'Unfair' end-of-game penalty among Nick Saban's gripes with Iron Bowl officiating

Alex ScarboroughESPN Staff Writer4 Minute Read

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AUBURN, Ala. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban was critical of the officiating during Saturday's 48-45 loss on the road at Auburn, pointing to a penalty in the game's final seconds as well as a decision before halftime to put one second back on the clock that allowed the Tigers to kick a field goal.

Saban called it "unfair" that his team was given a penalty for too many men on the field on fourth-and-4 that gave Auburn a first down and effectively ended the game.

"I really feel that it was a pretty unfair play at the end of the game," Saban said. "They substituted the punter as a wide receiver, so we put the punt team in. And then when the quarterback was still in there we tried to put the defense back in. I thought they should have given us a little more time to substitute and get [Jaylen] Waddle out as a returner. We get called for 12 guys on the field. So that was very disappointing.

"We're responsible for that as coaches, but it was a very unusual circumstance to say the least. And I think that sometimes when you have those, it should be viewed that way."

Saban was also upset with a decision by officials to put one second back on the clock just before halftime after Auburn completed a first-down pass on the Alabama 34-yard line. Anders Carlson then made a 52-yard field goal to cut the Tide lead to four points.

"I don't know if I should tell you that," Saban said of the explanation he received from officials. "The guy beside me said, 'They won't be able to get [the kick] off anyway.' They waited and waited and waited and wound the clock and the guy snapped the ball, kicked it, and they said it was good.

"I think you can snap the ball with a second to go in the game, but whether they did or didn't, that's not my judgment."

Regardless, Saban said his team didn't play well enough to win and that Auburn should get "a lot of credit."

Alabama committed 13 penalties, which is the most in a game during Saban's 13 seasons leading the program.

A Saban-coached team hasn't given up 48 points in a game since 1999, when his Michigan State squad lost to Purdue 52-28.

Two of Auburn's touchdowns came on interception returns.

"The disappointing thing to me was the idea that we came here to play with a lot of discipline, not get a lot of penalties, do a great job of executing and doing our job on a consistent basis," Saban said. "... I don't think we did that great. We got way too many penalties, put ourselves in a lot of bad situations."

Saban didn't lay the outcome at the feet of quarterback Mac Jones, who made just his third career start in relief of Tua Tagovailoa. Jones completed 26 of 39 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns, but threw two interceptions.

Nor did Saban blame kicker Joseph Bulovas, whose 30-yard potential game-tying field goal with 2:00 remaining went off the upright.

Instead, Saban pointed to too many self-inflicted wounds from the team as a whole.

"Whether you slap a guy in the head or you rough the quarterback or we don't snap the ball when you're supposed to and we get five false starts, all those things to me are things that we need to have more discipline," he said. "... When you play against good teams, those things bite you."

Saban took up for Bulovas in particular.

"I don't think anyone feels worse than Joe does about missing that kick," Saban said.

"We all feel bad, and we all should."

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