Following Monday night’s epic National Championship game in Tampa, attention predictably fell on how exactly ‘Bama lost. And most eyes seemed to turn to brand new offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian.
The notion that Alabama’s underwhelming offensive performance was former USC bench boss Sarkisian’s fault is definitely out there. It’s even more of a scandal given that former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin didn’t lose a game all season. The only game the Tide lost was when Sark took the controls.
It still seems shocking that the offensive boss of the nation’s best team, Kiffin, would be unceremoniously dumped after a semi-final win over Washington. After Kiffin took the job at Florida Atlantic, questioning his ability to prepare for a National Championship while recruiting seemed fair.
But the notion of a “mutual decision” between Saban and Kiffin has been largely questioned.
— AL.com sports (@aldotcomSports) January 10, 2017
Alabama is winless in the Steve Sarkisian era.
— Seattle Sportsnet (@alexSSN) January 10, 2017
*camera cuts to Nick Saban strangling Steve Sarkisian*
— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) January 10, 2017
Sarkisian himself was dumped by USC in October 2015 after serious allegations surfaced indicating Sarkisian had been under the influence of alcohol while coaching several times. He had not called plays in a game since December 2014, and because of the regulations tied to his analyst role, he had not been able to coach on the field until this week. True freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts said he hadn’t met Sarkisian until midseason — and hadn’t developed even a working relationship with him until this past week.
“Saban admitted that changing offensive coordinators the week of the national championship game was challenging but that he wouldn’t have changed anything about the offense’s preparation after the Crimson Tide lost 35-31 in a thrilling title game Monday night.
“I think the players handled it very well,” Saban said. “We scored 31 points in the game, which I think was pretty good against a pretty good defense that actually shut out Ohio State last week. I think we had some drops. I think we had some tipped balls. I think there was things that we could have done better. But I thought the preparation was good. I thought the organization was good, and I thought we gave our players a chance in this game to have success.
“Was it challenging? Yes. Did everyone involved handle it extremely well? Absolutely.””
Challenging, indeed. Clemson quarterback and future NFL draft pick Deshaun Watson played a masterful game. The Tigers defense, led by linebacker Ben Boulware, applied significant pressure on Jalen Hurts for most of the night.
AL.com’s John Talty may have summed up the Sarkisian situation the best. While the whole OC mess probably wasn’t healthy for Alabama’s offense, a lot that needed to go wrong for the Tide to lose went wrong.
“Sarkisian, whose battles with alcoholism have been well documented, was put into a high-pressure situation in his first time calling offensive plays for Alabama. His team scored 31 points against a team that shut out Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, but the offense’s performance still wasn’t good enough to win. He told ESPN after the game he wished he “could have called a better game and helped us not be in the position we were in late.”
Sarkisian had a chance to go down in Alabama lore given how unprecedented it is to dump an offensive coordinator 14 games into an undefeated season. Sarkisian called a beautiful final drive including a double bubble pass of Hurts to ArDarius Stewart to O.J. Howard for a 24-yard gain. That drive certainly would have been the inspiration for another Daniel Moore painting.
Instead, he’s left wondering if he had only made a few chances if the result would have been better.
“You go back and look at everything that you did and wish you could have done one more thing right,” Sarkisian said, “because that might have been the difference in the game, just one more play.””
(Photo: PAUL RODRIGUEZ, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER)