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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

Talkin' ball with Coach Bill Clark: Not many places are that special

We do it every week. Two-time national coach of the year Bill Clark shares his insight on what's happening now in college football.

Week 11: On fourth-down fever, Alabama's bounceback, LSU's hangover cure, the Auburn family reunion and his top four playoff contenders.

Lane Kiffin is one of the leading practitioners of the go-for-it movement on fourth down that's sweeping the country. Ole Miss went for it on fourth-and-2 at the Alabama 12 on its first drive and didn't get it. The three points the Rebels passed on by not kicking the field goal appear even larger in the rearview mirror after they lost by six and had a final drive inside the red zone. What's your take on that call and this phenomenon in general?

BC: I'm watching so much football now, and I'm seeing so many people going for it on fourth down at all times. It's just what they do. To me it was always about feel. To some people, analytics is their master. And it works for some of these guys who go for it on so many fourth downs. If you get them, you're a genius, but it can come back to haunt you sometimes when you don't get points.

I probably would've gone for it on the fourth-and-2. Anytime the defense holds you down there and you come away with nothing, those are big deals. Obviously that came back at the end of the game to make a difference.

Alabama came back from a crushing defeat at LSU, started slow and didn't play its best game at Ole Miss. The Tide still found a way to win even after LSU clinched the SEC West by beating Arkansas right before kickoff in Oxford. What does that say about Alabama?

BC: It says everything. We could say the same about UAB (coming back from a double-overtime heartbreaker to thrash North Texas). What do you do when all the naysayers are out there? And it wasn't like Alabama was playing at home. They were playing a really good offensive team and a really good offensive coach in a hostile environment, and they found a way. They were down, and they kept fighting and kept battling. They got great pressure from their defensive front the whole game. It's what you would expect from them, but they sure didn't fold, to their credit.

Could Alabama have gotten off to a slow start at least in part because they knew LSU had just won, shutting the door on their chance to reach the SEC Championship Game and almost certainly ending their playoff hopes? Would you rather your players not know the other score in that situation?

BC: Nowadays, there's no way they don't know. They're broadcasting other scores in the stadium on Jumbotrons. They're listening to music on their phones. There's no way that didn't affect them early on. That was just another thing they had to overcome, and give them credit. You want to be all in on that game and it's the next one and all that, but you're still human.

I also think Lane, like most good offensive coaches, his opening script is so hard to defend. What it does, especially tempo teams, they practice that so much. That's something he is really good at. They always seem to start fast. That would have had something to do with (Alabama's slow start) as well from a defensive standpoint.

Despite the inevitable Alabama victory hangover, the icy weather at Arkansas and a shaky offensive outing, LSU found a way to clinch the SEC West. How impressive has LSU's improvement been in Year One under Brian Kelly?

BC: Oh my gosh. We could talk a lot about the factors (Saturday). Arkansas. Early game. Hangover. And then cold weather. LSU always seems to have a tough time there. Arkansas getting upset the week before (by Liberty). Everything tells you they're not very good. It was all ripe for LSU to get knocked off. Again, it says a lot about them that they were able to find a way to win. You have to give their staff a lot of credit for the whole year, for the improvement, especially by the quarterback.

We talked earlier in the season about interim coaches having success, but have you ever seen anything like the emotion and energy Saturday night at Auburn in Carnell Williams' first home game as interim coach in the win over Texas A&M? Especially for a game between two 3-6 teams. It felt like an Iron Bowl with the SEC West on the line.

BC: I texted Cole Cubelic (Sunday) and said what a great (pregame) interview (with Williams) before they came on the field when they locked arms as they did when he played. One, you've got a good guy. Everything I've seen and heard about Carnell is he's a terrific guy.

You have to give the fans tons of credit for getting behind him, and you have to give him tons of credit for going out there and being who he is. He said let's get every bit of energy and emotion and passion out of these guys. He did it against Texas A&M. He did it the week before against Mississippi State. That tells you everything about him and everything about what those kids think about him.

It gives you chills. That's what it's all about. Somebody that will get the kids to play for each other. He talked a lot about family, all the stuff that I believe in. You could feel it, and give the fans a lot of credit for supporting those guys in a tough situation. It was really neat to see.

How strong an advertisement was it for the Auburn program? People have talked about the negatives and why coaches wouldn't want to take that job. That whole evening seemed like a reason that a coach would want the Auburn job.

BC: I got a chance to go to the LSU game (at Auburn) this year. Just the atmosphere, the fans, it's special. (Former Auburn offensive coordinator) Jack Crowe and I were talking about that, just how special that environment is. I tell you, it's a huge advantage. You have to understand that. I would say that about a few places: Texas A&M, Georgia, Tuscaloosa. It is a special environment, and there's a guy (in Williams) who gets it, who believes in it and is taking advantage of it. I know they have other issues, but there aren't many other places in college football that are that special.

OK. We're making you a one-man playoff selection committee. Who are the four teams that deserve to be in the playoff based on the season to date?

BC: I think right now you go Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and TCU. I got to see the whole TCU game (a 17-10 win at Texas). I don't know how good Texas is, but I was really impressed with TCU defensively. I've gotten to see both Michigan and Ohio State. Now what we get to do is see what happens in that Michigan-Ohio State game. You had to watch Tennessee, which is probably sitting there at No. 5, and say wow, they were very, very impressive against Missouri (in a 66-24 rout) in a bounce-back game. They totally dominated that game. LSU is probably next at 6. You've got the top four pretty solid, and let's see what happens with Ohio State and Michigan, which may knock one of them out of it based on how they play each other.



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