Undefeated LSU stayed on course to reach the BCS title game by beating Alabama in overtime in early November, the Tigers’ only close victory of the year.
Turns out the Crimson Tide wanted a rematch.
They’ll get it Monday night at the Superdome, where top-ranked LSU and No. 2 Alabama will meet for the national championship in a showdown that guarantees a sixth consecutive BCS title for the SEC.
Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed Alabama as a slight one-point favorite, with the total set at 40.
The Tigers (13-0) proved to be the dominant team in college football this season, using their versatile offense and overpowering defense to roll over opponents – except for one. That would be the Tide, who hosted LSU on Nov. 5 in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup of teams that have each captured a BCS title during the SEC’s five-year reign.
Containing a Tigers team that ended up averaging 38.5 points – 12th in the FBS – Alabama took a 6-3 lead in the third quarter. The Tide couldn’t hold on, however, as LSU tied it early in the fourth and won 9-6 in OT on Drew Alleman’s third field goal in a game in which no touchdowns were scored.
The loss appeared to put an end to Alabama’s hopes of a second national championship in three years, but the Tide (11-1) had other ideas. Bouncing back from that defeat with three lopsided victories, they edged Oklahoma State by a .0086 margin in the BCS standings before earning the chance for revenge in New Orleans.
While some argued the 11-1 Cowboys deserved the trip to the Superdome, this matchup seems appropriate considering Alabama was the only team not to lose to LSU by at least 13 points.
“This could be a totally different type of game,” said Tide coach Nick Saban, who led LSU to a Sugar Bowl win at the Superdome after the 2003 season for a share of the national title. “There’s so many good players on both sides of the ball for both teams.
“There’s so much opportunity for this game to play out completely different and have a completely different flavor than the first game.”
Other than Alabama, LSU outscored opponents 491-131. The Tide’s defense – ranked first in the country at 191.3 yards per game, ahead of second-place LSU at 252.1 – will again face the challenge of shutting down the Tigers’ offense.
This time, it will be for another championship. Alabama captured the 2009 BCS title, while LSU is seeking its first since the 2007 season.
“This team loves the big stage,” said Tigers coach Les Miles, the AP coach of the year.
LSU quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee split time and combined for nearly 2,000 passing yards and 20 TDs while capably directing a ground attack that averaged 215.2 yards – 17th in the country.
Jefferson, expected to start this game, was suspended four games for his role in a bar brawl in August. He ended up rushing for 248 yards, making him one of five Tigers with at least that many. LSU was led by Michael Ford (755) and Spencer Ware (700).
If Alabama succeeds in containing LSU’s offense for a second time, the final score of this game could be similar to the first matchup. The Tigers are the first school with two first-team All-American cornerbacks in Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne.
Mathieu’s performance made him a Heisman Trophy finalist after he emerged as perhaps the most dynamic all-around player in the country. He had two interceptions and forced six fumbles for an LSU team that led the country in turnover margin at 1.69 per game.
The sophomore was even more spectacular as a punt returner, tying for the FBS lead with 16.2 yards per return. That was due in large part to game-changing performances in the last two contests – he had three returns for 115 yards and a 92-yard touchdown in a 41-17 win over Arkansas on Nov. 25, and brought four punts back for 119 yards and a 62-yard score in a 42-10 victory over then-No. 12 Georgia in the conference title game Dec. 3.
Those efforts made his one-game suspension in October for failing a drug test – teammates Ware and Tharold Simon were also suspended – seem like the distant past.
“I think (only) we can stop us,” said Mathieu, who also has 1 1/2 sacks. “I think we made a lot of bad decisions, personal mistakes, but we corrected it. We never gave up on each other.
“As everything was going on, I definitely think we grew closer. We started to believe in our coaches more. We started to definitely come closer within the locker room. So I think the leaders definitely started to stand up, and hats off to our leaders.”
Claiborne brought back an interception 45 yards for a TD against the Bulldogs, one of his six picks on the season, and also returned an INT 33 yards versus Alabama. The junior led the nation in interception return yards with 173.
The two cornerbacks benefit from a powerful LSU pass rush that recorded 37 sacks, led by ends Sam Montgomery (9.0) and Barkevious Mingo (8.0).
LSU’s size and depth on defense played a major role in wearing down opponents. The Tigers outscored opponents by a stunning 267-61 after halftime, including 35-0 against Georgia.
The Tigers limited Heisman Trophy finalist and Doak Walker Award winner Trent Richardson to 89 yards rushing Nov. 5, but they could have their hands full as Richardson ran for 505 yards in the last three games – 203 against Auburn – as Alabama outscored those opponents 111-42.
The junior was sixth in the country with 1,583 rushing yards and fifth with 20 TDs on the ground. He also had three touchdown receptions and 327 yards receiving.
“We have great respect for that Alabama team,” Miles said. “I can see that it certainly was a great game against them at their place, and we certainly respect that outing and that team and we learned that they’re very capable.”
LSU may need its defense to be at its best – and perhaps get a few more big plays from Mathieu – as it tries to earn a second win against the vaunted Tide defense. Alabama is led by Courtney Upshaw, who had 8 1/2 sacks and 17 tackles for loss, and fellow linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who recorded a team-leading 81 tackles – 9 1/2 for loss – and three sacks.
Upshaw and Hightower were among six Alabama All-Americans, and the Tide led the country with four first-teamers.
“We would trade all our awards for a national championship,” said offensive tackle Barrett Jones, the Outland Trophy winner and one of the first-teamers.
Along with getting production from Richardson and their ground game, the Tide may need at least a solid performance from quarterback A.J. McCarron. The junior went 16 of 28 for 199 yards in the first meeting with LSU, getting sacked twice and intercepted once.
Alabama leads 45-25-5 in a rivalry that dates to 1895. The last five matchups have been decided by nine or fewer points.