- Cullman, Alabama

November 9, 2013

ALABAMA FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Saban reaches into Miles' bag of tricks for game-changing fake punt

By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times

TUSCALOOSA — Tricks certainly aren't just for kids.

They apparently aren't just for Les Miles, either.

Alabama coach Nick Saban took a page straight from his LSU counterpart's playbook early in the third quarter and rode it to a crucial 38-17 win over LSU Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Following an uncharacteristic string of events — a 1-yard loss on third-and-1 and timeout because Landon Collins couldn't get on the field for the ensuing play — the top-ranked Tide reached inside the bag of tricks from inside their own territory and used a 6-yard gain on a fake punt run by Jarrick Williams to extend the drive. Alabama cashed in on the risky move shortly thereafter with a 4-yard touchdown run by T.J. Yeldon, swinging the score in the Tide's favor for the third and final time of the evening.

Saban and Co. tried another turn at trickery on the opening play of the fourth quarter. An attempt at a flea flicker came up empty, though, when A.J. McCarron overthrew Kenny Bell, who had a step on his defender.

Alabama's second drive of the second half was just as, if not more, impressive than the first — and once again, Yeldon was an obvious reason why.

It was only fair for the sophomore speedster to cap off the possession with a 1-yard scoring scamper. After all, he had five other carries for 33 rushing yards, as well as a 13-yard catch, on the drive.

Yeldon finished with 133 yards and the two touchdowns on 25 totes. Kenyan Drake was also helpful when utilized, turning 10 carries into 65 rushing yards.

% Name-calling: Call him a game manager. Call him a diva. Call him a cry baby.

After Saturday's performance, McCarron's critics have no choice but to also call him Alabama's all-time career passing yard leader.

The senior signal-caller took over the top spot from John Parker Wilson (7,924 yards from 2005-08) with a 12-yard pass to Amari Cooper in the second quarter.

McCarron had 14 completions for three touchdowns and 179 passing yards to push his career total to 7,997.

% Drink your juice: O.J. Howard has all the makings of your average tight end.

What the 6-foot-6, 237-pounder possesses that most at his position do not, however, is a blazing speed that most secondaries can't even catch up to.

That was precisely the situation early in the second quarter Saturday, when McCarron fired a pass over the middle to Howard, who beat any Tigers who would've had a chance to tackle him to the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown.

The reception was the longest of the freshman's short-but-productive career. It was also Howard's second for a score.

And to think he was facing prep private school defenses as a player at Autauga Academy, a member of the Alabama Independent School Association, at this time last year.

% No need to worry: It's safe to assume Alabama's faithful fans spent some of halftime fretting about the Tide's slim 17-14 advantage.

They shouldn't have. Not with Saban's record when his team takes a lead into the break, at least.

Including Saturday's outcome, the coach is now a near-perfect 70-3 in the situation.

% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at