By Alex Norman
The smartest guy in the room… well, the guy who thinks he is the smartest guy in the room… he’s never really the smartest guy in the room, you know?
The smartest guy in the room is actually so smart that he makes sure that no one knows that he is the smartest guy in the room.
(Side note, the smartest guy in the room is most often a gal. For the purposes of this discussion we are sticking with dudes.)
Anyone that watched top ranked Alabama lose to Ohio State 42-35 in the national semifinals on New Year’s Day could see first-hand that Lane Kiffin believes that he is the smartest guy in the room.
Kiffin, as you know, is the offensive coordinator at Alabama, and national scribes fell over themselves giving Kiffin congratulations for the work he did with the Tide this season. And Kiffin deserves much of the credit for the record breaking numbers the Alabama offense put up in 2014. Nick Saban got a lot of heat for hiring Kiffin, who was toxic at the time following his firing at Southern California due to the Trojans inability of live up to expectations. And Kiffin proved Saban right.
He made the most of the opportunity at Alabama, and got the most out of 5th year quarterback Blake Sims, much in the same way he did with 5th year quarterback Jonathan Crompton back in 2009 at Tennessee.
The Tide finished the regular season 12-1 with an SEC championship, and the number one seed in the first college football playoff.
The heavily favored Tide started off as expected in New Orleans, building a 21-6 lead over the Buckeyes, a program that entered the Sugar Bowl 0-10 all-time against SEC opponents (a Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas was vacated for NCAA violations under Jim Tressel).
But as Ohio State rallied, Kiffin for some reason decided that running the football wasn’t the best course of action. He had Sims throw the football 36 times on this night, the second highest total of throws for Alabama this season.
Kiffin basically abandoned the running game for stretches of the contest. Sophomore Derrick Henry is a mammoth running back that is a load to bring down. He’s especially effective late in ball games when opposing defenses don’t want to take the pounding anymore. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry against the Buckeyes, but only got 13 attempts.
While the stats show that Sims got 10 carries as well, giving the Tide very good run/pass balance (34 versus 36 plays), how many of those Sims runs were due to pocket breakdowns?
With just under 10 minutes to go, Alabama had possession at the Ohio State 23 following a shanked punt. The Tide trailed by 6, and we’re in position to take the lead. Instead of handing off to Henry, Kiffin called a rollout pass, which was promptly intercepted by former Tennessee target Vonn Bell.
When Ohio State took a two touchdown lead with under four minutes to go, everyone watching the game knew that this is where Kiffin was happiest. The run game would now have to be completely abandoned.
And on the final drive, with Alabama needing 83 yards in only 93 seconds with no timeouts, why on earth does your quarterback check down for two straight plays for short passes in the field of play?
Kiffin is expected to return to Tuscaloosa in next season. The reclamation project that is the Kiffin reputation is not yet complete. Eventually he’ll be a head coach at a Power 5 conference again. But his decision making is suspect at key moments and on this night, his ego wrote checks that the Tide offense could not cash.
Alabama is a power running team. They have been for decades. It isn’t rocket science.
Kiffin does a lot of things right, but he was a big reason why Alabama will not be facing Oregon in the national championship game on January 12th.