SEC ‘What-Ifs’ No. 5: What if Alabama didn’t attempt a field goal at the end of the Kick-6 game?
“Well, I guess if this thing comes up short he can field it and run it out. All right, here we go. 56-yarder. It’s got … no, it does not have the leg. And Chris Davis takes it in the back of the end zone. He’ll run it out to the 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 45 … There goes Davis! Davis is going to run it all the way back! Auburn’s gonna to win the football game! Auburn’s gonna to win the football game! He ran the missed field goal back! He ran it back 109 yards! They’re not gonna to keep them off the field tonight! Holy cow! Oh, my God! Auburn wins! Auburn has won the Iron Bowl! Auburn has won the Iron Bowl in the most unbelievable fashion that you will ever see! I cannot believe it! 34-28!”
That, of course, is the late, great Rod Bramblett calling the iconic Kick-6 return by Auburn’s Chris Davis — the play that gave the Tigers the win over rival Alabama in the 2013 Iron Bowl.
That play sent Auburn to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta the following weekend, where it used RB Tre Mason’s career day to beat Mizzou. From there, the Tigers went to the BCS National Championship Game, losing on a late TD to Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles.
But … what if Alabama never lined up for that 56-yard attempt?
Look, it’s easy to play the blame game with the benefit of hindsight. I’m not here to say I’m a better coach than Nick Saban. No one on the planet is a better college football coach than Nick Saban.
But just because he’s the best doesn’t mean he’s perfect. If you asked Saban his biggest regrets over the years, I’d bet it wouldn’t take him long to get to that field-goal attempt. Adam Griffith was a redshirt freshman that season. He went 5-for-5 on extra-point attempts, but he was only 1-for-2 on field goals entering that ill-fated attempt.
What would have happened if the Tide had tried a Hail Mary that failed or done something else that got the game to overtime? Let’s discuss that hypothetical situation.
Yes, Auburn would have had momentum entering overtime, having scored the final touchdown in regulation to tie the game at 28 with under a minute remaining. But that Alabama defense in 2013 was insane. The Tide allowed only 13.9 points per game that year. That was nearly a full touchdown per game better than the SEC’s second-best defense, South Carolina (20.3 points per game). Only Florida State, Louisville and Michigan State had better defenses that year.
WR Amari Cooper was a big-play threat for the Tide. In fact, if not for Davis’ miraculous return, the game may have been remembered for Cooper’s incredible 99-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter to break a 21-21 tie:
College overtime is always a toss-up, but with Alabama’s defense and the weapons the Tide had on offense, going to overtime, even in Jordan-Hare Stadium, wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world.
So, let’s assume the Tide pull off the win in overtime to keep their perfect season alive. What happens next?
Alabama vs. Mizzou (SEC title game)
As a Mizzou grad, I’d love to pivot this article here and say Mizzou would have beaten Alabama in Atlanta and then gone on to win the national title over Florida State.
But I won’t.
Alabama probably beats the Tigers as comfortably (if not more so) than Auburn did. It would have almost certainly been a lower-scoring affair than the 59-42 shootout between Mizzou and Auburn, but it still would have been fun.
As mentioned above, Alabama had a smothering defense in 2013, allowing only 13.9 points per game. The Tide’s offense wasn’t a joke, either. In fact, Auburn, Mizzou and Alabama all had pretty potent offensive units that year. Here were the top 4 offenses in the SEC from 2013:
- Texas A&M — 44.2 points per game
- Auburn — 39.5 points per game
- Mizzou — 39.1 points per game
- Alabama — 38.2 points per game
See? And with things pretty much equal on offense, that Crimson Tide defense would have given Alabama the edge. Winning the SEC title would have made Alabama 13-0. Thus, the Tide would have been a shoo-in to play Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game.
Alabama vs. Florida State (BCS title game)
Honestly, the Seminoles were an incredible team in 2013. Under coach Jimbo Fisher, they had the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense at 51.6 points per game (behind only Baylor’s 52.4 points per game) and the No. 1 scoring defense, giving up only 12.1 points per game. For those of you who, like me, aren’t good at math, that means the Seminoles were outscoring opponents by 40.3 points per contest.
During the regular season and ACC title game, the Seminoles played 4 ranked teams. Here’s how they fared:
- vs. No. 25 Maryland — 63-0 W
- at No. 3 Clemson — 51-14 W
- vs. No. 7 Miami — 41-14 W
- vs. No. 20 Duke (ACC title) — 45-7 W
Yeah, that’s domination. Winston won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide and finished the year with 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
But we all know Winston is prone to head-scratching mistakes on the football field. Case in point from the following season’s Playoff semifinal loss to Oregon:
Should Winston have made any errant passes against the 2013 Crimson Tide secondary, I’d trust Alabama’s group of Landon Collins, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Eddie Jackson, Vinnie Sunseri and Cyrus Jones a bit more than Auburn’s secondary that included guys like Jermaine Whitehead, Ryan Smith, Chris Davis, Robenson Therezie and Jonathon Mincy.
It’s not a given that Alabama would have won, of course. But the Tide could have given the Seminoles at least as good a game as Auburn did (the Tigers lost 34-31 after allowing 21 fourth-quarter points, including a touchdown pass from Winston to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left). Plus, if you gave that year’s Crimson Tide defense a 21-13 lead going into the fourth, I’m not sure even Winston and that year’s FSU offense would have stood a chance.
So, did the decision to attempt the field goal that Davis returned cost Saban a title? There’s a reasonable argument to be made that it did, even if the 2013 Florida State team was a juggernaut.
Fortunately for Saban and the Crimson Tide, there have been plenty of other titles to go around. Every 4-year senior who has come to Alabama since Saban took over in 2007 has at least 1 national championship ring. As long as the Tide win another title in 2020 or 2021, that streak will continue.