BCS National Championship Review – The Big Easy

 

Alabama v LSU Review

The Big Easy.  There is probably no better venue in all of the BCS to host a football game and New Orleans definitely knows how to throw a big, big championship party!  But, who knew “The Big Easy” would not just describe the venue but also Alabama’s win as they mounted a ridiculous assault on the woeful LSU Tigers.  Les’ Tigers looked more Lost than the Oceanic 6, and Alabama happily played the role of the Smoke Monster as it rolled to an easy victory.  Whooooosh – the vaunted LSU running game disappeared.  Whoooooosh – the LSU downfield passing game vanished.  And, Whoooooosh – Jarrett Lee, T-Bob Hebert or Russell Shepard were…where exactly???  Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, the LSU debacle was only the second worst disaster to strike the city.  Some are claiming some strange New Orleans voodoo, conjured up by those in the city who are quietly still loyal to Nick Satan, er, Saban for the LSU disappearance but I think we know better.  I think the “The Big Easy” actually described Les Miles’ approach with his team while they spent the last 30+ days “preparing” for the BCS National Championship.  While LSU spent time in the quarter ordering drinks (yes, we saw LSU players out at a bar we were at), eating beignets and picturing themselves holding up the crystal ball, Nick and Co were working in the lab, concocting ways of suffocating the option (and any other options) and removing it from the offensive equation.  While Les was eating grass and the Honey Badger was smoking it, Bama was salivating for the opportunity to expunge the LSU loss from the books with a physical beat down of epic proportions.  While LSU players complained about having to play Alabama again, the Tide relished another chance to “Hold that Tiger” and squeeze the life out of him on the field (as well as the scoreboard this time).  Yes, the Big Easy was painted crimson by the end of the night as Bama fans had themselves a rockin good time!  Or, as they say in Nawlins, “Laissez lebontempsrouler!”  Rouler Tide Rouler!

Honestly, I think there were two things that contributed to Alabama’s overwhelming and convincing win aside from the simple fact that Bama is a much better team.  First, the notion that AP voters would still vote LSU #1 no matter what happened in the game, though ludicrous, was something that was making the rounds in Baton Rouge.  LSU entered the game feeling that, at worst, they’d have a split national championship no matter what happened in the game.  While this was obviously just a very small factor, I don’t think it helped the psyche of the LSU player as they prepared for this game.  More importantly than the “guaranteed” split title, LSU had already played and beaten Alabama and many of their players openly stated that they didn’t understand why they “had” to do it again.  None of them relished this matchup.  In all the land, they knew that Alabama was the one team that could and would put a physical beat down on them for four full quarters.  No one on LSU’s sidelines wanted to play Alabama again and it showed.  EVERYONE on Alabama’s sidelines wanted another shot at LSU, and the only way to quench their blood lust was to pulverize LSU on each and every down.  And, essentially, that’s exactly what happened.  This fight was “to the pain” as they said in Princess Bride.  Though the game never seemed in doubt, Alabama worked over LSU slowly and methodically.  First Bama removed their feet below the ankles as LSU quickly became incapable of running.  Then Bama removed LSU’s hands at the wrists, as they were incapable of throwing.  Next Bama removed their tongues so that Les could not taste the sweetness of the Dome’s Sugary feaux grass and he could not call for help in the form of Jarrett Lee.  Finally, Alabama removed LSU’s soul but left them with their ears so that they could hear the boos cascading down from the top of the Dome and from the press corps afterwards in the form of one pissed off Bobby Hebert.  It was a slow and painful demise of what was once considered the greatest team in college football history.  Victory probably never tasted so sweet for this Crimson Tide team and, if you doubt that, then you obviously missed Saban’s jig while he danced underneath a gorgeous Gatorade waterfall.  Laissez lebontempsrouler!” 

Offense

From the jump, it was obvious that Alabama was going to chuck it and duck it.  Concerns about throwing a pick?  Rhymes with “duck it.”  Alabama went all Mike Gundy on LSU, throwing the ball on 16 of their first 18 first downs during the game with a clear philosophy to move the pocket and isolate the Honey Badger in coverage.  All night long, the Badger made a lovely yellow helmeted caboose on our big plays.  Nearly every time that a wide receiver caught a pass, there was number 7 bringing up the rear.  With that horrific bleached ‘do, he looks like a dude that might be “bringing up the rear” but you know Honey Badger don’t care.  Nope.  That was evident in the game.  I hope the Honey Toker got as high as a kite after the game because the nightmares he’s going to have from the beatings he received are going to be Elm Street-esque.  Nightmare on Bourbon Street.  Sleep tight badger boy but just know that WE took what WE wanted.  It’s a crystal trophy and we got it in exchange for handing you your ass.

The brilliance of the Tide passing attack was more than just striking on first down.  Clearly, LSU was stacking the box on first down as they’d done all season, committing their safeties to stopping the run.  Alabama used that defensive approach to work the flanks of their coverage with their WRs, staying away from the middle of the field.  Misdirection boots, straight rollouts and a strong pocket all contributed to AJ having time to deliver pass after pass (attempting 34 in all which was a record for him).  AJ was the first ever sophomore QB to win a BCS championship game and Saban placed the entire game on his shoulders to win it.  How significant was that, especially compared to how LSU coddled their senior QB Jefferson?  For those of you that read the first LSU installment, this gameplan was how we predicted Alabama would attack the defense in the first game.  Maybe not as specifically as saying they’d be striking outside the numbers but we definitely expected five wide and a passel full of passes in that game and, months later, we finally got what we expected.  Ah ha!  Victory!

You don’t know what you’ve lost til it’s gone:  God I love Jim McElwain.  Think about what he did with John Parker Wilson, Greg McElroy and now AJ McCarron.  While his abilities as a play caller/designer are very, very good, his true gift is in his ability to mentor young QBs to maximize their abilities.  I loved rolling the pocket, the different protections he used to allow AJ time to isolate the Badger, the shifting of the TE, the moving of Barrett Jones to TE & FB, and the aggressive play calling he used to get it done.  He will truly be missed.

The Good Hands People:  The question this year was who among Alabama’s WRs would step up to replace Julio.  Once Maze went down, what was considered to be an even bigger question mark/liability was answered with an exclamation point.  What a job by Norwood and Hanks, both of whom stepped up when Alabama needed it most.  In particular, Norwood had an outstanding day as none of his four catches was routine.  The routes were crisp but the hands catches they made were spectactular.

McCannon:  A sophomore QB.  A game manager.  A kid who’d never been relied upon to win a game for Alabama.  Never had been entrusted enough to put the gameplan on his shoulders.  What a helluva time to say hey, kid, go win the game.  Simply amazing performance by AJ, as he was rightfully named as the game MVP.  Many of AJ’s throws were in tight windows in tight coverage, yet he was undaunted.  He also showed a tremendous pocket presence as he avoided three or four certain sacks and managed to complete passes or, at worse, get back to the line of scrimmage.  Truly awesome performance.

Line Dancing:  The BCS game was like a big game of Where’s Waldo, featuring Barrett Jones.  Did you notice that Barrett Jones was lined up as a TE three or four times?  How about the time he lined up as a FB and then shifted to TE?  Next year, our Outland Trophy winner will be lining up at Center.  I don’t think Barrett Jones gets enough credit for just how good he is.  Meanwhile, the entire OL did a tremendous job with pass protection against the nation’s #2 defense.

Smelley Cat:  Speaking of underappreciated, has anyone played a more vital role in the last few games than Brad Smelley?  Remember, Brad was a QB at ACA Christian and, when he was signed, it was greeted with a sigh.  A three star kid with no position – great.  I mean, GREAT!!!

Chess:  I LOVED lining up Hanks as a RB and an H back, as he was isolated on LB every single time.  Awesome and sneaky little wrinkle.  Additionally, Alabama split a TE to Thorpe (best DB in the country) winner Morris Claiborne’s side and EVERY time this isolated Claiborne in man to man against our TE.  So, we effectively removed LSU’s best corner just by splitting out a TE on his side!  Genius (or stupidity on LSU’s part)!

DEFENSE

Badgers?  We don’t need no stinking badgers.  No, not when Alabama has NFL caliber STUDS!  When Nick Saban took the job at Alabama, I recalled seeing Nick’s LSU teams that came to Tuscaloosa.  Standing close to them, LSU appeared as fully grown men while Bama could only offer up young boys as though we were tossing meat to the lions, er, Tigers.  I was giddy with the thought that, when Nick got hired, the big bad LSU mofos that he used to have would be BAMA’s big bad mofos very, very soon.  Wow.  I think when Nick talks about the “process”, that’s what he calls the assembly line of his football factory.  Name another program that turns an 220 lb Courtney Upshaw into a 265 lb beast of a human being.  Mark Barron came in weighing 202.  He leaves carrying about 220 and a nasty disposition.  While the rest of the college football world employs 215 pound LBs, we utilize them as corners.  Our LBs are 250+ and run a 4.6.  While the rest of college football tries to get smaller and faster on defense, we try to get bigger and faster.  So, if you want to challenge us up the middle (as LSU clearly didn’t think they could do) we have the size to stop that cold.  If you want to work the edges, our big bodied bad boys can run sideline to sideline and then knock you squarely into the middle of next week.  It’s no wonder the LSU players were complaining that they had to play Bama again – they didn’t want none, and they played like they’d already surrendered.

The Bama D’s clear focus was to eliminate the option like Les Miles eliminates coherent thoughts from his sentences.  Once that was accomplished, LSU resorted to bubble screens which we read like book and slammed it shut time and time again.  Outside of that…what?  LSU did nothing.  LSU tried nothing.  They had nothing!  Down 15 points in the 4th quarter, LSU ran 12 times and passed four times.  They even ran a FB up the middle on 3rd and 4.  Whuh????  Quite honestly, it was embarrassing to watch.  LSU finally did cross the 50 yard line once and that possession ended in apropos fashion with a fumble and Bama taking possession on the LSU side of the 50.  LSU’s “offense” was like watching a child try to poke his way out of Alcatraz with a piece of balsa wood.  Bama built a defensive fortress full of NFL talent and refused to let LSU even get near the moat.  The only way in was a Trojan horse, but they inexplicable left that horse tied up to the bench (J Lee).  Weird.  I’ll try to go quickly here as, quite honestly, LSU did so little in the way of even attempting to attack our D that it really doesn’t bear a whole lot of time.  It was simply an epic beatdown of well disciplined men playing against poorly prepared boys.

No Bread, No Butter:  A staple of the LSU offense this season has been the toss power play between the tackles.  They ran that play once during the whole game.  Once!  And that play was their bread and butter all season – why in the world would they do that?  Mad Hatter, indeed.

Inside Out:  With LSU’s failure to work the middle of the field with the running game, that allowed Alabama to concentrate on the edges to take away the option and the bubble screens.  Beyond this, LSU had nothing else in the playbook, apparently.  In fact, they didn’t even get their first third down conversion until the middle of the third quarter.  Wow.  Talk about ineffective.  Hold that tiger!

Need for Speed:  Donte Hightower played one of his best games of the season.  He rushed the passer consistently and he ran sideline to sideline, filling gaps and taking down ball carriers.  In the Ga Southern game, he looked like he’d lost his legs to me so the 40+ days off clearly helped him find his wheels.

Rush Hours:  What a long, long day for Jordan Jefferson.  A criticism I’ve always had is that JJ holds the ball far too long and, once again, this was a problem for him.  Of course, the Alabama line and linebackers (though we rarely blitzed, Donte lined up at DE several times) didn’t allow him much time anyway.  Could Lee have made a difference?  I think yes (though not enough to change the outcome) but I also think we would have played him much, much differently with our coverage than we played JJ.

I Mean I Missed Again:  LSU played like they had somewhere on Bourbon Street that they needed to get to.  From the get-go, LSU fumbled snaps, had procedure penalties and made numerous mental errors.  On the first series of the game, JJ fumbled the snap and began barking at #64.  It never got any better for JJ and the Tigers and as early as the second quarter you could see the passion leave the LSU sidelines.

Mix & Match:  I loved the way they moved Upshaw and Donte around throughout the game.  Bama also played a lot of zone early which allowed the corners to come up and play run support.  On early downs, LSU would go to a three WR set but Bama stayed in their 3-4, lining up Jerrell Harris (who played a very good game) over a slot WR.  This scared the life out of me but LSU consistently ran the ball against this look.  The times they did pass, Bama was, of course, in a zone and able to allow the front four to do some damage.  Upshaw played with his hand down, standing up and was everywhere.  Donte even lined up as a DE a couple of times and when they brought him along with Upshaw there was a defensive team meeting in the backfield.  Sooooo much fun to watch…

Nick at Nite:  Nick.  Gentry.  Wow.  I am not sure what his play count was but if he was on the field for 15 snaps, he made the play in 13 of them.  He was simply amazing and will be missed more than we realize next season.  Awesome game and awesome year for this kid.

Special Teams

What a time for our special teams to play their most complete game of the season.  From the outset, when Nick said they “tweaked” the punt return a bit to allow Maze to get a better return, it was obvious that Bama had spent a LOT of time on the third phase of the game.  Cody “Don’t call me Barbara” Mandell had his best game of the season and kept the Honey Badger locked in a cage.  While the fake FG call didn’t net any points, it was a great call and established the fact that we were coming out guns-a-blazin’ on this night.  Additionally, an Achilles heel for the entire Saban era has been kickoff coverage but LSU was kept inside the 30 (often inside the 25) all night long.  And, last but certainly not least, my boy Jeremy Shelley vindicated what I’d been saying all along.  Shelley is a solid and fairly reliable kicker and has been all season long.  When people bemoaned the Bama kicking woes, they were forgetting that Cade Foster was the ONE guy who didn’t perform.  Shelley, once again, was solid and saved his best game (setting his personal best long distance FG) for our last game.

Extra Points

  • I thought it was so cool that Roman Harper and Mark Ingram were captains at the coin toss.
  • The crowd, at worst, was 60-40 LSU.  I thought it was pretty close to even.  At the beginning of the 4th quarter (and I have the pics to prove it), the LSU “faithful” were leaving in droves.
  • Kudos to Trey DePriest who really stepped up once CJ Mosely left due to that horrific injury.
  • Interesting to me how little the Wildcat and Pistol were used this season.  Just an observation.  We ran 90% of our offense out of either a single back look or the shotgun with one back.
  • LOVED lining Hanks up in the backfield.  Great wrinkle.
  • How about Christian Jones stepping up.  Coming into the game, LSU had given up 6 TOTAL yards in punt returns.  Jones and Maze obliterated this.
  • Watching Maze cry on the sidelines with his teammates trying to console him was just brutal.
  • Did you know Brad Wing was from Australia?  After the 100th time, we got it, ok?
  • I’m glad Brockers is going pro.  He’s nasty on the inside.
  • 4th and 4 at the LSU 39 and LSU in punt formation.  Bama was in punt safe.  Awesome.  Fool me once, Mad Hatter…
  • No turnovers.  One penalty.  That’s called focus.
  • Loved seeing AJ lift Saban up when he hugged him after the game.  Nick’s never grinned any bigger…until…
  • Looked like Bama has been working on their Gatorade bath fundamentals.  They didn’t knock Nick out this time with the bucket and Nick danced a little jig when the cold Gatorade drenched him.  He’s never, ever looked happier.  First coach to win 3 BCS titles.  No wonder.
  • 384 yards to 92 yards.  Does it get any more one sided than that???
  • The hugs and handshakes between Trent and Mark Ingram after Trent iced the game were priceless. 

That’s all I’ve got – sorry it’s so late in coming out.  I’ll do a recap of the 2012 signees and tell you who among them has the best chance to help next year.  In the coming months, we’ll look at the 2012 team and try to figure out if we need to be making reservations in Miami!

What an incredible end to the season.  Remember, LSU was about to be anointed as the best team in college football history and we beat them down like they were a JV team.  That’s how good this Bama team was and, if not for a few missed opportunities against LSU in the first go-around, this Bama team would be talked about in historic terms.  As it is, we’ve likely seen the best defense in recent college football history and we’ve likely seen the best Alabama running back that the Capstone has ever had.  We are truly lucky to have witnessed all of this as these are historic times in Tuscaloosa.  Enjoy this ride!

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