Since the game ended a couple of hours ago, there's been much discussion about Auburn's game ending 109 yard field goal return and the three previous Tide field goals that were either missed or blocked.
The misses and losses weren't Saban's fault, but in my opinion the play of the game was the field goal that Saban elected not to kick. With 6:19 left in the game, and Alabama nursing a 28-21 lead at the Auburn 13, Saban elected to go for a first down instead of trotting his kicker back out for a 30 yard chip shot that would have given Alabama a 10 point, two possession lead.
The CBS commentators acknowledged that Saban might have lost faith in his kicker, Cade Foster, after missing previous attempts from 44 and 33 yards. But in my opinion, kicking that field goal is your only viable option in that situation.
As a head coach, the worst thing you can do to your kicker is to communicate you have lost confidence in him. After a shank or a pull or any other critical miss, the coach simply must send him back out there at the next opportunity if the game situation calls for it. And a FG at the 6:19 mark was exactly what the game situation called for.
You see, kickers' egos are proxies for all that is fragile about the male psyche in general. Kickers are microcosms for all that is insecure and tenuous about our gender. We are forever wondering if we are still loved after failure. We are constantly questioning our worth as thinking we are only as good as our last success. These assessments, while tongue-in-cheek, are closer to the truth than we might want to admit.
Before the game even starts, kickers walk around wondering if they are really football players. Many of their teammates don't think they are, and it usually takes a tackle or block or fumble recovery or two to prove you are and to gain their peers' respect. Their practices are often spent in isolation working on their craft. The labor day-to-day in relative obscurity, practicing kicks like a PGA Tour pro might knock in 100 three foot putts on the practice green.
Few head coaches understand the kicker and how he ticks. Placekicking is a mental game that is more like golf than football. Kicking takes place during and within a football game, but it has more in common with chess or skeet shooting that it does with a zone read or cover 3. And the thing about chess and golf and skeet shooting is that you don't have tens of thousands of people screaming while you're trying to focus. You don't have to rely on two other people (snapper and holder) to execute their jobs perfectly before you can attempt yours. And you don't have to rely on eight other guys to keep up to 11 hostile opponents from killing you.
So with all this baggage the kicker is carrying around, the last think he needs to be wondering about is whether or not his coach thinks he can still succeed. When the game is on the line, when you really need that fragile little almost-football-player to win the game for you, you don't want him wondering whether or not you believe in him.
But Saban erred in two ways today. He lost confidence in Cade Foster, and this lack of confidence in his kicker caused him to make a bad football decision. Kicking the FG at 6:19 was the only reasonable call to make. If he gets that call right, then there is no game-ending 109 yard field goal return.
But I'm glad Saban made that call. I wanted Auburn to win and as Nick Saban said, "First time I've ever seen a game lost that way."
First time I've ever seen one won that way either.