Bama vs. LSU - Arguing The Other Side's Case
Point/Counterpoint: LSU arguing for Bama, Bama arguing for LSU
Russ Mitchell – How Alabama will win
I believe LSU will win this glorified exhibition/rematch and be crowned the 2011 mythical champion, but here's why Alabama might win.
What has to transpire in order for the Tide to do in New Orleans what they could not accomplish at home before 100,000 screaming faithful? First, look past the hype to find the real substance.
Raise your hand if you believe the key to success Monday is opening things up for Tide quarterback AJ McCarron and let him wing it – stretch the field. Now go to the back of the line.
McCarron only completed four passes in the first game that were caught by receivers more than four yards down field. Four. And no, it's not because he didn't try. Playing against the first legitimate defense of his college career, he had moments that made deer frozen in headlights look agile.
Yes, he completed many passes behind the line of scrimmage to running back Trent Richardson and others. West Virginia and Oregon tried a similar strategy against the Tigers. It also failed.
McCarron did not suddenly, magically take a leap forward – of a magnitude necessary to quarterback expertly against this LSU defense – by facing Mississippi State, Georgia Southern and Auburn. It is far more likely he will play similarly to his performance of four games ago.
Instead, Alabama will win this game if it does the exact opposite, and plays conservative, field possession football – something it's coach did not do in the first game in Tuscaloosa. Had Nick Saban punted and pinned LSU deep instead of wasting field position on long field goals with low probabilities of success, Alabama would have likely played with a much shorter field in the first half – particularly given how the two teams played the first 30 minutes. For the Tide to beat LSU in the second rodeo, they must rely on their best weapon, their defense, above all else.
Second, Bama is not going to beat this LSU defense with just one offensive weapon. No team is beating this LSU defense with just one offensive weapon. Not even Trent Richardson, who is a special, particularly tough running back. Since Bama can't rely for certain on McCarron excelling and forcing the defense to back up, Richardson will need someone to spell him. And that will be backup Eddie Lacy.
Lacy was injured in the first game (turf toe) and was unable to play up to his caliber. By all accounts he's back healthy. If he can provide Trent with some breaks – particularly in the fourth quarter – Bama will be able to extend drives and keep the ball away from LSU, which since Jefferson took over has had 450+ yards in three of its four games. Compared to only one before that.
Finally, Alabama is playing with nothing to lose. The Tide are the second best team in America. If they lose Monday, there's a good chance they're still the second best team in America. That doesn't mean take unnecessary risks – far from it. It just means less stress.
The Nov. 5 game carried a tremendous amount of stress for the Tide: they were favored, at home, playing a game nearly everyone thought was for the chance to play in the national championship game. The pressure was significant, even for a program of Alabama's stature. The Tide are playing with house money now, and far more pressure is on the Tigers – which is more of an advantage than most folks realize.
There are other areas the Tide can focus on – for example, the offense must convert better on turnovers. Two interceptions deep in LSU territory, and all the Tide had to show for it was three points. Also, Marquize Maize is allegedly the eleventh best punt returner in the nation – he must prove it Monday, as punt return coverage is an area of pride for the Tigers (they've allowed six yards returned all season), and in a field possession, defensive struggle, these yards will count. However, these are extras – Bama can win by embracing the three points outlined above.
They're not flashy, but usually the most successful strategies aren't - largely because they are simple. It's time to turn "Punt, Bama, Punt" on its head and make LSU's offense play with a longer field. Once that's achieved, use Lacy more to spell Richardson - particularly in the second half - and keep the ball out of the Tigers' paws. That's how Bama beats LSU.
Follow Russ on Twitter @RussMitchellCFB
Barrett Sallee – How LSU will win
If LSU is going to win, it will be because of two people - quarterback Jordan Jefferson and head coach Les Miles.
Jefferson has been the subject of a lot of criticism during his LSU career, but since he took over as the No. 1 quarterback midway through the first Alabama game, the Tiger offense has been on fire. Since that Nov. 5 meeting, LSU has topped the 450 total yard mark in three of its final four games. It only eclipsed that mark once with Jarrett Lee at the helm.
And then, there's the stats vs. Alabama. For all of the grief that Jefferson has taken during his career, he's actually played quite well vs. the Tide, completing 26-of-40 passes for 322 yards, two interceptions and zero interceptions, as well as 86 rushing yards.
Lee, on the other hand, has been dreadful vs. Alabama, completing 24-of-58 passes for 316 yards, one touchdown and seven interceptions in his four years in Baton Rouge.
Jefferson isn't exactly going to make head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart shake in their boots, but he's certainly more capable of being a difference maker than Lee. His ability to make a difference through the air and on the ground will propel LSU to the title.
Plus, there's the coaching.
I know, I know; Nick Saban is the best coach in the country and Les Miles is "crazy uncle Les." Those stereotypes are out there for a reason. But let's not pretend that Saban is impervious to criticism.
As a matter of fact, in the two biggest games Saban has coached in the last three years, he's actually made some very questionable decisions.
In the "Game of the Century" earlier this season, Alabama lost the game because it got off the game plan and called that Marquis Maze pass, which Eric Reid intercepted on the goal line. Sure, Saban isn't the offensive coordinator and Jim McElwain bears most of that responsibility, but Saban signed off on it.
In the 2010 BCS National Championship Game that crowned Alabama the 2009 National Champions, Saban had a few head scratching moments as well. Everyone seems to have forgotten about the fake punt he called in the first quarter on 4th and 23 from Alabama's own 20-yard line. At the time, everyone on the planet was asking, "is this REALLY Nick Saban?" Colt McCoy got injured on the ensuing drive and the Longhorns settled for a field goal, so Alabama got off light. But that call was at best questionable, and at worst boneheaded.
Later on in that game, Saban channeled his inner Tommy Tuberville, and went into a Tubershell that nearly cost Alabama the crystal football. While the 37-21 score indicates "blowout," let's not forget that Texas - with Garrett Gilbert at quarterback - had the ball down three points with 3:14 to play with a chance to not only tie, but win the national title.
Yes, Les Miles has called his share of crazy plays, and he probably had some in his back pocket when LSU played Alabama earlier this season. But it was Miles - not Saban - that coached conservative to the bitter end, which is what won the game for LSU.
Monday's BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans will follow the same script, just with more points scored.
Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee