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By Jess Nicholas
Jan. 9, 2012
For a month, Alabama waited silently. The players and coaches waited while media members cried about an injustice done to Oklahoma State or Stanford, or that defense-driven football games were boring, or that the SEC wasn’t what football really was due to its NFL-like commitment to defense over sandlot offense.
For a month, basically, Alabama had to endure a bunch of crybabies bawling because their milk wasn’t sweet enough.
Alabama had to listen to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy take to the airwaves opining that his team’s offense made life tough on defenses, interspersed with amateur video of him dancing like he was about to play John Travolta in a biopic. No surprise from a coach best known for an over-the-top rant directed at a sportswriter, but his protestations were still noise that Alabama was forced to ignore.
Alabama, therefore, found itself in a familiar position. The last three times Alabama has played for a national title, it has done so either as the underdog, or at least the target of misaimed criticism. In 1992, Alabama was given nary a chance against Miami. In 2009, Alabama was dogged by criticism that it had never beaten Texas in its history, and that its offense couldn’t possibly score enough to keep up with a Big 12 team. In 2011, Alabama shouldn’t even be here, many cried.
There’s another common thread connecting those three years: Alabama won by convincing scores each time.
Against LSU on Monday, Alabama did exactly what it had to do: It got at least a draw in the special teams department, and it did what was necessary to flip the quarterback edge in its favor. The fact departing offensive coordinator Jim McElwain called the best game of his Alabama career didn’t hurt, but a fake field goal and an impressive 5-of-7 showing from placekicker Jeremy Shelley on field goal attempts gave Alabama an edge in two categories it lost in November.
Trent Richardson, until his final drive of the game, had played solidly, if somewhat quietly. LSU’s defensive gameplan was clearly to shut down Richardson and for the most part, the Tigers accomplished that mission.
What LSU didn’t count on was McCarron having a breakout game, and although statistically it was not quite the equal of Greg McElroy’s performance against Florida in the 2009 SEC Championship Game, it was just as important. McCarron not only managed the game well, but he made several on-the-button throws to Kevin Norwood, Darius Hanks and Kenny Bell that kept putting Shelley in position to make easier kicks than the ones Cade Foster faced in November.
And then there’s the subject of the Alabama defense. Much discussion has circulated on Alabama message boards this season over whether the 2011 defense was equal to or better than the defenses of 2009, 1992, 1966 or 1961. The answer is yes, absolutely. Adjusted for the speed and athleticism of today’s players, the 2011 Alabama defense is the best college football defense in history. Not just Alabama history – the history of the entire sport.
The result of the game itself produces so many side stories. There is, of course, the lingering pain of Tuscaloosa’s April tornadoes. There is the loss of Carson Tinker’s girlfriend and of Aaron Douglas. There is the mutual-respect-slash-rivalry circling Nick Saban because of his connections to the LSU program. There are dozens of PlayStation-expert sportswriters – the ones clamoring for Oklahoma State to be in this game over Alabama – who don’t understand the most basic of concepts about college football: Namely, when a great defense full of athletes faces a great offense full of athletes, the great defense wins virtually every time. Especially when that defense is coordinated by Saban and Kirby Smart.
This was a defense that allowed LSU across the 50-yard line only once, and on that drive, eventually drove LSU back to the 50 on consecutive negative plays. This was a defense that held LSU under 100 yards despite two senior, experienced quarterbacks and a running back corps that rivaled the Tide’s.
Some will continue to complain that Alabama’s title was marred by the earlier loss to LSU. They will continue to clamor for a playoff system and cite fragments of social engineering as their defense.
What those people don’t realize is, there already exists a playoff in Division-IA football. It’s one round, No. 1 seed vs. No. 2 seed. It’s the ultimate game of high-stakes poker. No further fanciness is needed. Nor is endlessly needing to defend the concept of defensive football, or justify the value of someone’s entertainment dollar.
Those things are irrelevant. Championship No. 14 is not.
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