Alabama Versus LSU Game Annually Showcases Quality Talent

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Annual Matchup Usually Plays Major Role In Deciding SEC

By John Ventola

The annual football game between LSU and Alabama has risen to become one of college football’s most anticipated rivalry games over the past six decades. Ever since Paul “Bear” Bryant opened his first season as coach of the Crimson Tide by hosting Paul Dietzel’s Tigers in Mobile in 1958, the annual matchups have played significant roles in deciding SEC championships, and frequently, national championships.

Dietzel’s 1958 national championship squad used a 13-3 opening game victory to catalpult itself to a perfect 10-0 regular season record before defeating Clemson 7-0 in the 1959 Sugar Bowl to wrap up the Tigers’ first national title. Bryant, who returned to his alma mater after stints at Maryland, Kentucky, and Texas A & M, turned the Alabama program around quickly and won the first of his six national championships just three years later. Alabama had won only four games in three years when Bryant left Aggieland. He posted a 5-4-1 record his first season at the helm of the Tide.

Although Bryant’s Texas A & M teams played LSU in his tenure there (featuring Springhill, Louisiana’s John David Crow), he and Dietzel, and then he an Charley

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Bryant Resurrected Tide During His 25 Year Stint

McClendon, who had played for Bryant at Kentucky, quickly fashioned the strong southern rivalry. Bryant adjusted Alabama’s game to fit his personnel and the new innovations of the game, going from a Joe Namath-Kenny Stabler passing attack to a wishbone offense that featured quick, decisive quarterbacks, including Louisiana’s Terry Davis from Bogalusa. The man with the houndstooth hat could coach, and while he was never short on talent, his twenty five years in Tuscaloosa never produced a Heisman Trophy winner. Crow, the 1957 Heisman Trophy recipient, was the only Bryant coached player to win the coveted award.

While there were some real barnburners during the eighteen years Bryant and McClendon clashed (1962-1979), that first tilt in Mobile’s Ladd Memorial Stadium (now Ladd Peebles Stadium) was known not only for being Bryant’s Tide debut, but the fact some end zone seats collapsed during the game. For years afterward, the two teams alternated playing in Baton Rouge’s Tiger Stadium and Birmingham’s Legion Field before Alabama refurbished and expanded their campus stadium. McClendon was able to best Alabams in a few games, but Bryant held a healthy margin over his protégée, ultimately costing McClendon his job for his inability to defeat his old coach more frequently.

Although Gene Stallings (who played for Bryant at Texas A & M) followed his mentor and won one national championship at Alabama, LSU and the Tide both suffered some up and down times as the conference leadership shifted to Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee during the 1980s and 90s.

Nick Saban won the 2003 national championship when the Tigers bested Oklahoma 21-14 in the 2004 Sugar Bowl. After one more year in Tigerland, Saban left the college sport to try his hand in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins. Les Miles succeeded Saban and the rest is history, interesting history. After two years, Saban grew dissatisfied with the pro game and took on the Alabama job. The eight games played over the last seven years have pitted the driven, perfectionist Saban and the quirky, unpredictable Miles. All of the games have been close except the 2011 national championship game where the Tide embarrassed LSU 21-0 in the 2012 BCS game after losing to the Tigers 9-6 in Tuscaloosa, and last year’s 38-17 Alabama victory, also in Tuscaloosa.

The schools have won five national championships in the past eleven years, with the two teams playing against each other for the 2011 title. Saban leads in the head to head matchups with Miles, 5-3. Unbelievably, the two teams have

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Saban And Miles Have Enjoyed Talent Advantages

produced twenty one first round draft picks in the past five years and have sent seventy two players to the NFL during that same time period. Talent seems to be readily available as both Saban and Miles are incredible recruiters. In fact, LSU will host one hundred recruits for this weekend’s game. Prospects could be swayed by a victory in this competitive game.

Who will win tomorrow? The twice beaten Tigers who stunk it up early with losses to Mississippi State and Auburn, but have shown vast improvement in their last three league games against Florida, Kentucky, and Ole Miss? Or the once beaten Crimson Tide, who lost to Ole Miss in Oxford?

Alabama will win if LSU fails to contain Bama’s top receiver Amari Cooper and not put pressure on quarterback Blake Sims. Alabama features a stable of capable running backs, and Coach John Chavis’s defensive adjustments put in place after the Auburn debacle, must stop the Tide from generating long drives. Time consuming drives featuring the running of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry will not only tire out the Tigers young defense, but take the home crowd out of the game. Conversely, if Les Miles tries to run the ball as much as the Tigers did against Ole Miss (55 of 71 offensive plays), the Tigers will lose.

Anthony Jennings did a great job managing the Ole Miss game, but he also has shown inconsistency and indecisiveness at times. If he fails to show confidence and continues to lock on to receivers early in his progressions, he will be a victimized more than once by the Tide secondary. The Tigers suffered four turnovers against Ole Miss and yet won the game. If they do that Saturday, it will be a runaway. Jennings needs to produce some offensive balance by hitting receivers on a consistent basis, or Alabama will take LSU out of the game early.. If Sims has a break out game, the Tide could roll easily. Saban has used a well-balanced offensive attack ,and improved special teams play to fashion a 8-1 record. His tactical decisions could decide the game as he is more solid than Miles as far as play calling and clock management.

LSU will win if there is magic in Tiger Stadium among the 102,000 attendees. The longer they stay in the game, and the more the crowd gets into it, is worth a few

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Tiger Stadium Could Prove To Be Difference Maker

points. The Tigers have won nineteen of their past 21 conference games in Tiger Stadium. If LSU’s offensive line, particularly its left side, is able to make holes consistently for Leonard Fournette, Kenny Hillard, and Terrence Magee, it will take the pressure off of Jennings, keep the Tiger defense resting on the sideline, and allow Miles to use his smash mouth football philosophy. LSU can not afford to have four turnovers like it had against Ole Miss and be victorious. Ball security will be tantamount to staying with the Tide as the Tigers do not possess an offense that can come back from large deficits, despite their fourth quarter mini-comeback against Mississippi State.

If the Tigers have a late game lead, Miles can not be stubborn and be predictable in his play calling. He must try to win the game, and not play to not lose, like he did late in the 2012 game in Tiger Stadium. One play, one first down, and the Tigers would have won. Miles predictably ran the ball on a key third down, failed to make the first down, and then punted to the Tide, who used a last second screen pass from A.J. McCarron to Yeldon to win 21-17. Alabama’s special teams have proven to be problem areas for the Tide over the last two seasons (losing to Auburn on a badly missed field goal that was run back for a game winning touchdown, and early season coverage and return troubles this year). Fournette, or one of the other Tiger return men, could make a huge impact here and make a game deciding play for the Tigers. Kickers Jamie Keehn and Colby Delahoussaye should have an edge while LSU’s young defensive unit, paced by linebacker Kendelll Beckwith, has stepped up in the past two victories over Kentucky and Ole Miss. Another solid effort will be necessary if the Tigers are to defeat the Tide.

My thoughts. Although LSU has made defensive adjustments and Fournette continues to adjust to the college game, Alabama should have the overall experience advantage and be able to topple the Tigers. This Tiger alum is pulling for the Tigers to kill Alabama’s run for a College Football Playoff spot (they are now ranked fifth for the four CFP positions), but objectively has to rate the Tide a ten to 14 point favorite over LSU. Death Valley can be magical, and I am hoping the Tigers have some post Halloween hocus pocus in store for the visiting Crimson Tide. After all, the Tigers upset then No. 5 Alabama in Tiger Stadium in 2010, and basically had the 2012 game won before the last second Bama score. An LSU victory would shake up the CFP rankings and show how powerful the conference’s Western Divison really is this season. The seven division teams are beating up on each other and defeating all other foes.

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