NCAA FB

LSU a no-show in championship game

Les Miles talks after LSU is shut out in the BCS Championship Game.
Les Miles talks after LSU is shut out in the BCS Championship Game.
The Daily DAN WOLKEN
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NEW ORLEANS

Jordan Jefferson saw daylight, maybe for the first time since Alabama started shoving him backwards and pushing LSU to the brink. One frustration after another, and finally there was an opening for the LSU quarterback, somewhere to run, toward a first down and perhaps a new ballgame.

And then, inexplicably, at the exact moment running back Spencer Ware turned upfield to block, Jefferson flung an underhand pass whose only possible destination was disgrace.

For four months, LSU was the best, most dominant team in college football. But Monday night, as Jefferson’s third-quarter shovel cradled into the arms of Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, that notion was buried forever.

Don’t even think about debating this. Save your protest votes for the New Hampshire primary. Alabama won the BCS Championship Game and won it in a fashion that leaves no doubt about the best team in college football this season.

The final score in the Rematch of the Century was 21-0, and it wasn’t really that close. Alabama pushed LSU around from the opening series and made the Tigers look worse by the minute. After three quarters, Alabama had 326 yards to LSU’s 66. For the game, LSU had just five first downs and didn’t even cross midfield until eight minutes remained — only to get repelled back to its own territory.

Before the game, there was talk that even with a loss, some Associated Press poll voters would vote the Tigers No. 1 and try to engineer a split of the title since LSU had won the first meeting in Tuscaloosa, 9-6 in overtime. That idea was always ridiculous — the system is the system, and there’s only one championship game — but never more so than after this mauling.

“We really beat ourselves the first game,” Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw said. “We wanted to dominate from start to finish, and that’s what we did.”

And what exactly was LSU trying to accomplish? In a season the Tigers played and beat the eventual champions of three BCS bowls (including Alabama) and won seven road or neutral-site games, this will go down as one of the weakest and most baffling championship game performances ever.

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Because the brilliance of this win for Alabama was not just the defense, which everybody knew would be difficult to score on. It was the choice Nick Saban made to put the game in the hands of his often-criticized sophomore quarterback, AJ McCarron, which stood in stark contrast to the gutless game plan LSU trotted out at the Superdome.

Saban now has won three BCS national titles — one at LSU in 2003, and now two of the past three at Alabama — but he’s never had a finer moment than Monday night.

The truth is, both teams came into this game with great defenses and flawed quarterbacks, which is why the game in Tuscaloosa was basically a field goal-fest. But the second time around, Alabama didn’t hide from it. Instead, Saban adjusted, tried to exploit matchups with LSU’s linebackers — the weakest part of the Tigers’ defense — and let McCarron throw on first down, often targeting tight end Brad Smelley. The reward was an efficient, well-managed, 23-of-34 performance for 234 yards that got Alabama down the field and repeatedly into scoring range.

“It wasn’t about AJ,” Saban said. “They’ve got a very good defensive front, and they play a lot of eight-man fronts on running downs. We felt like, in the first game, we should’ve thrown the ball more on first down. ... I believe in trusting and believing in the players, and I’ve always trusted AJ. I don’t mind putting the ball in his hands as long as he makes good choices.”

Meanwhile, on the LSU sidelines, it was hard to tell who was more frightened: Jefferson or the coach who attempted to win a steady diet of sideways passes and option plays that had no chance. The offense was so vanilla, “3 yards and a cloud of dust” actually would have been an improvement. LSU was so afraid of Jefferson making a big mistake, it eventually suffocated itself.

Les Miles made his coaching reputation as a riverboat gambler, a guy willing to take chances and show some creativity. And then, on the biggest stage, the Mad Hatter turned into both the Dull Hatter and the Stubborn Hatter, refusing to replace Jefferson with backup Jarrett Lee long after it was clear he had no business in this game.

Maybe Lee wouldn’t have made a difference. But in a championship game, and one that was still technically within reach at 15-0 going into the fourth quarter, don’t you have to leave everything on the field?

“We left a lot of calls — in my opinion, very quality [parts of the] game plan — uncalled because we just could not sustain the run,” Miles said. “When you line up and throw balls against that defense in an obvious passing situation, they come to the line of scrimmage and they come to the pass rush. I told my team I did not see this coming, and that’s my fault. I wish I could have done something.”

But as it was, LSU played eight quarters and an overtime against Alabama this season and came up with only three field goals. As great a season as LSU had, that isn’t worthy of a split — or even a sliver — of a title.

This one belongs entirely to Alabama, a team that walked off its home field Nov. 5 thinking it had lost everything. But with a second chance and a bold plan, the Crimson Tide earned their way back and blew LSU out of the building. Alabama didn’t win the SEC this year, didn’t even win its division. For that, many believed Alabama didn’t deserve to be in this game. But the Tide can now call themselves national champions, and nobody can dispute it anymore.

Tagged: Alabama, LSU, AJ McCarron, Jordan Jefferson

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