The Situation Room: Alabama-Auburn Edition

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In a new segment we call “The Situation Room,” we will take a look at pivotal play calls, decisions and executions that determined the outcomes of games. The name comes from my experience as a football position coach and defensive coordinator and those times I either blew a call or witnessed a call blown by a fellow coach when all the proper “situations and circumstances” were not properly considered.

Give us an example, you say? OK – I’ll throw myself under the bus. I was a Defensive Coordinator in a game between two equally-matched teams with the score tied at 7 in the third quarter. Neither team had a kicking game and field goals weren’t an option. The other team was driving in our territory, but had stalled a bit and was facing a 3rd and 15 after two minus plays. We had some injuries in our defensive backfield and we had to move an athletic wide receiver to DB for the second half of this game. He was extremely athletic, but not very football savvy. It is not a stretch to say he was not thinking about a WR running a double-move in order to get him to bite up so they could go over the top for a 40-yard TD. He was probably thinking “I’m going to pick this ball and run it back!”

Well, you can imagine how easy that out-and-up pattern was to execute when my rookie bit on that 5-yard out on 3rd and 15. The final score was 15-7 and that one play was all that mattered.

Since that day, I have always touted the merits of a “Situation Coach” for a team. Now no head coach has room for a coach who doesn’t actually coach a position. Maybe the “Situation Coach” could be a support staff member and just reside in the box upstairs. At any rate, a person the head coach trusts and who has the ability and power to influence a decision in the heat of the battle is exactly what every head coach needs. I needed someone in my ear to remind me of our player’s inexperience and aggressive nature combined with the fact the other team had no kicker and was not about to just move the ball closer to attempt a long field goal.

The defensive call I made was PURPLE, or our “don’t let anyone get behind you” defense. I was well aware of how far they had to go to get the first down and how their passing game was limited at best. That’s why I called that defense. But that call alone wasn’t enough to keep an excited and confident athlete from thinking he could make a play that would turn the tide of the game. I should’ve backed him up another 5 yards and given him more margin for error when he bite on that first move. I had 20 seconds to make a call and get the proper personnel on the field. I did everything right except that one, finite detail.

Our player did in fact make a play that would affect the outcome of the game. It just wasn’t the outcome we or he expected.

So fast forward to this past Saturday and the 2015 version of the Iron Bowl.

This week’s “Situation Room” takes place inside the head of Auburn Defesive Coordinator Will Muschamp. You can debate the validity of the late hit call against the Auburn defender on Alabama QB Jacob Coker. It could’ve gone either way. But there’s no debating the 15-yard Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty on Muschamp. He’s actually lucky he didn’t pick up another one moments later. Coach, I remember you being fiery when you played DB for my Dawgs. It served you well there and it sometimes serves you well as a DC. I think some would say it may have hurt you as the head coach at Florida. It definitely hurt the Tigers in the 4th quarter of the Iron Bowl last weekend.

Take the 15 yards and keep your cool and your defense can still force Bama to punt. It was the extra 15 yards you earned with your tantrum that allowed the at times inconsistent Bama placekicker to connect from 47 yards. If the Tide punts there, the score remains 19-13 and Auburn can drive to win the game. As it was, the FG was good to extend the lead to 22-13 and then Derrick Henry took over. Final score – Bama 29-13. Would it have been different without Muschamp’s display? Who knows, but the Situation Room assumes it would’ve been. By nature, we have to.

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