They're going to downplay it, but I won't: Give me all the Lane Kiffin-Nick Saban showdowns
Bear with me on this one.
When a girl and a guy split, they both want to win the breakup. In this particular instance, this isn’t the type of breakup where they remain good friends and they see each other regularly. Well, unless we’re talking about the guy stalking the girl on social media. But other than that, they haven’t interacted face to face since they called it quits.
That is, until they both attend a wedding of a mutual friend. The guy wants to show that he’s matured. He opts for the turtleneck and blazer combination. If he’s going to win the breakup, he has to look the part. So he starts off the night by keeping his distance and ordering an Old Fashioned.
But 2 hours later, he’s downing vodka cranberries like water and he’s grinding on middle-aged women during the Cupid Shuffle.
That’s how I feel about Lane Kiffin’s reunion with Nick Saban on Saturday.
And no, I don’t expect to see Joey Freshwater on the sidelines by the third quarter, though I do expect a drunkenly entertaining offensive game plan from Kiffin. If he came out rocking some ripped jeans, well, let’s just say I think that would potentially crash this here website. This is still perhaps the best use of Photoshop of all-time:
Gave them to him pic.twitter.com/ALoOMZ69VL
— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) November 23, 2017
Of course, that started when Saban had a classic press conference rant about “kids these days” wearing ripped jeans. Do I expect classic press conference rants from Saban or Kiffin about each other? Nope. Perhaps we’ll get a sarcastic comment from Kiffin here or there, but I don’t expect any pregame funny business. Both are trying to win the breakup.
Still, don’t let that take away from how entertaining this chapter is about to be. This annual showdown with Saban and Kiffin on opposite sidelines is just what the doctor ordered. And yes, this is different than 2009 when we thought we were in for yearly Saban-Kiffin showdowns until USC came calling for the Tennessee coach. Why is it different? Well, because 2014-16 at Alabama happened.
I’d argue it was a massive success considering that Kiffin led 3 different Alabama quarterbacks to first-team All-SEC honors. All of those teams won SEC titles, all of them made the Playoff, 2 of them earned College Football Playoff National Championship berths and 1 of them won it all. Besides the well-documented situation that forced Kiffin to start his new gig at FAU instead of coaching Alabama’s offense in the title game, there were the moments like these during his time in Tuscaloosa:
Nick Saban rips into Lane Kiffin 😳. Whoa. pic.twitter.com/IDycPI1Iau
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 10, 2016
OK, that definitely wasn’t “couple fighting awkwardly in public” kind of mad. That was “dad scolding his 15-year old for sneaking out with his truck and getting back at 3 a.m.” kind of mad.
But now, time has passed. Kiffin is no longer living under Saban’s roof and breaking all the rules. He’s a real adult with a big-boy SEC job. Now, dad is coming over to his place and he wants to show him that he’s no longer the high school knucklehead he once was. Kiffin wants to show off the fact that he’s got his own adult things like coasters and appropriately-placed rugs. By that, I mean that Kiffin wants to show off his team’s full offensive arsenal.
(Perhaps that was the better analogy than the turtleneck at the wedding reference. Oh well. I got there eventually.)
You know that the entire bag of tricks is about to be emptied on Alabama. We’re going to see imaginative plays with unique formations like Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner in the wildcat, and I’ll bet anything that there’s a significant John Rhys Plumlee package. How can there not be after what he did against Saban’s defense last year with 109 rushing yards?
This John Rhys Plumlee hurdle is pretty impressive…and he’s just a freshman. pic.twitter.com/q192MMWz9Q
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 28, 2019
With how good Matt Corral has looked so far, Kiffin elected not to dip into the Plumlee bag of tricks as much as some thought he would. My guess is that changes against Alabama. My other guess is that Saban will be ready for it.
As much as it’s going to seem like this chess match between Kiffin and Saban on Saturday, it’s worth remembering that both played important roles in getting each other to where they are today.
That’s pretty obvious with Kiffin, who obviously needed a place to prove his offensive prowess, and got it at Alabama after USC left him on the tarmac.
Some might look back on Saban hiring Kiffin and chalk it up to his “coaches’ rehab” program, but Alabama needed to evolve offensively. Kiffin brought spread principles that we still see being used today with Kiffin’s former USC sidekick, Steve Sarkisian. Alabama is no longer the program with game manager quarterbacks, and if anyone thinks this passing game evolution in Tuscaloosa was just the product of Tua Tagovailoa, they haven’t watched enough Mac Jones yet. Shoot, they probably didn’t watch Blake Sims or Jake Coker, either.
That all circles back to Saban embracing Kiffin’s offense in 2014. Now, Alabama’s passing game is a well-oiled machine. The Tide can still bully teams with the ground game, which is extremely likely to happen on Saturday against that porous Ole Miss defense.
If you’re a fan of offensive football, buddy, you’re gonna want to be locked in on ESPN at 6 p.m. ET this Saturday. Through 2 games, Alabama and Ole Miss are ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the SEC in scoring, respectively. One team also happens to be ranked dead last in the SEC in scoring defense. I’ll give you a hint — it’s not the team with Saban.
Needless to say, this Kiffin-Saban matchup should have a much different feel than when they last faced off as head coaches in 2009. The famous Terrence Cody field goal block capped a 12-10 win for Alabama. That’s the first and only time that Kiffin faced Saban as a head coach.
That was also the only time during the Saban era that a top 5 Alabama squad won by 2 points or less against an unranked team (via Chris “Bear” Fallica). If Kiffin’s unranked squad found itself in that position late in Saturday’s contest, it would be a monumental opportunity for him, especially considering that Saban hasn’t lost to a team ranked outside the top 15 since South Carolina in 2010.
Then again, Kiffin said after that famous game 11 years ago that he doesn’t believe in moral victories. As much as Kiffin wants to show that he’s changed in the last decade, it’s safe to say he still subscribes to that school of thought. His focus is on winning the breakup.
He’ll have to do much more than bust out the turtleneck and blazer combo.