Alabama pulls LSU’s plug to win the national championship
Alabama 21 LSU 0
Alabama arguably beat themselves in this year’s first game against LSU — presumptuously dubbed the Game of the Century. LSU went on to win the SEC championship. But on Monday night, when it really counted, Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide pummeled Les Miles’ Tigers into submission to the point where the Tigers were totally unrecognizable.
The Alabama defense was a tide of crimson jerseys that swallowed the LSU Tigers whole. This was football from a lost age. Pure physicality. Ultra violence. Three yards (or less) in a cloud of rounded cryogenic rubber bits. Kirby Smart’s defensive troops suffocated Tiger quarterback Jordan Jefferson. Alabama “played the box” as Nick Saban said afterward. Nuthin’ Fancy as was once printed on an album cover. Little stunting, and next to no blitzes. It was straightforward. The defensive line clogged the middle. The linebackers contained anything and everything on the perimeter and elsewhere. And, the defensive backs made LSU’s wide receivers nearly invisible.
The total destruction is painted in the statistics. LSU gained a total of 92 yards — 53 passing (11/17) and 39 rushing (27/1.4 avg). LSU never advanced the ball into the red zone. Not once. But it was far worse than that. LSU never got the ball past midfield until 8 minutes left in the final quarter, on a drive that ended with LSU fumbling the ball away. This morning, there was a circulating rumor that LSU’s team buses couldn’t get out of New Orleans after the game — somebody had painted a 50-yard line strip across the lanes of westbound Interstate 10.
Hidden within all this mayhem was Alabama’s offense against one of the other best defensive units in the country. Focusing on mistakes, the offense was nearly perfect in a utilitarian sense, the one blocked field goal and several stalled drives that got close to the red zone notwithstanding. But it was the first quarter that set the tone — this was going to be a different way to skin a very large cat.
Bama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, who is now leaving Tuscaloosa to become the head coach at Colorado State, presented a twist to John Chavis’ Bayou Bengal defense — throw on first down to offset LSU’s 8-man front that would be clearly expecting the run. In the first quarter, Bama threw on 7 of the 8 first down situations, completing five of them for 69 yards. It put LSU back on their heels a bit and kept them from focusing on anything in particular.
It was sophomore quarterback A.J. McCarron, playing behind as good an offensive line that exists this side of the National Football League, that perhaps made the most significant difference necessary to give Bama the winning edge. He was cool, calm, and nearly flawless. His movement in the pocket to relieve pressure and buy a little more time to find a receiver reminded one of the recent form of Eli Manning. There have been singing of songs over the past few weeks that McCarron was the next Tide quarterback to reach the quality of the likes of Joe Namath. That’s hard to fathom. But on the biggest stage, the sophomore completed 23 of his 34 passes for 234 yards, and no interceptions. The play action scheme was the offensive theme of the night.
And credit is to be given, with little reservation, to Bama place kicker Jeremy Shelley. When Alabama’s drives predictably were stopped short of the endzone, Shelley kept a measure of distance between the two teams. He missed two attempts — one blocked and one wide right — but made five from distances between 20 and 45 yards. On November 5 during LSU-Bama I, Shelley and his kicking partner Cade Foster, combined to miss four field goals in the 9-6 overtime loss. Foster was responsible for three of those misses, and followed that with missing all his field goal attempts for the remainder of the season. So it came down to Shelley. Last night’s success, on the biggest of all stages, erased the memory of past misses — those by Shelley himself as well as those by Foster.
The result of all of this was the total emasculation of the top-ranked team in the nation. LSU was just a win away — inside a building viewed as a shrine to many of the Tiger Nation — from being anointed as one of the best, if not the best, team in the history of college football. All of the Les Miles detractors and doubters were ready to confess that they had been wrong all these years, and that the greatness of Nick Saban was just media myth-making.
But by the end of the third quarter, the collective body language of the LSU players sitting on the bench and standing on their sideline was a portrait of defeat. They showed none of the swagger of a 13-0 powerhouse. They were done. Multiple times during the season, even during their visit to Neyland Stadium in October (along with more credible examples of the games against Oregon, Mississippi State, Arkansas, and Georgia), LSU suffered through first-half performances that were less than desirable. But the Tigers always came back in the second half to destroy its opponent. Monday night proved to be different.
LSU didn’t get a big play to spark their inner badass self. In fact, it appeared as if they didn’t even try. As CBS commentator Gary Danielson said today, it looked like the players were looking at their coaching staff as if to say, “Give us something, here! We’re getting our butt kicked!” It looked as if Les Miles would relent in his reliance on Jordan Jefferson by inserting Jarrett Lee, who was seen on the sideline late in the third quarter doing stretching exercises with helmet on. Miles said afterward that he needed a quarterback with the mobility of Jefferson against the speed of Alabama’s defense. Thus, Lee didn’t make an appearance. What Miles really needed was the simple attempt to make a big play, and damn the torpedoes.
Sports psychologist Dr. Kevin Elko is a consultant to Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide staff and players, as well as to the Green Bay Packers and Derek Dooley (in fact, Derek Dooley’s official Twitter account follows only one other user — Dr. Elko). The good doctor on a radio appearance today gave us his take on what happened. “Alabama took away LSU’s energy sources.” What he meant was that LSU, throughout the season, were successful in part by feeding off their emotions. And they fed their emotional fuel tank with the energy of the Big Play. A stripping of the ball or a dazzling punt return by the Honey Badger were the obvious sources of that energy in the past. But there was nothing left in the tank as the final minutes approached. The players were not only physically gassed, but they were just as much mentally spent.
It was perhaps more of Alabama’s dominating performance that prevented LSU from finding its spark. But until LSU wins another national championship, the faithful followers of the Tigers will be left to struggle with the lack of trying to force the issue, to make something happen. It was as if Les Miles and his staff preferred to beat their head against a big wall of crimson. They simply had no answer to their players’ request for something that they couldn’t find for themselves.