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A history of Nick Saban’s Bama missing field goals

It almost never matters ... except when it really does.

Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

When you saw Andy Pappanastos do this in 2017’s national title game ...

... it looked like a bad movie you’d seen before. The chip shot field goal shanked way left, his second bad miss of the game. The coaches in ESPN’s film room broke down his technique and blamed his plant foot, saying that he “attacked” the ball rather than just letting his body sway through it like a golf swing. I started to worry about the young man’s return to the state of Alabama, just knowing how sports fans can be.

When his counterpart, Rodrigo Blankenship, nailed a 51-yarder with ease in overtime, it looked like Bama’s days really might be numbered. Then Tua Tagovailoa took a terrible sack and spun a beauty of a game winner, and everything was forgiven.

So Pappanastos’ kick goes down in the annals of missed field goals in a big game by Alabama. But I wanted to know, when has a missed kick actually cost the Tide a game?

So let’s look at Bama’s losses.

We keep a running ranking of man of the Saban-era Tide losses. We lumped the bottom five into the same category from Saban’s first season. They’re all pretty much throwaway games in a largely forgettable 7-6 campaign, except for the disastrous ULM game.

But what about the consequential games?

In the losses Alabama has suffered under Saban that weren’t in that initial group, Alabama has missed a field goal in six.

In three losses, missed kicks didn’t really matter.

  • 31-17 vs. #2 Utah in the Sugar Bowl (kick didn’t matter, and the Tide got waxed).
  • 21-14 vs. ULM (a hilarious game, but not a big one).
  • 35-21 at #22 South Carolina in 2010 (kicks didn’t matter; the Tide got waxed).

The fourth loss was in the game of the century.

The hill I will die on is that 2011 Alabama-LSU is one of the best regular-season games of my lifetime. It was a defensive masterclass with a multitude of pros on the field.

What it didn’t have was a ton of offense. And it had even less competent special teams. The “Alabama misses kicks in big games” narrative took off in this game, as the Crimson Tide missed four field goals with two kickers.

Alabama missed field goals on its first three possessions, including this 49-yarder.

Kicker Jeremy Shelley connected on a 34-yarder on the fourth possession. Alabama added another in the third quarter to take a 6-3 lead. In overtime, the Tide missed again.

LSU connected when it counted on its overtime possession.

The fifth needs no introduction.

And the sixth was the other miraculous Auburn win on the Plains.

At the end of the first half of the 2019 Iron Bowl, Auburn stole three points. It looked like the clock had expired, but Auburn got one second put back on the board, and the Tigers somehow found a way to get a snap off in one second — much to Saban’s chagrin.

Of course the Tigers would hit that 52-yarder. Of course that would matter later when the Tide lined up for a 30-yarder in the middle of the field late in one of the wackiest Iron Bowls any of us can remember.

However, in other big games, Alabama’s missed field goals but still won in close shaves.

Of course The Process is at times immune to even #collegekickers.

2008 vs. LSU: 29-yard game winner gets blocked by LSU.

The Tide would still win in overtime after intercepting LSU and throwing a TD three plays later.

2011’s BCS Championship vs. LSU: Shelley going five of seven was a sight to behold, but at least LSU didn’t score at all and could barely cross the 50-yard line.

2014 vs. LSU: Another overtime game in which Alabama could have used three extra points in regulation. Adam Griffith’s 27-yard field goal missed the mark, but the Tide still got the job done.

2015’s National Championship vs. Clemson: An early 44-yard missed field goal by Adam Griffith wasn’t a great kick. But this one to spark the Tide in the second half was.

So yeah, it’s kinda funny to think that the Alabama machine can’t find a competent kicker.

But it almost never actually matters. If the Tide are blowing you out — and they usually are — an automatic kicker would only make things worse.

Saban’s Alabama won five national championships. They did that with average kicking at best. At worst, the Tide have been downright bad in the kicking game, even since Saban’s gotten things rolling. Here’s how they’ve ranked year-by-year in field goal percentage:

  • 2008: 67th
  • 2009: 21st
  • 2010: 61st
  • 2011: 85th
  • 2012: 45th
  • 2013: 90th
  • 2014: 97th
  • 2015: 82nd
  • 2016: 57th
  • 2017: 90th
  • 2018: 54th
  • 2019: 78th

Considering all that, maybe it wasn’t a bad idea for Bama to try a fake field goal against Clemson in 2018. Definitely not this play design, though.