Former Alabama coach Gene Stallings had a piece of advice for Nick Saban after last year's Iron Bowl: Get a great kicker.
Perhaps Saban already had one. Sophomore Will Reichard, who was out with a nagging hip injury for the 2019 Auburn game, has been perfect so far this season.
That's a huge deal for the top-ranked Crimson Tide heading into Saturday's game against the 22nd-ranked Tigers after some infamous past kicking woes in the Iron Bowl and other big games.
Kickers have been an Achilles Heel for some of Saban's Alabama teams, which were typically loaded on offense and defense.
"Last year, after the Auburn game, I called Coach Stallings to see how he was doing,” Saban said recently on his weekly radio show. “He said, ‘If I was you, I’d go recruit the best kicker in the country.’
“I said, ‘We’ve got the best kicker in the country. He’s just hurt.’”
Auburn has a pretty good kicker too in junior Anders Carlson. So both teams seem to be in good hands, or feet, this time around.
Reichard, who was considered the nation's top kicking prospect in 2019, has only attempted eight field goals with Alabama having such an explosive offense. But he has made all eight and is perfect on 46 extra-point attempts.
“He’s always super even-keeled, you know, straight line guy: he just goes out there, takes his steps, hits it through the uprights then goes off the field and celebrates with his teammates,” said Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, who also holds on field goals.
“He’s the definition of what a good kicker is and the reason he’s a good kicker is because he practices really hard at it.”
Carlson, who played a pivotal role in last season's 48-45 Auburn win, has made 11 of 12 field goals, including a 50-yarder last weekend against Tennessee. He has missed once in 20 PATs.
Few of the 13 Iron Bowls since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007 have been decided partly by missed Alabama field goals. It may just seem that way for national observers.
Since Saban's arrival the games have actually been decided by an average of 17 points with about as many blowouts as down-to-the-wire affairs. But the kicking woes have been costly.
— In 2013, Cade Foster missed three field goals to help set the stage for the Kick-Six, one of the more famous plays in college football history. Adam Griffith's 57-yard attempt at the end fell short and Auburn's Chris Davis returned it 109 yards on the final play for a 34-28 victory. It knocked 'Bama out of the national title hunt and helped propel the Tigers to the championship game.
— Last season, Joseph Bulovas' potential game-tying 30-yard attempt hit the left upright with 2 minutes left. Alabama still had a chance but an illegal substitution call on fourth down helped Auburn run out the clock.
Then there was Carlson. He booted four field goals of 43 yards or more, including a 52-yarder to end the first half after replay officials put one second back on the clock.
“Seeing that ball go through was an awesome experience,” Carlson said Tuesday evening.
Since then, the NCAA implemented a new rule that won't let officials put time back on the clock if time expires unless there's at least three seconds left in a half.
“They actually changed the rule after that play, that’s how impactful that play was,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.
In the third quarter, Carlson made a 54-yarder but Auburn kept possession thanks to an offsides penalty against Alabama. The Tigers stalled again and he booted a 43-yarder to cut the margin to 31-30. Malzahn said Carlson “was one of the MVPs last year.”
The younger brother of former Auburn and current Las Vegas Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson, his parents and grandparents attended Alabama on athletic scholarships.
“”You look at what he did last week with a 50-yarder, he’s one of the best kickers in college football," Malzahn said. “So he understands this rivalry very well, he’s got family ties with this and I’m glad he’s our kicker going into this Iron Bowl.”
And Alabama is happy to have Reichard for this one, too.
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