NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 06: Head Coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide talks to the media at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 6, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. LSU and Alabama will play in the BCS National Championship on January 9th. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
In that time, going into Sunday night, 33 other bowl games were played. The average total points was 55.8. There have been some explosive performances. Not tonight. "The games you've been watching," said Alabama's Trent Richardson, "you're not going to get that here. You're going to get a slugfest, man-up game, and see who is the best man."
So, yeah, the running game has the Tigers' attention. Richardson's 24-yard stampede early in the fourth quarter was the longest run of the first meeting, and would have been the most memorable play if not for the the one that immediately followed it, a trick play that resulted in a drive-killing, momentum-turning interception by LSU's Eric Reid at the goal line. Given the competition (the Tigers finished third nationally against the run), Richardson was in Heisman form the first time around, churning out more yards on the ground (89) than any other back has managed against LSU all year, and more yards from scrimmage (169) as a rusher and receiver than anyone except West Virginia wideout Tavon Austin. With an intact line and a healthy Eddie Lacy backing up their headliner, the Tide should be full-speed ahead between the tackles, as usual.
A writer here last week asked Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart whether the confident Tide players were "loose" heading into the big showdown, and Smart quickly answered, "Loose? Us? If you know our head coach, we’re not loose." Miles, on the other hand, has charmed the media here by being approachable and thoughtful. Saban clearly is a coach who defines his boundaries. Miles, meanwhile, has readily fielded questions about, among other touchy topics, the early-season Jordan Jefferson suspension, the growing pains of Tyrann Mathieu, and why quarterback Jarrett Lee can’t seem to get on the field anymore. Whether it’s out of fear or respect, Tide players leave you with the impression that they would run through a brick wall for Saban. Miles and his No. 1-ranked Tigers, meanwhile, seem bonded like a loving family. A recurring theme from Miles in the days leading up to this game has been his team’s love of practice.
Alabama coach Nick Saban hopes his team learned from the initial contest, a no-touchdown affair in Tuscaloosa that required extra time and resulted in a 9-6 overtime victory for the Tigers. "Sometimes when you have a negative experience, you're more willing to maybe learn some of the things that can be valuable to you in the future," Saban said. "I look at the first game as more of an opportunity for us to learn and understand some of the things that we're going to need to do to be able to have a chance to be successful this time."
Smart said LSU was more conservative the first time because the Tigers felt like they could control the game with their defense. "They didn’t throw the ball vertically much on us," Smart said. "Every game since ours, they’ve taken shots. They didn’t take a whole lot of shots against us. They probably got a little gun-shy early, because when they did, they threw the two picks and got away from it and won the game on defense. I don’t think it will be that way this time. "They’ll take shots. We’ll be one-on-one, and we’ll either win them or we won’t."
Alabama’s wide receivers want to prove themselves Alabama might have had 100 more passing yards than LSU in November, but it never looked great. Quarterback AJ McCarron made some mistakes, but wide receiver Darius Hanks said the ones who catch the ball need to step up. Alabama got two catches from tight ends and eight from receivers. Hanks, who caught two, said that should improve Monday. "Our tight ends and our receivers will be the difference makers in this game," he said. "They think that if they stop our run game, then they’re going to win the game, but I feel differently. "We can see a lot of their weaknesses, so we’re going to attack those areas, go strong and put the ball in the air this time." He also expects to spearhead Alabama’s passing game because he feels he can beat All-American cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. "I definitely feel like those guys, they can’t cover me," he said.
"It was a little bit special yesterday at practice for me," Saban said. "This group, from the time we played Michigan State in the bowl game last year, has made a commitment to do the right things, do things in the right way, and I've been very pleased and proud. You always have a good association with a team that makes those kinds of commitments and tries to do the right stuff. That's one of the things that we've been most proud of in terms of earning the right to have an opportunity to play in a championship game."
I can't even pretend the Crimson Tide have better special teams than LSU. It would be like saying there aren't empty Southern Comfort bottles after a game at Tiger Stadium. It simply isn't true. Cade Foster has made exactly two more field goals in 2011 than Bear Bryant has, and Jeremy Shelley usually isn't used unless it's a sub-39-yard attempt (season-best kick: 37 yards). And who can forget what happened in the 9-6 overtime Nov. 5 loss to LSU? Nick Saban can't. Foster missed from 44, 50 and 52 yards (he's 2-of-9 for the season), and Shelley had a 49-yarder blocked. Chances are Foster and Shelley won't have to go all Janikowski again and whale away on mid-40-to-plus-50-yard attempts. And while they won't make anybody forget Leigh Tiffin, I don't see them going 2-of-6 again. If they do, they might want to consider a position change. Or a school change.
A win Monday against No. 1-ranked LSU would give Alabama and Saban his second BCS national title in three seasons. Despite Saban's public persona, Alabama running back Trent Richardson said Saban is very down to earth. "He jokes with us all the time," Richardson said. "He keeps us happy, man. We love for playing for Coach Saban. He says crazy stuff. He tells us we're being soft. Tells us funny jokes."
We here at NFLmocks are huge fans of the nfl draft. No game this bowl season has had the wealth of prospects, especially on defense that the National Championship Game provides. Yesterday I took a look at the Alabama Offensive linemen and LSU Tigers defensive linemen who will play in the N.F.L. in the next two (or three as many are redshirt sophomores). This morning want to take a look at another position that has a ton of talented prospects, and that is the Alabama Crimson Tide Linebacker corps. Sayre will have more on this game today as well.
"I have a lot of special memories of my experience here in Louisiana at LSU for what was accomplished in the program here, and no one's ever going to take that away," Saban said. "I have a lot of special relationships with a lot of people in Louisiana who appreciate that and have continued to be very good friends and relationships that I really cherish. "So there's really nothing from a personal standpoint in all of this for me. It's not about that. It's about a lot of other things that are a lot bigger than me or anything that's ever happened to me, and I would hope that people can appreciate and respect that. We understand that we're on the other side now, and I appreciate people's passion for their institution. I appreciate our fans and their passion for our institution, as well as everyone else's. And I respect that ... it's all good."
These same two teams may be ranked Nos. 1 and 2 this fall: The word on the street, folks, is that LSU is going to be better next season than this season. Yes, you read that right. Of the 12 defensive linemen on the depth chart for Monday night's game, only two are seniors. The Tigers go four deep in great running backs and the best one (Kenny Hilliard) is a freshman. The Tigers will have a new quarterback in junior Zach Mettenberger, a 6-foot-5 transfer from Georgia who has a rocket arm. The Tigers should have a legitimate vertical passing game. We don't expect junior RB Trent Richardson to return at Alabama but there are two stars waiting in the wings in Eddie Lacy and freshman Dee Hart, who didn't play this season because of injury. Barrett Jones, Alabama's best offensive lineman, has already announced that he'll return next season. There will be some big holes to fill on the defensive side. So don't be surprised if LSU and Alabama are 1-2 when the preseason polls come out next summer.
As if college football fans from outside the South needed another reason to dislike the SEC. At least an SEC team will finally lose in a BCS title game. "I'm for the SEC," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I'm for the league. I'm not rooting against anybody in our league. I want everybody in our league [to win] because that's what makes our league very, very good, in that there's a lot of good teams and a lot of good competition. And the fact that we have two teams playing in the BCS National Championship Game from the same league speaks volumes for that. That wouldn't occur if you never had lots of good programs."
"I think that the most important thing that players can do right now is just focus on the task at hand, focus on what it's going to take for them to play their best football, which I'm sure that's their goal in this game," Saban said Sunday. "So to get caught up in sort of what's happening around them and the anxiety that can go with an opportunity like this or the pressure that comes with an opportunity like this ... I would like for them to focus on the opportunity, not the pressure part, so that they really are zeroed into the mental practice."
Saban was asked Sunday if he called for a fake punt. "To be honest with you, it was probably a mistake, because it didn't work," Saban said. Saban explained that Alabama had noticed in game preparation that Texas often didn't cover the gunners, "sort of daring you to throw the ball to the guy." "Well, we actually made Julio Jones the gunner into the boundary so we could throw the ball to him. And he got hurt on the play before that punt, and we had a freshman who has turned out to be a pretty good player in the meantime, Dre Kirkpatrick, who was in there, and he didn't really run the pass pattern." Saban called it a "bad deal all the way around." "But sometimes when you do things like that, the players see you being aggressive, and maybe it's not as bad as you think."
Saban was asked what advice he will get from Terry before the game. "Well, I don't think there's any advice she's going to give me before the game," he said. "I get that advice on a daily basis." He then talked about his morning routine. "We get up at 6:15 every day and watch the Weather Channel for about 30 minutes before we start our day," he said. "And I get most of my marching orders in that 30-minute segment of what we should do or how I should do it or why it's important to do it that way, what I need to talk to the team about. "I mean, I get coached up very well in that 30-minute segment of the Weather Channel."
The two teams aim to pick up where they left off on Nov. 5, when No. 1 LSU defeated the No. 2 Crimson Tide 9-6 in overtime at Bryant-Denny Stadium. LSU coach Les Miles said it best Sunday when asked what kind of game fans can expect at 7:30 p.m. CST today when the Southeastern Conference Western Division rivals brawl for it all in the BCS Championship Game at the Superdome. "I'd expect it to be big-boy football," Miles said.
Over the next six months, the people who oversee the much-maligned postseason system will talk about how to deconstruct the system for crowning a national champion. In the tumultuous 14-year history of the BCS, never has there been more of an appetite for change among college football's leaders. "It's my impression that ... there will be meaningful discussion about possible changes to the BCS," Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive said Thursday as SEC rivals LSU and Alabama prepared to play in the title game Monday night at the Superdome.
Jordan Jenkins, who is considered the state’s No. 1 overall prospect by many, has heard all the conspiracy theories about the timing of his college announcement and says they are untrue. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end from Harris County High School has listed Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Auburn as his finalists. He will announce his decision on "The Next Class" show on FOX Sports South at 7 p.m. Monday – 90 minutes before his longtime co-leader, Alabama, takes the field to play for the BCS championship. The father of the AJC Super 11 selection said that there is no connection between the scheduling of events. "Yes, everybody thinks that; we’ve heard those rumors, too," Ronald Jenkins said with a laugh. "Actually, we were supposed to do it on Tuesday. Then the network wanted to change it to Monday, not us. "But, no, we didn’t try to plan it as the same day that Alabama was playing. We never gave that a thought. Besides, if anything, I would think less Alabama people would be watching what Jordan does when there’s a national championship game to watch that night."