"The hype machine is going to be something we are not familiar with," radio host Paul Finebaum said in an interview with the Tim Brando show. "It [the game being moved to primetime] really sent the game into orbit. A 2:30 p.m. game is fine – we go to them, we enjoy them… but when [CBS executive vice president of programming] Mike Aresco announced that it was going to primetime, it gave this game what we all thought it deserved."
The Austrailian-born defensive lineman has picked up not only a football education, but cultural and academic ones as well. But it will be his progress in football that will face its stiffest test yet Saturday when UA plays host to LSU. "I think Jesse has been one of our most consistent players up front in terms of doing the things we're asking him to do. He's a very conscientious guy, he's very smart, and bright," said UA coach Nick Saban. Williams has made 12 tackles this season, including 3.5 for losses and an assisted sack. More importantly, however, he has developed over time to become more comfortable with all things football: his responsibilities and his competition alike. "He has come a long way from camp, and when he first got here," said linebacker Nico Johnson. "... He's getting to the point where he's comfortable with what he's doing. He's helping out a lot keeping linemen off me."
The nation's No. 3 run defense will greet him on Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and Richardson has an idea of what to expect after last year's run-in. "That's always in the back of my head, these guys took me out," he said. "And I had to sit out two more games after that. It's in my head already that I know they're going to try to come right at me and they're going to try to take me down."
When Louisiana State played at Alabama two years ago, the game was so physical the Tigers were carting players off the field. The injured included running back Charles Scott, who broke his collarbone in the 24-15 loss. Since that game there seems to have been a transformation in the Tigers, especially in the offensive play-calling. They are more physical, less finesse. The former offensive coordinator Gary Crowton had a thick playbook. The first-year offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe has a playbook that more closely resembles Alabama’s style: rock-em, sock-em.
It's obvious this isn't Alabama's first rodeo. This is a team that's experienced its share of big games. A lot of these same players played key roles on the 2009 national championship team. "We know what it takes in these kind of games, and that's going out and playing our best game," Alabama senior center William Vlachos said. "This is definitely the best defense we've faced during our careers."
"He's just a bulldozer," said LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers. "He just bangs on you so much." So how to stop him? "We'll have to pursue and tackle him in groups. You're not going to bring him down with one tackler," said LSU defensive tackle Barkevious Mingo. LSU linebacker Ryan Baker thinks otherwise. "Oh yeah, I can tackle him. I can tackle anybody in the country. Don't need any help," said Baker, boasting a barkevious as big as his bite.
After inheriting an 8-14 team over the previous two seasons and a 48-83-3 program over the previous 12 seasons, Miles went 4-7 his first year in 2001 but upset No. 4 Oklahoma 16-13 in the season finale. Then he brought the Cowboys to just their second bowl since 1988 in 2002 after upsetting No. 3 Oklahoma again 38-28 to end the regular season. "His name and a few others always came up during that search," Alabama athletic director Mal Moore said Wednesday. "We were told that he was someone we should look at. There was some contact, but I never talked to him personally."
Will Muschamp will be busy Saturday trying to help his Florida Gators beat Vanderbilt. But if he had the chance to watch the biggest game of the year in the SEC, Saturday's LSU-Alabama showdown in Tuscaloosa, his focus wouldn't be on superstars such as Tide running back Trent Richardson or LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. It'd be on the big uglies up front. "They're both very physical on both lines of scrimmage. They run the ball like you need to in this league," Muschamp said of the Tide and Tigers. "That's why they are where they are and the rest of us right now, this year, are trying to catch up. "This one's going to be won up front. That's the matchup I'd be interested in watching. ... Neither team can get in a one-dimensional game against the front they're going to face."
"They have the best -- and biggest, most physical linebackers in the country," says one of the rival coaches in the SEC. "That's what jumps out at you. That's the biggest difference between Alabama and everybody else. They have (Dont'a) Hightower and (Courtney) Upshaw and those are NFL guys who you just can't match up with. They're 265-pound guys who move like 230 pounders and you just don't see that in college. Most teams have never had one guy like that. They have two."
The knock on Alabama's solid but not perfect pass defense has been a lack of competition. Consider where six opponents rank nationally this week in passing offense: No. 91 Penn State, No. 96 Florida, No. 98 North Texas, No. 105 Ole Miss, No. 108 Vanderbilt and No. 117 Kent State. Tennessee ranks No. 45, but it faltered against the Tide because starting quarterback Tyler Bray was out with an injury. Arkansas is ranked ninth in the nation in passing offense (321 yards per game). It threw for 209 yards against the Tide. Guess what? LSU is ranked No. 99 in passing offense. Starting quarterback Jarrett Lee isn't an elite passer, but the fifth-year senior has made some clutch throws.
"Trying to keep control of the football and winning on third down … that’s where you do it," McElwain said. "And trying to make sure you have answers for all the different things they do. We spent a long time last night and this morning putting that plan together with things our kids feel comfortable with."
I spilled a lot of pixels this summer of the pending dominance of Alabama's defense, at point even describing it as "perfect" save for the pass rush. So I haven't been very compelled to keep close tabs on the status quo since that forecast has come true. But it has come true, and how: Through eight games, the Crimson Tide are fielding the best defense in America, and it's not close.
"These guys have made lots of plays with fakes, the punter running the ball. They did it to us last year once," said UA coach Nick Saban. "They've done it to some other folks. They did it to Florida for a controversial non-touchdown. They've faked field goals before. I think a critical thing in special teams in this particular game is not only to try to create opportunities in terms of what you do on special teams, but make sure you're sound in how you're playing so that you don't compromise your ability to defend anything that they might do in terms of fakes."
"He’s always been focused. That’s the one thing I can say about AJ," said Alabama running back Trent Richardson, whose ability to rip off large chunks of yards in the running game has taken a lot of the pressure off McCarron. "He’s done a tremendous job on the field and off the field with anything that has come toward him. He’s staying focused. He’s a reliable person. If you need him, he’s there. In the games, he’s a playmaker. So he’s a role model on this team as well."
How do you run on Alabama? "If you think you're going to line up in an I-formation to do it, I don't think it's going to be successful, and that's how LSU does it. So there are two ways: You can spread them out and use misdirection and hope they overpursue. But that's really not LSU's style. I think a mobile quarterback can give you a chance. "I think another big thing would be you've got to throw the ball to set up the run. That's why I think first-and-10 passing could be so big for both of these teams. Bama is so stout against the run. If you think you can line up a big fullback and big tailback and just run into that defense, you're just not going to be able to."
"'I don’t want to know what to do, I want to know why I’m doing what I’m doing,'" the elder Jones frequently recalls his son telling him. "'Once I understand why I’m doing it, then it’s easy for me to know what to do.'"
The last time teams from the same conference met as 1 and 2 in the regular season was November 2006, when Ohio State beat Michigan at home. It's never happened in the Southeastern Conference, although Alabama and Florida did meet in the 2008 and '09 title games. In fact, of the 22 regular-season 1-2 games since the Associated Press (media) poll began in 1936, the only time an SEC team was involved occured in November 1996, when No. 1 Florida lost at Florida State.
Odell Jr. drew raves from LSU coaches and teammates as a potential impact player before the opener, after making acrobatic snags and artful runs after the catch before the team began contact drills. The production, obviously, didn't stop. He's a worthy complement to No. 1 receiver Rueben Randle, with 27 catches for 334 yards and two touchdowns. "Defenses we've played have rolled the linebackers to my side, so it has been leaving him one-on-one on the back side," said Randle, a junior. "The quarterbacks are making great reads, and he's running great routes. "I knew he was going to be a great player; I saw the ball skills he had. He was out here making plays in the seven-on-seven. I was really impressed when he first got on campus."
The conventional wisdom says that the losing team in the LSU-Alabama civil war will most likely drop in the standings and be jumped by third-place Oklahoma State, assuming, of course, that the Cowboys are able to take care of business against visiting Kansas State. As ESPN College GameDay's Lee Corso would say, however: "Not so fast, my friend!" As bad as every college football voter and prognosticator in America would like to see these same two teams go at each other again in a rematch in the BCS title game scheduled for the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 9, I would be very careful about ruling out the possibility that the only thing that may change when the BCS poll is released on Sunday is the one-two order. At the very least, unless one of the teams wins in a blowout, I wouldn't expect the loser to drop much further than third, possibly, fourth place in the weekly BCS rankings. Needless to say, this would not be good news for Oklahoma State or the Big 12's chances of having a representative in the 2012 BCS National Championship game.
Still, Mathieu was unavailable on Monday (along with two teammates who were held out against Auburn and who, to be fair, likely would have been incommunicado at most football programs, including Alabama's). You couldn't talk to the Honey Badger - but you could find people to talk about him. Safety Eric Reid, a secondary star in his own right, was glad to address questions about the missing Mathieu. "Tyrann knows he made a mistake and will have to bounce back from it in the future," Reid said. "He's happy to be back."
Sims remains upbeat though and shrugged off rumors that say he’ll transfer. He plans to stay and challenge for the starting spot again next season, he said. "If that’s what the coaches decide they want to do, then we’ll do it again. Hopefully, it will turn out in my favor next time. "They came here to recruit me for a reason, so it’s obvious they like what they saw. If they wanted something different, then they came and got the wrong guy. I am who I am, and that’s all I can be. And I just have to continue to be me."