Column: Saban’s slow challenge to blame for Pittsburgh loss

By Frank Vanderwall

I was going to finish up my top 10 list this week but I just witnessed something I can’t believe actually happened in a nationally televised NFL game.

If you watched Thursday night’s Steelers-Dolphins game, you already know what I’m talking about. If not, here’s what happened.

Pittsburgh had the ball on their own 13-yard line. Batch took the snap and faked a hand off to Willie Parker; Zach Thomas was guarding Steelers tight end Heath Miller in man coverage and bit on the play fake, this left Miller wide open behind the Dolphins secondary.

Batch completed the pass and Miller took off downfield. No one caught him until he was inside Miami’s five yard line. Miller was clearly out of bounds at the two yard line on the replay, but the referee ruled the play an 87 yard touchdown.

Pittsburgh hurried to the line to kick the extra point in order to limit the amount of time Nick Saban and the Dolphins staff had to decide whether or not to challenge the play.

At the last second, Saban decided to challenge the play. The challenge flag landed safely on the field several seconds before the ball was snapped. What happened next was mind boggling.

The flag landed about 10 yards from the closest official, who had his back to Saban, and, for some reason, none of the officials were paying attention to the Dolphins sideline either.

The extra point soared through the upright and solidified the Steelers’ points. No challenge was granted because a play was run and the timing of a challenge is not reviewable. The touchdown put Pittsburgh up 21-17 and they never looked back, winning the game by a final score of 28-17.

As I was watching the game I couldn’t believe what had just happened. This is the NFL. Are you seriously telling me when they decided to eliminate the challenge buzzer and rely solely on a red flag to initiate a challenge, no one asked the question, “What happens if no one sees the flag get thrown?” I don’t know about you, but I think it seems like a pretty obvious question to ask.

Even if no one asked that question, shouldn’t someone have been assigned to watch the sidelines for challenge flags anyway? It seems if the only way to get a challenge confirmed is for a referee to see a flag land on the field, one of the official’s jobs would be to watch for that; especially after a controversial play.

So yeah, the NFL blew it. You know what, though, I don’t blame the NFL for the situation that took place on Thursday night, I blame Nick Saban.

Saban did a terrible job of challenging the play. After he got word from upstairs to challenge, he walked slowly onto the field, pump faked three times, checked to make sure his skirt looked alright, then heaved the red handkerchief all of about 2 feet onto the field. He just stood there and watched as none of the officials were even facing him and the kick was allowed to happen.

Are you kidding me, Saban? This is a huge situation in the opening game of the season against the defending Super Bowl champions and the best you can do is half-heartedly lob the flag onto the field then pout in silence on the sideline when it’s obvious no one saw the flag.

This isn’t horseshoes, Saban; its football. Almost getting someone’s attention isn’t going to cut it. Saban obviously either doesn’t know the rules at all or is on Pittsburgh’s payroll.

How does someone who turned around a program at Michigan State and won a national championship with LSU suck this badly at asserting himself as an NFL coach?

I expect every other coach in the NFL to learn a lesson from this. If you are going to challenge a play, you should run onto the field and drop the flag right on the football. No one is going to miss that. Take notes, Saban – your team’s season may depend on it.

As a coach you should at least yell or do something, because as John Madden would likely explain (do your best Madden impression in your head while you read this), “If you have a challenge flag; and its red; and you throw the red flag on the field; and no one sees it; and you don’t yell or do anything to get someone’s attention; then no one will see the red challenge flag; or hear you since you’re not yelling; and you will have thrown the challenge flag; which will still be red; for no reason, since you did nothing, and won’t actually get a challenge.”

Yeah, the NFL set up a terrible system and designed some pretty questionable new referee jerseys. However, as a coach it was Saban’s job to get off the sideline, open his mouth and cause a scene so that someone noticed that flag. Way to go Saban, way to go.

Frank Vanderwall is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]