TSB contributor Quinn Murray previews Monday night’s BCS Championship game in the Louisiana Superdome.
It’s the rematch. The clash of the titans. An intra-conference rivalry game with unprecedented implications: the 2011 BCS National Championship. The title game, featuring the Alabama Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers, will certainly have much in store for die-hard college football fans on January 9, 2012.
The two SEC superpowers met Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa, where the Tigers and Tide collided in a hard-hitting defensive slog heralded as the Game of the Century.
LSU held Alabama’s running back, Heisman trophy finalist and Doak Walker award winner Trent Richardson, to a pedestrian game by his abominable standards, accumulating only 169 total yards (89 rushing) and no scores—the only team to deny Richardson the end zone this season. And with the help of four missed Alabama field goals, LSU was able to emerge with a 9-6 in overtime win, plus the No. 1 ranking in the nation.
Reflective of the previous match-up’s close finish, the teams are essentially mirror images of one another. Alabama and LSU’s smothering defenses are ranked first and second in points allowed, respectively, and have been labeled two of the greatest defensive units in the history of college football by Sports Illustrated, among others.
LSU is the first school ever to line up two first-team All-American cornerbacks, Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne, in the same backfield. With these two dynamic defensive backs looming, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron will have to be at his prime—he cannot make any costly mistakes as he did Nov. 5, when he threw two interceptions.
Similarly, the nation’s top-ranked Alabama secondary, made up of shutdown cornerbacks Dre’ Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie, and safety Mark Barron could alter the momentum of the ballgame with one forced turnover.
However, Tigers’ quarterback Jordan Jefferson threw just one interception all season long, and with receivers Reuben Randle and Russell Shepard at hand, the LSU air assault will be hard to contain. Jefferson will still have to be very cautious against the Bama pass defense if he wants to win this upcoming rematch.
Though Jefferson is regarded as an efficient quarterback, he’s no Andrew Luck. So, to promote the passing game, LSU running back duo Spencer Ware and Michael Ford will have to progressively wear down the Tide’s rushing defense—and it won’t be easy. Though the two backs combined for 1,455 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, the historically top-ranked Alabama linebacker corps has the potential to extinguish any offensive firepower.
Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower, two of the fiercest gargantuans in college football, lead the Alabama defensive attack, and after allowing a season-low 148 combined rushing yards to Ware and Ford back on Nov. 5, it’s safe to say that the Tide defense will demand a little more from the LSU ground game to be conquered yet again.
The Tigers can expect a one-dimensional rushing offense from the Tide. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Bama.
The elusive, unparalleled skill set of Alabama running back Trent Richardson has proven unstoppable all season long with 1,583 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns.
In the Nov. 5 meeting, Richardson was the team’s only potent offensive force. Though he and the Tide were incapable of toppling defensive end Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo’s defensive barrier, this go-around Bama boasts a healthy backup running back in Eddie Lacy coupled with a rested Richardson. Two weeks of hibernation for the monster that wears the No. 3 could prove fatal for LSU come Jan. 9.
At the helms of these teams are two very prestigious head coaches– who also share much in common. Les Miles and Nick Saban have both been named AP Coach of the Year (Nick Saban twice in ’03 and ’09, Les Miles in ’11), and both have National Championships under their belts (Saban has two).
Both are respected as two of the best recruiters in college sports—Saban’s roster consists of an FBS-leading six All-Americans; Miles is responsible for four.
Despite their accomplishments, they have entirely different coaching styles. Saban is a conservative, no-nonsense coach; Miles is a risk taker—nicknamed the “Mad Hatter,” the LSU coach is known for his on-the-field trickery and willingness to gamble. Statistics and strategy aside, Miles holds a 3-2 advantage over Saban in their previous five meetings dating back to 2007.
So who has the edge in the most anticipated rematch, perhaps, in college football history?
LSU has been deemed unstoppable. They’re arguably one of the best teams to take the field since, well, forever. Outside of the Crimson Tide, no team has even come close to tainting LSU’s perfect 11-0 record.
However, I believe the Tigers’ sovereignty has come to an end. The Tide will take the field Jan. 9 with a Cowboy-sized chip on their shoulder, and unlike LSU, Alabama has something to prove– amidst all the BCS controversy with Oklahoma State, that they hands-down deserve to play for the National Championship title.
Bama left points on the field in their last head-to-head, and those four missed field goals need redemption.
On a similar note, LSU won’t have forgotten how dangerously close they tiptoed near surrendering their title dream to a much-maligned former head coach Saban.
The bad blood between the Tigers and Tide is boiling.
But most importantly, Nick Saban, one of the most proficient, revered, feared coaches in NCAA football, won’t like the taste of losing twice to Les Miles and his vaunted LSU squad. Twice in one season? Not one tiny Tiger bit. Thus, expect the Tide to Reauxl over LSU in New Orleans, 17-13.