By Casey Keefe
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In a bowl season that saw several out-of-this-world offensive performances—123 points in the Alamo Bowl, 83 points in the Rose Bowl and 70 points by West Virginia alone in the Orange Bowl—we were all reminded last night of the oldest and truest cliché in sports: defense wins championships.
Alabama put on the greatest defensive performance in the history of college football as they shut down (and I mean SHUT DOWN) the LSU Tigers en route to a 21-0 National Championship victory. After falling to LSU at home in the regular season, the Tide got a shot at something very few are ever lucky enough to get: a second chance… To their credit, they took full advantage of the opportunity and won their second BCS Title in three years.
Up until last night, LSU had arguably the greatest resume in the history of the sport from a strength of schedule and strength of victory stand point. They spent their season slaying ranked team after ranked team, most of their triumphs coming on the road in hostile environments. They were fortunate enough to sneak out of Tuscaloosa with a 9-6 overtime win over the Tide on November 5th. With 44 days to prepare for the rematch, Nick Saban and his club made sure the true better team prevailed this time around.
How dominant was Alabama's defense? LSU was held to 92 total yards, 39 rushing yards and 5 first downs. The Tigers were an embarrassing 2-for-12 on third down conversions, were sacked 4 times and turned the ball over twice. Most importantly, LSU was blanked where it mattered most—the scoreboard… This was the first time a team has ever been shut out in a BCS bowl.
Saban proved yet again why he is undoubtedly the best coach in the nation. He made Les Miles look like a fool for the entire 60 minutes of the contest. He made key adjustments which continuously kept the Tigers on their heels. It was if the Tide were doing the exact opposite of what LSU expected on each and every play.
Tide running backs Trent Richardson (20 carries, 96 yards, TD) and Eddie Lacy (11 carries, 43 yards) followed the lead of their dominant offensive line and simply wore down the Tigers' vaunted and much praised front seven. LSU's trash-talking defenders were bullies all season—and last night they acted accordingly. Once the bad boy bullies were punched in the mouth they stuck their tails between their legs and shied away. Last night was a stage for grown men and the Tigers just simply did not belong.
As bruising and effective as Richardson and Lacy were, the star of the Tide offense was the much-criticized sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron (23/34, 234 yards). Saban put unwavering trust in the young and inexperienced McCarron—and it paid off big time. He played brilliant, mistake-free football. Instead of starting drives off with runs, Saban continuously called McCarron's number on first downs—and he delivered. When it was all said and done, McCarron had put on one of the best quarterbacking performances in BCS history—something which no one believed possible before the game.
What made the performance that much more impressive was the early loss of Marquis Maze who pulled his hamstring on a 49 yard punt return in the first quarter. Maze was without question the Tide's best wide receiver, but without him, McCarron and the offense never missed a beat. Kevin Norwood (4 receptions, 78 yards), Darius Hanks (5 receptions, 58 yards) and Brad Smelley (7 receptions, 39 yards) each stepped up and pulled more than their share of the weight. The crispness and efficiency of the offense was stellar, especially against such a dangerous defense. Most importantly, they didn't shoot themselves in the foot. They never turned the ball over and their first and only penalty came on a meaningless offside call with 2:58 remaining in the ball game.
Unlike Alabama, LSU's offense was flat, careless and downright overmatched. Jordan Jefferson (11/17, 53 yards, INT) was atrocious yet again. Readers of my work know very well how I feel and have always felt about Jefferson. I said in my preview that backup quarterback Jarrett Lee should get the majority of the snaps in this game, but that was not the case—Lee never left the bench. Equally as putrid was the Tigers deep run and "unstoppable" run game. Kenny Hilliard (5 carries, 16 yards), Spencer Ware (3 carries, 7 yards) and Michael Ford (4 carries, 1 yard) were all less than non-factors.
Another thing not to be overlooked was special teams play. This was yet another area that Alabama dominated which was most surprising of all considering how scary LSU was in every facet of special teams during the season. Tyrann "The Honey Badger" Mathieu was invisible in the return game. Instead, it was the Tide who were able to rip loose a few nice returns which were huge for momentum and field position. 'Bama's kick and punt coverage was excellent and their field goal kicker Jeremy Shelley was shaky at times but did nail a BCS-record 5 field goals (23, 34, 41, 35, 44).
All in all, it was a total team win for the Tide. They out-toughed and out-executed LSU in every single area of the game—but I can't emphasize enough how special of a defensive performance this was. Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and Dre' Kirkpatrick all had monstrous games. The unit as a whole was relentless from start to finish. LSU's offense did not cross midfield until the 7:53 mark of the fourth quarter. Think about that…the Tigers did not move the ball across the 50 yard line until halfway through the final quarter… Unbelievable.
Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu stood by his locker answering questions after the game. Obviously in denial, he said: "We won our division. We won our conference. We are still champions."
I've got news for you Honey Badger—no one cares about conference titles. The fact is you and your team reached the biggest stage in your sport, playing in the biggest game of your lives—and each and every one of you crapped the bed. You still want to call yourselves champions? Go ahead—you'll only be fooling yourselves.
Back in my season preview I predicted Alabama would win the National Championship. I felt they were without question the best team in the country from top to bottom. Thanks to a performance for the ages last night, the Tide proved me right.
Follow Casey Keefe on Twitter: @CaseyKeefeWFAN
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