As Joseph Bulovas lined up with a chance to tie a roller-coaster Iron Bowl with 2:04 remaining Saturday, the entire Alabama fan base held its collective breath.
And when Bulovas’ kick forcefully ricocheted off the left upright as another Crimson Tide field goal was seemingly repelled by the football gods, that breath was exhaled into the ether as a despondent sigh of more than a decade’s worth of exacerbation.
It’s a scenario that has been played out repeatedly over the last 13 seasons.
With an opportunity to make a decisive field goal at a critical juncture in Saturday’s game, Alabama once again found a way to botch another ostensibly simple scoring opportunity as No. 15 Auburn held on for a 48-45 upset in the 84th Iron Bowl inside Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn.
“I don’t think anybody feels worse than Joe does about missing the kick,” Tide head coach Nick Saban said after the game. “He works hard, he’s a very contentious guy. He’s done a great job for us this year in taking over (in that role). I mean, nobody feels worse than him.”
Except for maybe the long-suffering Alabama fan base that has repeatedly endured its share of heartbreaking disappointment because of missed opportunities in the kicking game.
Bulovas’ errant kick Saturday was the 101st missed field goal between 11 combined Crimson Tide kickers during Saban’s tenure (2007-present). According to ESPN Stats & Info, that’s the most by any FBS team during that span and eight more than any other team.
Alabama has missed at least five and as many as 13 field goals every season under Saban, including at least 10 in the same season three times (2008, 2011, 2015).
This year there were definite signs of kicking improvement, including the arrival of talented freshman kicker Will Reichard, though an early-season hip injury derailed his rookie season.
Bulovas also made positive strides having made 7-of-9 field goals coming into the Iron Bowl, including his previous five field goals in a row — the last being a 43-yarder in the first quarter Saturday — before his fourth-quarter miss from 30.
Meanwhile, rival Auburn has largely been successful on field goals, including Saturday night when Tigers sophomore kicker Anders Carlson made all four of his field goals from at least 43 yards. That included a season-long 52-yarder to end of the first half after officials put 1 second back on the game clock once time had seemingly expired following Auburn’s previous first-down play.
“We all feel bad, and we all should. I should feel bad that we didn’t do a better job with our team,” Saban said, accepting full responsibility for Alabama’s repeated undisciplined play Saturday. “And the players, it’s OK for them to feel bad too, because we didn’t play as well as I hoped that we would.
“(But) Joe’s play is just one play, and one play doesn’t win or lose the game. There were a lot of other plays in the game that put us in the situation that we were in. And I know nobody feels worse about it than Joe.”
Once again, Saban is correct on all accounts.
Bulovas’ missed field goal may have been a glaring piece of Saturday’s helping of humble pie, but it in no way determined the ultimate result — at least not as significantly as the team’s season-high 13 penalties for 96 yards or the two interceptions sophomore quarterback Mac Jones threw that Auburn returned for touchdowns.
In fact, to a man, each Alabama player interviewed after Saturday’s game cited the team’s pervasive problem with undisciplined penalties for the loss.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot too many times,” senior safety Jared Mayden said. “It was just the undisciplined penalties.”
Alabama’s SEC-leading 90 penalties through 12 games this season is already three more than it had through 15 games last year and is the most since a record 121 penalties in 2002.
“(It’s) bad discipline — we’ve had it all year,” junior safety Xavier McKinney said. “(And) it has shown up every time we’ve played good teams, so that’s on us.”
But as much as those penalties were very un-Saban-like, it was another in a long line of missed opportunities between the uprights that had most Crimson Tide fans once again cringing at the end of Saturday’s Iron Bowl loss, further highlighting a mushroom cloud-sized problem Alabama has dealt with for the entirety of Saban’s 13 seasons in Tuscaloosa.