BCS championship: Alabama seemed unaffected by long layoff in win over LSU

January 10, 2012

Alabama’s unexpectedly one-sided victory over previously top-ranked Louisiana State in the Bowl Championship Series title game on Monday was the latest example of how an extended layoff may dramatically alter the complexion of a national title game.

Since the BCS title matchup was made a stand-alone game for the 2006 season and pushed back into the second week of January, there have been a number of eyebrow-raising outcomes following layoffs sometimes as long as 51 days.

That’s how long top-ranked Ohio State waited to play Florida for the 2006 BCS crown. The Buckeyes managed just 82 yards in a 41-14 blowout loss.

Last season, Oregon and Auburn, two high-powered offenses, met for the BCS title after more than a month-long sabbatical. Neither looked championship worthy for most of the game, which Auburn won, 22-19, with a field goal on the final play.

On Monday, LSU took the field for the first time in 37 days, since the Tigers beat Georgia for the Southeastern Conference championship. And Alabama played for the first time in 44 days after beating Auburn in the regular season finale.

“Players basically get in a routine through a season,” Alabama Coach Nick Saban said before Monday night’s thorough 21-0 victory. “When you have this much time between games, you’re always wondering as a coach: Are we practicing enough? Are we practicing too much?

“So we try to simulate as many game situations as we can, and we tell the players that practice is more important for this bowl game, for any bowl game, than practice normally is even in the season, because you only have your practice preparation to prepare you for the game.”

But change could be coming to the BCS format and perhaps to the dates for BCS games. Commissioners of the 11 conferences and the athletic director from Notre Dame met Tuesday to begin discussions about a number of possible changes to the BCS, including possibly moving the title game closer to Jan. 1.

Playing the title game so long after the regular season ends creates almost a new season, where teams are not what they had been. During the regular season, LSU had beaten every team except Alabama by at least 13 points, including BCS participants Oregon and West Virginia.

But Monday, the Tigers cobbled together just 92 yards and did not cross midfield until the fourth quarter. Their athletic, opportunistic defense failed to force a turnover and allowed Alabama sophomore quarterback A.J. McCarron to carve the Tigers up on first downs even though his best wide receiver, Marquis Maze, was sidelined with a hamstring injury.

“I told my team I did not see it coming,” LSU Coach Les Miles said in the postgame news conference. “And that is my fault. I wish I could have done something to help them.”

Credit Alabama for making shrewd adjustments during that 44-day period to ensure that the second meeting between the teams would not merely be a replay of the first game, won 9-6 by LSU in overtime on Nov. 5.

Because of the ability of LSU’s deep and athletic defensive line, Saban primarily took the ball out of the hands of Trent Richardson, his Heisman Trophy finalist running back, on first downs. Instead, he gave McCarron, who had struggled making reads and finding receivers in the first meeting, the responsibility to throw on early downs.

For what McCarron was asked to do, he was outstanding against the nation’s second-best defense. He completed 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards.

As for the Alabama defense, some players appeared on edge leading up to the game because of all the questions about stopping LSU’s option attack. When quarterback Jordan Jefferson was inserted into the Nov. 5 game, the Tigers found some success with the option.

On Monday, running the option proved futile. Miles said the inability to run resulted in a “very quality game plan” being uncalled because the Tigers could not find any semblance of success on the ground.

Whether the layoff negatively affected LSU or not, Alabama only became more sound and effective in almost every respect during the more than six weeks without a game.

As Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower said after the game, “You can’t give Nick Saban [44] days to prepare to have him not have a plan.”

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