It's quite ironic that Saban would be a compulsive eater of a product made by Little Debbie (no one is sure if there is any relation between the two). But the fact that he has eaten the same breakfast every day for more than a decade is as Saban-esque as it gets. To Saban, things are supposed to look and feel a certain way. Everything is a process, and nothing should ever interfere with the process. One step is not more important than the next, no matter what event comes his way. Saturday's game is no more important than Kent State in the eyes of Saban. The second you begin messing with a routine is the second you begin losing a game, in the mind of Saban.
The first thing you notice following around Les Miles is his odd sense of humor. He's quick. He's goofy. He takes as good as he gives, playing along with a reporter's gag about his wife, Kathy, taking all his money and running off with a yoga instructor. It's often hard to tell who's the adult and who's the kid. "You don't see too many head coaches at this level," says his lifelong friend John Wangler, "standing in line to go down the Slip 'n Slide."
"This game is huge. This is a big stage. It's a bigger stage than what (Stanford quarterback Andrew) Luck had against USC," Howard said. "Trent Richardson, in my opinion, can get either neck and neck or leapfrog Andrew Luck with a very strong and commanding performance Saturday night against one of the top, if not the top defense in the country."
Klages didn't see that potential instantly. When Upshaw was in the fourth or fifth grade, he attended a camp that Klages was running. "He was at least half a head taller than the other kids and a decent athlete," Klages said. "I remember thinking, 'Hey, we've got a good one coming down the road.' And then we were playing touch football, and he came up bawling about somebody had punched him, and I thought, 'Oh, my God, he's a big softie. He'll never amount to anything.'"
If the first four years of Saban vs. Les Miles has taught us anything, it's that a matchup this close with so much athleticism on the field gets impacted more by big plays than lengthy drives. Forty-one percent of the touchdowns scored in the past four Alabama-LSU games came on plays of 21 yards or longer, including four of at least 60 yards. Eight of the nine touchdowns exceeding 21 yards came on passes, accentuating the difficulties of running the ball against either defense.
By any measure, LSU is a running team: The Tigers keep the ball on the ground more than twice as often as throw, put it in the air less frequently than any other offense in the SEC and have churned out at least 175 yards rushing in all but one game. Along with Alabama, they've forged arguably the most balanced attack in the nation: 189 yards per game rushing, 183 passing. Which also explains why the passing game is one the nation's most efficient, and is suddenly showing more big-play spark than the Tigers' blue-chip depth chart has flashed in years. The most obvious breakthrough is Rueben Randle, a former all-universe recruit who's making good on the hype as a downfield threat, and then some: Through two-thirds of the regular season, Randle leads the SEC in touchdown catches and yards per catch and is second in receptions covering at least 25 yards. He has four catches covering at least 40 yards in the last three games alone, three of them touchdowns, in which the Tigers have put up 124 points (41.3 per game) with only one TD by the defense or special teams. But where Randle is concerned — and where Alabama will be concerned on Saturday night — it all begins with the run, and the respect it commands from opposing defenses.
Does LSU or Alabama have the better defense going forward?: "That’s a great question. They’re both so good. They’re just lights-out. … This is going to be tough-man football. It’s fast, physical. It’s going to be a lot of handing off between the trenches and a lot of guys just pounding the snot out of each other. It’s going to be fun if you like old-school, slobber-knocking football. From that standpoint, I think this is going to be great. Which one’s better? I don’t know. I think LSU’s played better offenses so far, but Alabama has not allowed a point in the second half in more than a month."
When does he decide if he’s coming back "Well I haven’t made no decisions yet, but I only have like 38 hours left in school and I’m taking 15 now; and I’m going to change my degree. So it’s a big chance of me staying here, but that’s something you look down the road, because right now I don’t have no reason to go nowhere now." So he’s leaning towards staying at Alabama if he had to say today: "Yeah, yeah. I’m not worried about getting to the league. The league’s not going nowhere, and right now I just want to play football in college. College football is where it’s at right now — it’s fun, I’m having fun with it, and college football has been good to me."
How much of a factor is it to keep your team focused on the game and not all the hype on the outside?: "Yeah, I don’t understand all the things on the outside at this point. I think the most important piece is how you play your technique, how you line it up and what you’re looking at, how you train your eyes. I think our guys understand that. I think there’s allowed to be humor around the big game. I think there’s allowed to be some natural enthusiasm. I don’t withhold that. But if it interferes with how they see their job and the things that their doing, then that’s a problem."
It was halftime of LSU's Nov. 8, 2008, home game against No. 1 Alabama. The score was tied 14-14, thanks in part to Crimson Tide safety Rashad Johnson's 45-yard interception return for a touchdown against LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee late in the second quarter. For Lee, a redshirt freshman from Brenham, Texas, who'd been pressed into action following the offseason dismissal of expected starter Ryan Perrilloux, it was one of a staggering seven pick-sixes he would throw that season.
As a blowout morphed into a choke for the ages at last year's Iron Bowl, Trevor Moawad approached Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower on the sideline. Moawad's message? You're a leader. Say something. Gather the defense. Make a speech. Call down the thunder. Do something to convince your teammates they can make a stop.
On Saturday the National Championship game will take place. We don’t care what anybody says about the game not technically being for two more months. This game will not only completely alter the national college football landscape it will also have a massive effect on the NFL Draft in April. There are 26 prospects that you need to know about and we have them for you.
In the third quarter, Randle was on the receiving end of a 75-yard second quarter touchdown from Jordan Jefferson that extricated LSU from bad field position and gave it a 10-7 lead. In the fourth quarter, it was Randle's 47-yard catch, this time from Jarrett Lee, which allowed LSU to again flip the field and deny the Crimson Tide sufficient time for a comeback. "As a team, we fed off that touchdown catch last year," Randle said on Monday in a postpractice interview at LSU's indoor football facility. "But this year's game is a different game. The SEC is a challenge every week, but this will be a big challenge. They bring a lot of pressure. They are very aggressive. So we've got to go downfield if we need to."
When Alabama and LSU met in Mobile's Ladd Stadium on September 27, 1958 it marked the beginning of an era for both programs. The game was the first for Paul W. Bryant as head coach of the Crimson Tide as well as the unveiling of LSU's soon-to-be famous "Chinese Bandits."
I come in and out of Alabama these days covering politics and even some rather hotly debated state laws, and I will be in the stands on Saturday night with the unhinged pilgrims of the Tide faithful. These two things are different, it seems to me, and I can’t imagine anyone would suggest otherwise. For all the commercialism, homogenization and other evils of the modern world, they have brought about this bit of horse sense: when we Tide fans yell our fool heads off on Saturday night, we want a win on the football field, and that is plenty enough.
Slocum has known Nick Saban for 25 years, and he thinks he knows Saban’s personality as a coach. "There are not a bunch of secrets anymore, but there are guys who have winning philosophies, and that is Saban," Slocum said. "Coaches that understand playing defense, and playing the kicking game, and having an offense that ties in with the defense, are successful. That’s Alabama." Slocum said Alabama’s defenders did not take that false step or start running in the wrong direction to take themselves out of a play. On the first step, Slocum said, the Alabama defender is going to where the ball is going because he knows what a team will do by down and distance. "You spend a whole lot of time on formation recognition," Slocum said. "You get it down to where you are not defending 25 plays; you are defending one play. That’s what Nick does."
Wednesday night, three days before top-ranked LSU's showdown with No. 2 Alabama, LSU coach Les Miles was engaged in one of the most vital aspects of his job: sitting in a barbecue joint, fielding phone calls from the less-than-sane. "I've been an LSU fan since I was conceived in my mother's womb," said Chris from Pineville on "The Les Miles Show," a one-hour radio call-in program broadcast live from TJ Ribs in Baton Rouge. A 9-year-old boy named Chase told the coach that he dressed as him for Halloween. Then there was David from Atlanta, who had a conspiracy theory. "I really think the national media is trying to set us up," he said. Miles just laughed. "Good question," he said.
Alabama's newly toughened ethics law prohibits legislators and other state officials from receiving most free gifts, including football tickets. But in some cases they can still buy tickets to big games, like this weekend's Alabama-LSU game, at face value. That's an advantage over most state residents since the game between No. 1 and No. 2 has long been sold out, and tickets are being scalped for more than 10 times face value. Legislators are also able to buy tickets to Alabama or Auburn home games without making donations that other fans are required to make through "Tide Pride" or "Tigers Unlimited."