The Rematch of the Century, it wasn’t. For Alabama, it was good enough for No. 1, if not a lot of style points.
The Crimson Tide romped to another BCS championship against top-ranked LSU with a smothering defensive performance Monday night, a numbing barrage of field goals and even a long-overdue trip to the end zone. Final score: 21-0.
No. 2 Alabama posted the first shutout in the 14-year history of the BCS, relying on Jeremy Shelley’s right leg for most of the points – he made a bowl record-tying five field goals – and letting its defense do the rest. It was the Tide’s second BCS title in three years.
”That was the message before the game: to finish,” coach Nick Saban said. ”In fact, it was how bad do you want to finish? We certainly didn’t play a perfect game, we got a field goal blocked, we couldn’t find the end zone for a long time, but we just kept playing.”
While only crimson-clad fans will remember this as a thing of beauty, Alabama (12-1) erased any doubts that it deserved to be in the title game over another one-loss team like Oklahoma State or Stanford.
Then again, one of those teams might have actually scored a touchdown before Alabama finally did, with 4:36 left in the game, long after fans may have flipped to something more entertaining than a one-sided kicking contest. Amazingly, these Southeastern Conference powerhouses played twice in a span of about two months, and never came that close to one of those things that’s worth six points – you know, touchdowns – until Trent Richardson broke off a 34-yard run with 4:36 remaining.
It only took 115 minutes, 34 seconds, plus an overtime period in their first meeting.
LSU (13-1) had beaten eight ranked teams – including Alabama in early November – to establish itself as the clear No. 1 going into the bowls, but the Tigers crossed midfield only once in the sequel to the Game of the Century in Tuscaloosa. Instead of putting up a ”Godfather II,” this one was more akin to ”Speed 2.”
The Tigers were outgained 384-92 in total yards, managed a puny five first downs and didn’t cross the 50 until there were just 8 minutes left. From there, they went back, back, back – the last gasp ending appropriately with beleaguered quarterback Jordan Jefferson getting the ball knocked from his hand before he could even get off a fourth-and-forever pass.
The BCS title belongs to Saban, who is carving out quite a legacy of his own at the school that still worships Bear Bryant as if he just retired yesterday. The Associated Press likely will follow suit by bestowing the title on the Tide when its poll comes out early Tuesday, given the dominance of Alabama’s performance.
”We didn’t do a lot different,” Saban said. ”We did some things on offense formationally. Our offensive team did a great job. Defensively, we just played well, played the box. Our special teams did a great job.”
He has won a pair of BCS titles at Alabama, plus another at LSU in 2003. He’s the first coach to win three BCS titles, denying LSU’s Les Miles his second championship. The Tigers will have to settle for the SEC title, but that’s not likely to ease the sting of this ugly performance.
Back on Nov. 5 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama held the top spot in the first matchup between the 1-2 teams. The Tigers pulled off a 9-6 victory in overtime, kicking three field goals while the Crimson Tide missed four of its six attempts.
OK, so maybe that wasn’t a classic. But it was downright thrilling compared to the rematch, the first time in the BCS that teams played for the title after meeting during the regular season.
Credit the Alabama defense for that.
Led by dominating linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower, LSU simply couldn’t do anything – running or passing. Kenny Hilliard led the Tigers with 16 yards rushing, while Jefferson was 11 of 17 passing for 53 yards, usually hurrying away passes before he was sent tumbling to the Superdome turf. He was sacked four times and threw a mystifying interception when he attempted to flip away a desperation pass, only to have it picked off because his intended receiver had already turned upfield looking to block.
A.J. McCarron was the offensive MVP, completing 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards. Richardson added 96 yards on 20 carries. But an even bigger cheer went up when the defensive award was presented to Upshaw, who had seven tackles, including a sack, and spent a good part of his night in the LSU backfield.
”This defense is built on stopping them, and that’s what we did,” Upshaw said. ”We wanted to come out and show the world we beat ourselves the first game. We wanted to come out and dominate from start to finish, and that’s what we did.”
With the way his defense was playing, McCarron simply had to avoid mistakes and guide the offense into field-goal range. He did that to perfection.
”When you have a great offensive line like I have, and great players around you, it makes your job easy as quarterback,” McCarron said. ”I’ve got to give all the credit to them. I wish I could have the whole team up here.”
Miles said the rematch would be another display of ”big-boy” football, and that was apparent on the opening kickoff and first play from scrimmage. Morris Claiborne was clotheslined by Alabama’s Trey Depriest on the return, then Michael Ford was sent flying by Damion Square and Jesse Williams on a 2-yard run that immediately set the tone.
But this time, the special teams went Alabama’s way. Marquis Maze dealt the first big blow for the Crimson Tide with a 49-yard punt return midway through the opening quarter, and he might’ve gone all the way to the end zone if not for a leg injury that forced him to pull up. Punter Brad Wing was the only defender left to beat, but Maze had to hobble out of bounds.
McCarron completed a 16-yard pass to Darius Hanks at the LSU 10, setting up Shelley’s 23-yard chip shot field goal. If nothing else, Alabama had accomplished one of its goals coming into the game: to at least get close enough to the end zone for its embattled kickers to have a better chance of converting.
In the first meeting, Shelley and Cade Foster combined to miss four field goals – all of them from at least 44 yards.
In the do-over, Foster stayed on the sideline while Shelley also connected from 34, 41, 35 and 44 yards. Not that it was a flawless kicking performance. Shelley had another kick blocked and pushed another wide right, attempting a bowl-record seven field goals overall.
In addition, he missed the extra point after Richardson’s touchdown.
It didn’t matter.
The Alabama defense made sure of that.
”The whole defense is the MVP,” Upshaw said. ”The whole defense. Roll Tide baby. Roll Tide!”
LSU’s best weapon was Wing, who averaged nearly 46 yards on nine punts. That was about the only highlight for the purple and gold, which failed to match its BCS title game victories in 2003 and 2007, the last two times the game was played in New Orleans, about 80 miles from its Baton Rouge campus.
”We couldn’t sustain any consistency,” Miles said. ”The calls became much more difficult.”
Miles never considered switching to backup quarterback Jarrett Lee, who started the first eight games for the Tigers – four of those while Jefferson was serving a suspension for his involvement in a bar fight.
”We felt like with Jefferson’s feet and the ability to get out of the rush, that it was fair that he finished,” Miles said. ”He certainly had a tremendously strong year in any regard. Boy, we wanted to finish this one. It’s hard to finish a season that was so successful this way.”