Nicco’s Red Zone Blog
Iron Bowl | Everyone has a Plan until they get Punched in the Face
By Nicco Martinez – Columnist for Silver and Blue Report & Hook ’em Report

Iron Bowl, Alabama, Auburn, Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers I was at a family party last night and so I was only able to see the highlights of the Alabama – Auburn game in the Iron Bowl 2013. It’s not the same as watching it live.

So, even though I knew the result, it was not until this morn, where I had the chance to watch my DVR recording of the game. It’s a different game when you have a chance to see the flow of the game and the coaching decisions behind the plays.

In the 4th quarter, this is first time I have seen a Nick Saban-led Alabama team look so thoroughly confused with less-than-impressive decision making from the top down to execution on the field. Miscues, mistakes, and blunders. Wrong personnel on the field one minute, drop ball the next minute, illegal procedure a minute later, poor execution leading to a blocked FG just a minute later, and then a decision to not throw a Hail Mary a minute later. It looked more like a Mack Brown team than a Nick Saban team. (Sorry Longhorn faithful, but I had to say it. And yes, the truth does hurt. Brian Jones, stop laughing, it’s not that funny. Okay, maybe it is a mix of sad and funny at the same time.)

During my mixed martial arts dabblings over the years, I’ve heard mentors say many-of-times that “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Well, Nick’s team was getting a dose of not being the lone puncher in the octagon on Saturday night. And they were not reacting well.

Personally, I’d pick a short 40-yard Hail Mary attempt to Amari Cooper over a 57-yd FG attempt by the 2nd-string kicker any day of the week. But, I’m sure the decision to kick a FG was not the only second-guessing that kept Saban sleepless last night.


But this is where I want to get off the negative Tuscaloosa bus to stop and inspect Gus Malzahn and his staff. You see, I saw the winning TD by Chris Davis on Sportscenter about 10 times last night. But in watching the replay this morning, I saw the unfolding of the play: from the official declaring 1 second was on the clock, and I saw the Crimson Tide kicker come onto the field and I’m certain that the ego, id, and superego of a few million Bama fans immediately started inner screaming that this coaching decision does not feel good.

But on the opposite sideline, another coaching staff was also raising eyebrows, saying something is not right, and how do we do everything we can to assist our boys in winning the game.

You see, I’ve been around this game for over 40 years and quickly noticed that the espn highlights did not mention that Gus Malzahn called a timeout when Bama initially lined up to kick the end-of-game FG.

I’m sure that most people assumed Auburn was trying to ice the Bama kicker. And that may have been a secondary pursuit, but it was far from the primary objective of calling the timeout.

Here are three screenshots, apologies for the large degree of blurriness in today’s world of high def.

Iron Bowl, Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers, Alabama, AuburnScreenshot #1: Bama lines up for the FG, and Auburn puts Ryan Smith (#24) nearly 40 yards deeper than the snap.

The history of placing a defender this deep dates back to the AFL games of the 1960s where the heated rivalry between the Raiders and Chiefs came down to numerous last-second long FG attempts, so these teams started putting their tallest player just in front of the goal post so that he could jump and attempt to reject/block the ball as it approaches the crossbar. Over the years, the role of positioning a player in front of the goal post has evolved mainly into being a punt returner on attempts that fall short, and secondly as a deep safety should the kicking team attempt to fake the FG attempt.

As Ryan Smith backs into position, we see Chris Davis (#11 with his arms near his helmet) lining up on the far right. The coaches wanted Davis in this position to utilize his speed to make an attempt to block the FG. But then Gus Malzahn and staff makes the decision to call a timeout.

Iron Bowl, Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers, Alabama, AuburnScreenshot #2: Upon returning from the timeout, we see that Ryan Smith (#24) is no longer deep, but is lined up approximately where the middle linebacker would normally line up. And now we see that Chris Davis (#11) is almost off the screen aligned deep in the endzone.

We all know what happens next, Davis catches the failed attempt and starts heading upfield, but do not think for a second that the Auburn players and Davis accidentally all ran to the left (essentially setting up a punt return wall). This wall is a product of the recent timeout by Gus Malzahn and staff. He was coaching his boys while Saban was not thinking about the what happens when a kicker, who has attempted only 2 kicks in his college career, comes up short.

You see, it’s one thing to tell a punt cover unit, made up of your fastest skilled position players and quickest best-tackling linebackers, to go hunt down a punt returner. It’s quite another request, to ask this of your Field Goal unit. WHY? Because the makeup of the FG unit is not ideally suited for this task when you consider that 9 of the 11 players on the field are a compilation of: 7 offensive linemen, all approximately 300+ pounds, and then the holder (who is typically a punter or backup QB) and soccer-style FG kicker. Both the holder and kicker have probably not been called on to make a tackle since middle school.

So when Davis heads upfield and to his left with the ball, he knows he needs what all punt returners dreams of getting: a block to spring him so that he can get on the edge running at full tilt. And who is it that delivers the spring block?

Iron Bowl, Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers, Alabama, AuburnScreenshot #3: With Chris Davis (#11) moving left on the 15-yard line, we see none other than Ryan Smith (#24) making the spring block on the 25-yard line that allows Davis to accelerate and hit the edge in full stride. If Davis doesn’t get this “window of opportunity” made possible by Ryan Smith, then he doesn’t hit full speed and almost certainly get cornered around the 35-40 yard line in the scrum that he narrowly speeds past.

Great coaching, great execution by Auburn. Well done to both Ryan and Chris and the whole Tigers team.

Alabama is such a good team, and I did not see a single call go against Bama, so I know they cannot claim that they were “home baked” in Auburn, however it took a games where they made numerous mistakes on their own accord, coupled by an opponent that executed plays exactly as drawn up by their coach. I’ll say again, Alabama is created as correctly as a team can be made, with a solid offensive line and a wonderful front 7 on an annual basis. And no, they do not ever have a shortage of quality players at the skilled positions. All other teams, including Texas, could only dream to have their ability to recruit nationally and develop players into NFL-ready talent. Point blank: Bama’s factory is second to none.


I never saw Nick Saban cross the field and shake hands with Gus Malzahn after the game. (And no, Nick, I don’t care that fans are running onto the field, especially when you have two troopers escorting you.) It is just another reason why I have NEVER thought of Nick Saban as Coach of the Year. His accomplishments are grand, even if he may not be. (And you what, I’m sure that Saban could care less how he is perceived. His wallet is fat and his team wins a lot of games.)

And even though I saw nearly all of the Alabama players stay on the field for a few minutes after the game, and noticed a portion of the Bama players showed class in waiting for nearly 5 minutes to shake hands with the victorious Tigers, the same sentiment cannot be said for Alabama QB AJ McCarron. McCarron’s decision to emulate the 1991 Detroit Pistons by reaching the locker room within seconds of Chris Davis reaching the endzone was classless and further adds to the multitude of reasons why the snobbery Crimson Tide are seen as crass and arrogant by the majority of football America. Selfish decisions such as leaving his teammates to race off the field and not congratulating the opponents, along with that arrogant expression that borders on a look of constipation that never seems to leave his face are additional reasons why I have never considered McCarron a Heisman-caliber candidate. A stellar candidate does not only perform well in victory, but also in defeat. And once defeat was determined, both McCarron and Saban were less than impressive. But then again, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

_____ RETRACTION: Having only viewed the network broadcast, it omitted the coaches shaking hands but showed Saban walking down the sidelines towards the locker room. This retraction is to acknowledge that Saban did shake hands. In all my years listening to Mack Brown, he has never singled out one of his kids and thrown him under the bus, however Saban at the 4:00 minute mark in his postgame conference calls out the cornerback and puts full blame on him for Auburn’s final offensive touchdown. Hey Nick, you are no longer the coach of the Dolphins, your cornerback is an amateur student-athlete…not cool to single out the CB regardless of what the reporter asked you.



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Nicco Martinez, Columnist for and

Nicco Martinez, Jimmy Johnson, Dallas Cowboys, Texas LonghornsNicco Martinez, an Austin native, started covering sports in 1979 and has not since slowed down his love affair with playing, coaching, and writing about sports. He has written articles on both the Cowboys and Longhorns spanning 5 decades.  Nicco can be reached at

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