By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Nov. 10, 2013
Whether coaches like to admit it or not, some games are “circled” games.
Given that it’s next to impossible to be at an emotional high 12 or 13 times a season, the typical college football team will go through ebbs and peaks of emotion. But for some games, coaches make sure the emotional preparation reaches a zenith.
For Alabama in 2013, those games have included the opener over Virginia Tech, a road trip to Texas A&M and will include the season finisher against Auburn. But the biggest of the big to this point, without a doubt, was the annual showdown against LSU.
And for this game, it wasn’t just the players who needed to peak in order for Alabama to win.
Coaches are part of the equation as well, and LSU gave Nick Saban and his assistants a prime opportunity to answer adversity’s call. After Alabama went up 17-7 at the 5-minute mark of the second quarter, the Crimson Tide found itself staked to a two-possession lead.
Before the Alabama offense got another legitimate chance to move the ball, however, the score was 17-17.
LSU scored a touchdown with 43 seconds left in the first half to draw to 17-14. After Alabama essentially knelt on the ball to end the first half, the Tigers took the second-half kickoff, drove downfield and banked a 41-yard field goal to tie the score.
But thanks to whatever went on in the locker room between halves, the Tigers’ game-tying field goal would represent the last vestiges of positive play for the Bayou State visitors. From that point forward, Alabama took control of the game, ran off 21 straight points and put the exclamation point on the festivities by sacking Tiger QB Zach Mettenberger on four straight snaps.
While the first half of football was hotly contested, the second half of football represented evidence of just how good this Alabama team is. As expected, the 2013 college football season has broken down into a study of a precious few complete teams and a host of mediocre ones. The number of teams that can wreck an opponent both offensively and defensively can be counted on a single hand: Alabama, Florida State, maybe Ohio State and, on their best days, Stanford and Baylor. And of that elite list, only Alabama and Florida State have yet to display any egregious flaws in their games.
To be fair to LSU and Les Miles, the results of this game weren’t completely unexpected. Oddsmakers in Las Vegas correctly pegged this game as having a double-digit margin of victory, proof once again that Vegas oddsmakers are good at their jobs and that the town makes money for a reason. Most observers knew this wasn’t going to be Miles’ best defensive team, and injuries and position shuffling on the offensive line had been an issue already in 2013, most notably in the Tigers’ upset loss to Ole Miss. Meanwhile, Alabama had no discernible weaknesses coming in, and had much more to play for.
But for Alabama to completely flip the flow of this game so abruptly points to an advantage the Crimson Tide has that doesn’t always show up on a sheet of paper: Nick Saban’s ability to adjust at the half and bury an opponent that was doing its best at that point just to hang around.
Defensively, Alabama did a poor job of controlling the point of attack in the first half. The Tigers ran up 232 yards in the first half of the game and had shown the ability to set the pace. LSU amassed just 52 yards in the second half.
The question going forward for Alabama is whether it can put aside this victory and focus on Mississippi State. The Bulldogs aren’t a terrible team, and Alabama lost the game that followed last year’s win over LSU. But Mississippi State isn’t Texas A&M.
After that, the Tide will breeze through UT-Chattanooga before facing a resurgent Auburn. The Tigers are rarely not ready to try to derail Bama championship hopes, but given Auburn’s limitations in the passing game, it would be difficult at this point to imagine Alabama letting that game get away. Missouri or South Carolina will be the opponent for the SEC Championship Game, and both teams have more flaws than LSU.
If Alabama does manage to put up an undefeated record heading into the bowl season, it will be hard to pick against the Crimson Tide come January. For a team this talented and coached by Nick Saban, one would expect nothing else.
Here’s the Five-Point Breakdown for Alabama-LSU:
1. The fake punt changed the game. For at least the second time in this series, Saban outmaneuvered Miles at his own game – fakery and aggressiveness. Just like the 2011 BCS Championship Game, where Alabama clearly was the more aggressive team, the Tide was determined to set the overall tenor of this matchup. Jarrick Williams’ conversion of a fake punt call visibly deflated LSU, and the Tigers weren’t the same thereafter. The fact that Alabama called the fake after coming out of a timeout was as much a study in Saban’s brassiness as it was an indictment of brain-freeze on the part of Miles. LSU should have seen it coming and prepared for it; instead, Williams converted a key first down and nearly broke the play for much more. After T.J. Yeldon scored a touchdown to cap the drive, LSU was forced to cope with the realization that its comeback efforts were still a touchdown short. LSU never refocused and Alabama pulled away.
2. Defensive line took over in the second half. LSU’s offensive line controlled the point of attack in the first half, but Alabama made a few small adjustments in the second half to reverse the situation. Alabama slanted the nose tackle and employed a run-control “mush rush” at times to keep LSU running backs Jeremy Hill and Terrence Magee bottled up. Hill finished with just 42 yards rushing and Magee 31. Hill never was able to string together successful runs the way he did in 2012, and several individual breakdowns in the LSU offensive line made things worse. When Alabama got up 14 points and forced LSU to mostly abandon the running game, it got even uglier. Tackles La’el Collins and especially Jerald Hawkins, as we pointed out in the game preview, became liabilities. On the four-sack sequence to end the game, Zach Mettenberger was saddled with an average STAT (snap-to-affect-time) of less than 1.8 seconds, a certain recipe for disaster for any quarterback, especially a relatively immobile one. Mettenberger gets credit for his toughness, but he had no answer for this.
3. Kickoff coverage misses Vinnie Sunseri. Ever since Sunseri was injured on kickoff coverage, this unit has gone downhill and it could have cost Alabama the game against LSU were it not for the defensive heroics. Prior to Sunseri’s injury, Alabama led the SEC in kickoff coverage. The Crimson Tide had dropped to 4th in the conference coming into this game and is all but guaranteed to fall deeper into the pack. Lane discipline is becoming an issue, and Alabama seems to have lost some of its aggressiveness. Cody Mandell kicked off after Alabama’s last touchdown, perhaps to try to get better hang time on the kick itself. While special teams as a whole are probably the best they’ve been at Alabama since Ron Middleton was coaching them, Alabama needs to hit the reset button on kickoff coverage, as Auburn is capable of exploiting the weakness.
4. Defense responds despite being forced into unfamiliar territory, scheme-wise. Even though Alabama is technically a 3-4 over/under defense, the Crimson Tide has spent almost the entirety of its season in 4-2-5/3-3-5 looks due to the advent of spread offenses. Alabama will likely go back to the nickel packages as base against Mississippi State and Auburn. But LSU forced Alabama into its base defense Saturday, with both the strongside and Jack linebackers on the field. This had the effect of not only putting unfamiliar personnel groupings onto the field, it often left Alabama defensive backs more vulnerable. LSU surprisingly targeted Deion Belue at corner – and just as surprisingly, got good results, at least early on. But as the game went along, Alabama began to make the bigger packages work. Inside linebackers C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest arguably had their best games in crimson, and NT Brandon Ivory became a pressure point up front. SLB Adrian Hubbard also had a strong game. If Alabama ends up with Stanford in the BCS Championship Game, it’s likely we’ll see more of this, so the experience Alabama got in base against LSU is invaluable.
5. Stars of the game included one little-known name. LB Tana Patrick has been in Tuscaloosa five years but never quite lived up to his recruiting hype. When he was signed out of North Jackson High School in the same class as Nico Johnson, there was quite the debate in many places about which player was better. Johnson is now starting in the NFL, but Patrick has yet to start a game in Tuscaloosa. Many Alabama fans probably didn’t know who he was coming into Saturday’s game. But they know now. Patrick’s timely hit on LSU FB J.C. Copeland caused a fumble inside Alabama’s 5-yard line and set the tone for the defense. There were plenty of outstanding individual plays in this game – C.J. Mosley seemed to have about twenty of them, and none were more jaw-dropping than watching a tight end, O.J. Howard, run away from LSU cornerbacks on his way to a 52-yard touchdown reception. But had Patrick not made his play on Copeland, LSU would have been staked to an early 7-0 lead and there’s no telling the effect it would have had on morale or momentum. Congratulations go out to Patrick for sticking around for five years, and for making one of the most important plays of Alabama’s season.
Comment now using your Facebook login!
Powered by Facebook Comments