The Alabama Crimson Tide picked up right where they left off a little over two months ago in Tuscaloosa, dominating the line of scrimmage and moving the ball effectively. This time though, they left no doubt who the better team was. After dominating almost every statistical category in the first meeting with the previously unbeaten LSU Tigers except the one that mattered, they dominated there as well, winning their second BCS National Championship trophy with a ferocious 21-0 thumping.
The series played out similar to the movie Rocky.
After the first meeting in November, the two teams stumbled off the field like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed with no clear winner. LSU, playing the part of Creed, was judged the winner despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary. It was one of the hardest hitting football games seen in quite some time, and by the end both teams closely resembled the bruised and battered faces of Balboa and Creed. In fact, if you squinted hard, you could almost see Les Miles tell Nick Saban in the post-game hand shake that "there ain't gonna be no rematch". No word on whether Saban said he didn't want one.
After some time off to lick their wounds, Alabama was granted a rematch and was determined not to let this one get to the scorecards. As opposed to Rocky II where Creed dominated Balboa until the latter stages of the fight, the Tide never let get LSU into the second meeting. They went right to work right where they left off and bruised and battered the Tigers into the corner before running back Trent Richardson landed the knockout punch late in the fourth quarter when he broke a 34 yard run around the left side and breached the end zone for the first time this season against the SEC Champions.
So how did they do it?
For the Crimson Tide, it was the quintessential perfect game. They allowed zero points to a Tigers offense that averaged over 36 per game against a very difficult schedule that included Rose Bowl champion Oregon, Orange Bowl champion West Virginia, and Cotton Bowl champion Arkansas, they didn't commit a penalty until there were less than two minutes to play in the football game, and maybe most importantly, they didn't turn the ball over once after doing it twice in the earlier meeting.
Not to be outdone, the Tide offense was terrific as well. Offensive MVP AJ McCarron showed great poise amid a strong pass rush from LSU and made some absolutely beautiful throws into the arms of senior wideout Darius Hanks and sophomore receiver Kevin Norwood. The performance by McCarron was made even more impressive by the general ineffectiveness of Richardson for three quarters and the fact that the Tide lost leading receiver Marquis Maze in the second quarter to a hamstring injury.
As with the first game, special teams also played a critical role. Alabama missed on four of its six field goal attempts back in November while the Tigers were a perfect three for three. This time around, while they weren't perfect, kicker Jeremy Shelley made five of his seven field goal attempts with both misses coming from beyond 40 yards. In addition, the Tide didn't allow LSU Heisman candidate Tyrann Mathieu to be a factor in the kick return game, allowing him just one opportunity to return a punt that went for a grand total of zero yards.
Essentially, Alabama didn't beat it self the way they did back in November.
For LSU though, this is something that will stick with them forever. Coming into the game off consecutive beatings of top 10 opponents Georgia and Arkansas, the Tigers were widely expected to win this game before a fairly partisan crowd just a few hours from their Baton Rouge campus. It was apparent early though that this game was simply too much for quarterback Jordan Jefferson. He was atrocious throughout the game, completely unable to get anything going either with his arms or his feet, and as the game progressed and the defense of Alabama, led by linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, began to close in around him, Jefferson began to get happy feet and make mistakes. His third quarter interception was the beginning of the end for the Tigers who battled valiantly on defense, but couldn't produce any turnovers of their own.
By the third quarter, a genuine quarterback controversy was brewing as the LSU crowd began booing Jefferson with each successive poor throw or unproductive run, hoping for an appearance by oft-ridiculed Jarrett Lee, who began the season as the starter by beating Oregon and West Virginia in non conference action before Jefferson worked his way back into the spot. The reality though, was that nobody (this means you, Oklahoma St.) would have been able to successfully throw the ball on this Crimson Tide defense, at least not on this night. They were simply too zoned in and too fast.
The win was as dominant a performance as any we've ever seen on the biggest stage that college football has.It harkened back to the night that Oklahoma officially ended the Florida St. dynasty in the 2001 Orange Bowl, winning the title by holding the mighty Seminole offense to zero points in a 13-2 win. When we look back on this Alabama team a few years from now, we may well recognize them as one of the best defensive teams the sport has ever seen.
It may not have been pretty, and you can certainly make a case that they weren't the second best team in the country six weeks ago, but Alabama put on a performance for the ages in New Orleans and erased the memories of the earlier meeting. When push came to shove, the Tide proved once and for all that they were the best team in America and deserved to be in the game and to hoist that crystal ball.