The look on the Alabama coach’s face was priceless — oh, it’s gonna be like that, huh?
Yeah, kickers missing field goals has been a big story this bowl season, and kickers missing field goals was a big story the first time Alabama played LSU this season.
Well, here we are, in the city that will play host to the rematch in Monday’s Bowl Championship Series final. Just in case Alabama kickers Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley had managed to forget the horror of Nov. 5, reminders abound.
But while everyone wonders about Alabama’s kickers stewing amid heavy talk of Georgia’s and Stanford’s kicker tragedies — and even their own — the real question might be whether Alabama’s offense feels the full boil.
If there’s a lesson from this bowl season, it’s don’t put the game on kickers.
If there was a lesson from Alabama’s 9-6 overtime loss to LSU in November, it’s don’t put the game on kickers.
If there’s a mandate for Alabama’s offense in the final game under coordinator Jim McElwain before he dives full-time into his new gig as Colorado State’s head coach, it’s don’t put the game on kickers.
Thing is, Alabama must find a way to get in the end zone against LSU’s defense. Neither team could in November, and that Marquis Maze-throwing-a-pass thingie wound up in LSU safety Eric Reid’s hands.
One doesn’t see that play in the game plan this time around, so how does Alabama keep the pressure off of kickers?
Saban can’t in the days leading up to Monday’s game. All Alabama players are to be available for Friday’s media day activities in the Superdome.
As for Wednesday, Saban did his part during a brief news conference at Louis Armstrong International Airport. Standing in front of nearly 20 TV cameras — more than what turned out for two presidential news conferences in the same room, one local TV yapper said — he tried to put distance between his kickers and their November nightmare.
“In fairness to the field-goal kickers, especially when it comes to our guys, they were long field goals,” he said. “I think even if you were in the NFL, you would make 35 to 40 percent of those field goals, and I think players have to keep that in perspective, especially our players.”
Good to know, in case Alabama needs a long field goal in an NFL venue Monday night.
And yes, that raises the question of how Alabama should handle such situations.
Here’s a suggestion: follow the lessons of Nov. 5 and punt LSU deep. Make LSU drive the length of the field with a so-so quarterback.
When it’s not fourth down, stick with Trent Richardson. Stick with the dual-threat running back who finished third in Heisman Trophy balloting.
When it’s first down, maybe call a pass. Try two tight ends in a running formation with Richardson in the backfield, and let the 6-foot-4 quarterback throw it.
Odds say it beats having a small-handed, 5-10 wide receiver lob it over a charging, taller defender.
But the question of keeping the pressure off kickers in a national-championship game goes beyond play calling. The deeper issue is how the pressure of keeping the pressure off kickers affects the psyche of Alabama’s offense and McElwain.
Missed field goals are missed opportunities, especially against a great defense. They’re momentum killers, and no one wants that awkward, uh-oh moment again.
Will such outcomes in the first game creep into Alabama helmets and headsets? Will it make Alabama’s offense and McElwain press?
Alabama’s kickers have been on a lot of minds since Nov. 5, and kicker meltdowns in the bowl season are fresh on the minds of media in New Orleans. That’s why kickers became fifth question off the tarmac for Saban.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.