By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Nov. 6, 2011
In TideFans.com’s pregame preview that went to press three days before Alabama hosted LSU, the following was written about what would decide the fate of the Crimson Tide: “(I)n every category where games like this are usually won – quarterback play, defensive line, special teams – you find the words ‘advantage: LSU’.”
Check, check and check. But you can add a fourth: a complete breakdown in the preparation of this team between the end of regulation play and the start of overtime.
Alabama couldn’t consistently bottle the run, especially after LSU canned Jarrett Lee in favor of Jordan Jefferson at quarterback. When the Crimson Tide had the ball, LSU’s front seven managed to come up with a way to stuff Tide running backs at critical moments and disrupt A.J. McCarron’s timing. As for special teams, nothing really needs to be said, but it’s worth noting that Marquis Maze’s misplay of LSU’s final punt may have been as critical as were Alabama’s three missed field goal attempts.
In fact, Maze was unfortunately involved in three game-changing plays for Alabama. His stumble on a trick play sweep early in the game killed a drive. His pass to Michael Williams out of the Wildcat formation was late and off his back foot, which gave a LSU defensive back the needed time to catch up on the route. Add in the punt return mishap, and this is a game Maze would just as soon forget.
But don’t blame Maze, or any other single player, for this loss. Especially when the coaching staff apparently spent the break between regulation and overtime doing something other than preparing the team for the extra period.
Alabama came out flat in overtime, and Trent Richardson’s drop of an inside pass on first down ended with heads hung low and the smell of defeatism. It was as if, at the end of regulation, the 2011 Alabama team left the field and the 2008 Sugar Bowl team that lost to Utah replaced them.
This game did not end in a way that should result in any atta-boys or it’s-gonna-be-alright-next-time. This game ended in a way that should produce anger and frustration from top to bottom. It better, because even the underachieving Mississippi State, and especially rival Auburn, now have reason to believe they can beat Alabama in the coming weeks.
Both those teams have mobile quarterbacks at their disposal, the same kind that have consistently given Alabama trouble during Nick Saban’s tenure. Granted, neither Chris Relf nor Kiehl Frazier have Jefferson’s combination of passing skill, improvisational talent and experience, but any talk last week of how Jefferson might cause trouble for Alabama was met with ridicule from a fan base that had become supremely overconfident.
Credit LSU’s coaches with realizing that Jarrett Lee wasn’t the eventual answer. It was clear Lee was reinserted into the game to get his confidence back, but after a second interception in two passes, Les Miles decided to take a chance on Lee developing selective amnesia overnight and brought Jefferson back into the game. Jefferson was the most decisive factor in the game from that point forward, for either team.
The only remaining question now is how far the damage goes. LSU will win the SEC barring a major – not a minor – miracle. It’s not a terrible stretch to think of Arkansas beating the Tigers, but LSU would have to lose to Ole Miss as well to put Alabama back into Atlanta. Nothing short of Baton Rouge falling into the Gulf of Mexico could make that happen.
But Alabama isn’t completely out of the national title picture. As Sunday progressed, Alabama found out that early BCS standings might yet slot Alabama ahead of Boise State, behind Oklahoma State and Stanford. Oklahoma State still has games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma, although the Sooners are 90 percent the team they were prior to Saturday, when WR Ryan Broyles was lost with a torn ACL. Stanford still has to face Oregon and Notre Dame and has a rivalry game against California, whose coach, Jeff Tedford, may be fighting for his job.
The question, however, is whether Alabama deserves a rematch with LSU should both Oklahoma State and Stanford lose. Had Alabama lost in Baton Rouge, the answer would be a definitive “yes.” But this game wasn’t in Baton Rouge. It was in Alabama’s own house. The Crimson Tide did not take care of its own business, shooting itself in the foot multiple times and then wilting away in overtime. Many voters will take the opportunity to put Boise State into the game over Alabama, and they would be justified.
For a game that was billed to be a piece of college football history, this year’s Alabama team should have taken a pointer from history, one that could be found in its own Bryant Museum in the form of former UA coach Gene Stallings. Stallings once said that a college football game is played for the opportunity to make a handful of single plays that determine the outcome.
Alabama didn’t make those plays. Any of them. Now, one of the best teams in school history might end up empty-handed because of it.
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