By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – 9-6 in overtime. 21-17 in regulation. An LSU win in Tuscaloosa. An Alabama victory in Baton Rouge.
The last two regular season matchups between the Tigers and Tide appear very different at first glance. The was a lack of offense in 2011, making the 38 points scored Saturday night appear Oregon-like in its output. Everything from the stage, the expectations and the players themselves were different, a new look on what is quickly becoming an old rivalry.
Nearly a year ago, LSU and Alabama faced off in THE game. It even had its own name.
An epic #1 vs. #2 matchup anticipated for the entire season, the hype created for this one game surpassed almost every other, two undefeated SEC heavyweights going toe to toe
In the aftermath of LSU’s 9-6 overtime win, there were more questions than answers. Many found difficulty assigning greatness to a game that didn’t feature a touchdown. After the final whistle, Tuscaloosa was the site of uncertainty, as many knew they’d seen two Goliaths tangle, but weren’t sure what to make of it.
363 days later, the Tigers and Tide met once again. The hype was subdued, the luster dimmed after LSU’s defeat against Florida. The narrative focused on “upset”, the country viewing each squad differently than a year ago.
Going in Alabama was the prohibitive favorite. The playing field appeared to be far from even.
Yet, the game itself was so much more.
The two teams produced an instant classic, sure to be long remembered in SEC history. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron etched his named into Crimson Tide legend (if it wasn’t already there), leaving a record crowd in Tiger Stadium stunned as the junior lead his team on a game-winning touchdown on the Tide’s final drive.
Many immediately tabbed it as “Game of the Year”. It also was definitive, Alabama proving their mettle as the country’s top squad. Nearly every question was answered.
Two different games in two different circumstances, right? But, the more you analyze what took place in Baton Rouge on a Louisiana Saturday night, the more you see glimpses of 2011 in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
First off, the team that won the statistical battle in both games failed to capture victory on the field. In “Armageddon” Alabama outgained LSU (295-235), with the Tide throwing for over double the yards that the Tigers did (199 to 91). Head coach Nick Saban’s team ran more offensive plays, and punted the ball just twice to LSU’s six.
In Baton Rouge this Saturday, LSU returned the favor. The Bayou Bengals tallied 435 yards, 104 more than Alabama could muster (331). LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger tossed for a career-high 298 yards, while the Tide’s AJ McCarron, bandied as a Heisman contender, threw for just 165. The Tigers gained more first downs, while nearly doubling Alabama in time of possession.
In both cases, just reading the box score, you’d have been surprised as to who actually won. The similarities continue.
Back at Bryant-Denney in 2011, Alabama had all the momentum early. The Tide had 118 yards in the first quarter, and drove deep into LSU territory twice. The Tide missed two field goals, failing to take advantage of early offensive success.
Alabama would go onto to have its third field goal attempt blocked (on the opening drive of the second quarter), leaving a total of nine possible points on the board. That would be more than they’d score all night, a collection of missed opportunities that Saban acknowledged after the game.
LSU did the exact same this time around. After failing to cross midfield against the Alabama defense in the BCS Championship Game, the Tigers did it Saturday on their first drive. Head coach Les Miles’ offense racked up eight first downs in the first quarter, yet had only three points to show for it. Key dropped passes and a critical sack kept LSU from adding to the tally, opportunities that would prove critical later.
In both cases the feeling crept in that the team in early control (Alabama in 2011, LSU in 2012) should be dominating the score more than they were. With both defenses littered with NFL talent, points come at a premium. The failure to capitalize on early offensive success would end up meaning defeat in both contests.
There were also crazy moments in both that didn’t go in favor of the losing team. Alabama tried a reverse pass in the red zone in 2011, only to have LSU’s Eric Reid wrestle away the ball for an interception. Miles “mad hatter” attempts were completely unsuccessful a year later, with the Tigers bungling an onside kick attempt and a fake field goal try stopped.
The final and perhaps most important characteristic of both games was the ending. In those pivotal moments the winners snatched victory, converting key plays when it mattered most.
Even though “Armageddon” ended on a field goal, LSU’s first drive in overtime sealed the win. After an Alabama missed field goal attempt, the Tigers took control knowing any score meant victory.
LSU running back Michael Ford had the game’s biggest run, gaining 15 yards over left end to put LSU at the seven-yard line. This play turned a difficult field goal into a chip shot, Alleman needing just 25-yards to be successful. True he was, booting home the win for LSU three plays later.
Fast forward to last night, were Alabama trailed 17-14 with 1:34 to go. McCarron was masterful, orchestrating a five-play drive that would end in a 28-yard TD catch by TJ Yeldon. It was Eli Manning in the Super Bowl-esque, as the junior moved the ball down the field with ease against an LSU defense that had stymied him the entire second half.
When LSU and Alabama get together on the football field, great games are bound to happen.
Whether through defensive struggle or offensive gain, the truth remains that each of the past two regular season matchups have had a little “Armageddon” in them.