t think it was just in Atlanta,” Alabama radio analyst, ESPN NFL insider and former NFL general manager Phil Savage said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “I think it probably occurred over the month of December. I do think that Nick Saban wants to win a sixth national title, and the truth is, for the process to work, everyone has to be accountable. I’m just not sure that (with) everybody running around and trying to get so much work done – not only to win the Washington game, but you’re getting prepared for Clemson and Ohio State – (that it was the best situation). You know how it works in the NFL. In the playoffs, you’re working on the next two opponents just in case.
“And so, with all the demands of everything that’s required, I think that after the performance on Saturday, it was certainly the most disjointed offensive game that Bama has had all year,” Savage said. “Not even close. There have been some games where you were left scratching your head for a quarter – maybe even a quarter-and-a-half – but certainly not all four quarters. That was the feeling that everyone had. I think the fact that Lane has another job waiting on him, once they got back, (they) took a step away from it, they talked about it and ultimately came to this mutual decision. But you have to think that Nick Saban was really the one who initiated that meeting.”
Alabama’s offense looked anything but impressive in its 24-7 win over Washington in the Peach Bowl on Saturday. Jalen Hurts finished 7-of-14 for 57 yards (4.1 yards per attempt) and ran 19 times for 50 yards (2.6 yards per carry) – a total that includes a 33-yard scamper.
“Washington is a very good team, so don’t misunderstand anything that I’m saying in regards to what they did,” Savage said. “But here’s an example. Bama, for their (opening) touchdown drive, had an eight-play drive: seven runs, one pass. They marched straight down the field. The never went back to that. It was play-action passes, look downfield, Jalen Hurts takes off to run.”
Alabama did not involve its top two receivers. Calvin Ridley had one catch for six yards, while ArDarius Stewart had two rushes for 10 yards.
“Even in our radio booth we were looking around like, ‘Man, we have no rhythm here whatsoever,’” Savage said. “My phone was blowing up. I got all these Alabama fans that are friends of mine (who asked), ‘Why is Bo Scarbrough not getting the ball 30 times?’ Because if you were really going to try and run the ball and play conservative and not turn it over – at one point he only had 10 or 12 touches, but he had ripped them for about 10 yards per carry. He ultimately ends up with 180 yards, but of course that last (68-yard run) was on his own. They had him corralled at the line of scrimmage, and just an incredible individual effort put him in the end zone.”
And all – or most – of these problems fall on Kiffin?
“That’s certainly the feeling that you got,” Savage said. “I know this: I said in early December if Lane gets a head-coaching job, he’ll probably move on right away rather than sticking around. So I’ll be honest, guys: I was very surprised when they said he’s going to finish this out because it is a pull. You’re on two different tracks, (but) I just didn’t know if it would be the best move for him, and ultimately it didn’t sound like it worked that well in the last week to 10 days.”