By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
The Alabama-LSU rematch resembled the first meeting in some ways, but not on the scoreboard. The Crimson Tide turned in a dominating 21-0 performance, earning their second national title in the last three seasons.
The Tigers squeaked by the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa in early November, but never had a chance in the rematch. Alabama’s suffocating defense held LSU to only 92 yards and just five first downs. The Tigers were never able to get their rushing game on track, which put the pressure squarely on quarterback Jordan Jefferson to win the game. Jefferson completed 11 of his 17 throws, but managed only 53 yards. He was also held to 15 yards on the ground. The LSU offensive gameplan never really tested the Alabama secondary deep, and Jefferson struggled to get comfortable in the pocket due to the pass rush. Despite Jefferson’s poor play, backup Jarrett Lee never got into the game. Lee is the better passer, but struggled in the first meeting between these two teams.
While LSU watched its offense sputter all night, the Crimson Tide had an impressive showing. With the Tigers planning to stop running back Trent Richardson, there was a lot of pressure on Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron to respond. The sophomore was fearless and poised against one of the top defenses in college football, finishing with 234 yards and no interceptions. Richardson finished with 96 yards, with 34 coming on the game’s only touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The SEC has claimed six national titles in a row, with the last three coming from the state of Alabama. The Crimson Tide claimed the national title after the 2009 and 2011 seasons, while Auburn won the championship in 2010. Alabama coach Nick Saban is the first coach in the BCS era to win three national titles. With the win over LSU on Monday night, the Crimson Tide are now tied with Florida and LSU for the most national titles in the BCS era.
Player of the Game: Alabama QB AJ McCarron
In the lengthy buildup to the national championship, not many predicted McCarron would be the most valuable player, but he certainly earned this award on Monday night. The sophomore threw for 199 yards and an interception in the first matchup between these two teams, but looked more comfortable this time around. McCarron played under control, throwing for 233 yards and completing 67.6 percent of his throws. Although LSU owns one of the top defenses in college football, McCarron never looked rattled and his performance was the difference for Alabama in the national title game.
Defensive Player of the Game: Alabama LB Courtney Upshaw
The Crimson Tide defense left no doubt that it was the best in college football after the national title game. Upshaw has been a leader for this defense over the last few years and capped his career with a strong performance against the Tigers. The senior registered seven tackles and one sack, along with wrecking havoc on LSU’s option plays.
Unfortunate Injuries for Alabama
Receiver Marquis Maze suffered an ankle injury in the first matchup between these two teams and was bitten by the injury bug once again. Maze suffered a hamstring injury in the first quarter after a 49-yard punt return and did not return to the game. Maze was expected to be a key cog in the receiving corps, but Kevin Norwood, Darius Hanks and tight end Brad Smelley stepped up in his absence.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley forced Alabama’s first turnover of the game, picking off a Jordan Jefferson pass in the third quarter. Mosley was carted off with a hip injury and did not return to the game. He is expected to be one of the top contributors in the linebacking corps next year, so his health for spring practice will be worth monitoring.
How about Alabama’s special teams? After missing three kicks and having one blocked in the first meeting, this unit was arguably the difference in the game. Kicker Jeremy Shelley nailed five of seven attempts, including a long of 44 yards. Punter Cody Mandell punted once, but didn’t give dynamic LSU return man Tyrann Mathieu much of a chance to add anything on the return. Marquis Maze also chipped in a 49-yard punt return in the first quarter, which setup Shelley’s first field goal of the game.
With Marquis Maze sidelined with a hamstring injury, Kevin Norwood, Darius Hanks and tight end Brad Smelley emerged as key targets for quarterback AJ McCarron. Norwood led the team with 78 receiving yards (on four receptions), while Smelley and Hanks combined for 12 catches. Coming into Monday night’s game, Norwood had only seven receptions on the year. Losing Maze was a big blow to Alabama’s offense, but this unsung group of players prevented any drop in production from the receiving corps.
Considering how dominant Alabama was, there was no clear turning point from Monday night’s game. However, the opening possessions for both teams set the tone for the rest of the game. LSU’s offense went three and out, while Alabama drove from its seven-yard line to the 46. Although the Crimson Tide had to punt, the defense stuffed the Tigers on three plays once again, which prompted a Brad Wing punt and Maze’s 49-yard return.
The Final Nail in the Coffin
Despite controlling the tempo and a huge edge in yardage, Alabama went into halftime up only 9-0. However, the Crimson Tide began the second half with a six-play drive that ended with a Jeremy Shelley 35-yard field goal, which boosted the lead to 12-0. Both teams exchanged punts on their next two possessions, but Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley delivered the final nail in LSU’s national title hopes with eight minutes to go in the third quarter. The sophomore intercepted an awful underhand pass attempt by Jefferson, which effectively ended any momentum and hope the Tigers had of coming back.
If you like offense, both games between Alabama and LSU weren’t for you. Of the 36 points scored in the first two meetings, 29 came on field goals. The only touchdown scored came from running back Trent Richardson late in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s game. There’s no question Alabama’s defense was outstanding, but LSU didn’t help itself with an awful gameplan on Monday night.
After demolishing LSU 21-0, Alabama is clearly the No. 1 team in the nation and will take the trophy back to Tuscaloosa. There was some talk of a split national championship, but both the Associated Press and USA Today poll ranked Alabama No. 1 following Monday night’s game. The Tigers finished No. 2 in both polls, with Oklahoma State ranked No. 3.
Looking ahead to 2012, both Alabama and LSU are expected to be among the top five teams in the nation. The Crimson Tide will suffer some key losses on defense, and running back Trent Richardson is expected to declare for the NFL Draft. The Tigers return more pieces, but have to get more production from their passing attack. USC’s two-year bowl ban is over, and the Trojans will be a significant player for the national title.
One of the backdrops to the title game was chatter surrounding the BCS and upcoming changes for this system. The conference commissioners will meet over the next few months to discuss implementing a new BCS format when the current contract expires after the 2013 season. Don’t expect a 16-team playoff, but a plus-one format could be coming. No system is perfect, but it appears college football’s postseason format will see some significant changes.