It’s been two days since the Clemson Tigers demolished Alabama in one of the more surprising title games - by margin of defeat, if not result - in recent memory. There were times when Nick Saban seemed uncharacteristically out-schemed and under-prepared. The usual Alabama halftime adjustments didn’t materialize, and there were some truly baffling playcalls from the six-time national champion coach.
Most-discussed among those was Saban’s call for a fake field goal run - against an unfavorable defensive look - using his kicker as the lead blocker.
It failed spectacularly, and Clemson continued to cruise to a 44-16 victory, the worst margin of defeat by an Alabama team during Saban’s 12-year tenure in Tuscaloosa.
Or — more accurately, I should say — it failed in our timeline. Let’s take a look into an alternate timeline in which it succeeded.
REFEREE: Fourth down.
NICK SABAN: Alright, I’ve got a plan.
MIKE LOCKSLEY: Nick, we should just kick the field goal here. We’re down 31-16, but that pulls us within 12, and there’s still plenty of time left on the clock. We’ll just chip down their lead.
SABAN: No. We’re going to run a fake. They won’t be expecting it.
LOCKSLEY: [looks out at defensive alignment] They are definitely expecting it.
BRENT VENABLES: [smiles, gives thumbs up from opposite sideline]
SABAN: They’re not expecting it the way we’re going to run it.
BUTCH JONES: How are we going to run it?
SABAN: Oh, you still work here?
JONES: [shrugs] I guess?
SABAN: They’re going to expect us to run it with effective blocking. Well, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to lead with our kicker, right into Clemson’s defensive front.
LOCKSLEY: That does not seem like it’ll work.
JONES: Yeah, I’m not even a good coach and I know that won’t work.
VENABLES: [cupping hands over mouth from opposite sideline] YOU SHOULD DO IT
SABAN: Listen, you know that every year I assemble a coaching staff full of big names. Fired head coaches who are in between jobs come in as “special analysts” or some made-up thing like that. I have the greatest brain-trust in college football every year. And this year I’ve decided to get into analytics.
JONES: It’s that book with the volcano on it. Advertises on TV a lot.
SABAN: Yes, analytics. I’ve hired a special analyst — one who’s worked with even bigger organizations than ours — and he’s an expert at assessing probabilities. Here he is.
DOCTOR STRANGE: Hello. I’m Stephen Strange, master of the dark arts.
LOCKSLEY: Wait, didn’t you die at the end of Avengers: Infinity War?
STRANGE: Yes, but it’s a comic-book death. I’ll be back. It’s sort of like what happens here. You disintegrate, you spend a year or two on Saban’s staff, and then - poof - you show up again wearing a slightly different costume.
JONES: What’s Balki like in person?
LOCKSLEY: Butch, here’s ten bucks. Go get a hot dog.
SABAN: Anyways, I’ve brought Mr. Strange -
SABAN: - Mister Strange on to analyze the probabilities of my playcalls succeeding. Whatcha got, pal?
STRANGE: I have viewed over 14 million possible futures.
SABAN: How many does this fake field goal work in?
STRANGE: [solemnly] Only one.
SABAN: Alright, let’s do it.
STRANGE: Wait, didn’t you hear me-
SABAN: Buddy I didn’t get where I am by listening to doctors. Doctors said I couldn’t replace a human heart with an F-350 engine, and now Da’Ron Payne is in the NFL.
STRANGE: There’s overwhelming odds of failu-
SABAN: [yelling] FAKE FIELD GOAL
VENABLES: [nodding] GOT IT
[several hours later]
CHRIS FOWLER: And that brings a wrap to things here in Santa Clara. Kirk, what do think was the turning point in this game?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Well, Chris, there were obviously a number of factors - the early interceptions by Tua Tagovailoa threw some momentum behind Clemson, but Alabama really battled back in the third quarter.
FOWLER: Let’s talk about that gutsy call by Nick Saban on fourth down. They sent the field goal unit out to kick a 40-yard attempt, and then- well, let’s take a look here.
HERBSTREIT: The ball is snapped, they pull up for a run, and-
FOWLER: The entire Clemson defensive front runs to the sideline. What do you think happened here?
HERBSTREIT: Well, the boys in the booth got us this different camera angle, and we’re able to bump up the in-game sounds. Let’s watch.
CHRISTIAN WILKINS: They’re running a fake field goal!
AUSTIN BRYANT: We’ve got ‘em. Easy stop.
ALBERT HUGGINS: Hey, look on the sideline!
HUGGINS: It’s Imagine Dragons!
WILKINS: Oh shit I love Imagine Dragons!
CLELIN FERRELL: I didn’t like them at first, but their constant presence on college football broadcasts really warmed me to them! I love their songs, like “That One From The Ad”, and “That One From The Other Ad”, and “Is This Them Too? (I Guess That Makes Sense)”!
HUGGINS: Let’s go get their autographs!
BRYANT: What about the play?
WILKINS: It’ll be fine!
FOWLER: Wow. Well, that’s the thing about college football, isn’t it, Kirk? You remember at the end of the day, these are young kids - young kids who love Imagine Dragons.
HERBSTREIT: Hard to fault them for that.
FOWLER: That’s it for us live from Levi’s Stadium, where the final score is Clemson 44, Alabama 19.
BUTCH JONES: Do I get another head coaching job?
STRANGE: [twitching] How do you feel about Troy, Alabama?