BCS national championship game: Alabama Crimson Tide stifles LSU Tigers

January 10, 2012

In more than 120 minutes of football the past two-plus months, Alabama and Louisiana State produced one touchdown, countless violent collisions and enough field goals to fill up a lengthy how-to video.

In two games, each school won in the other’s home state. But it was Alabama claiming this season’s Bowl Championship Series national title with its convincing 21-0 victory Monday before a divided, deafening crowd at the Superdome.

“A lot of people did not think we belonged in this game. But we showed everybody with offense, defense and special teams,” Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower said.

While Monday served as a rematch of LSU’s 9-6 overtime victory in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Nov. 5, it certainly was not a rerun of the Tigers’ narrow victory. Alabama place kickers Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley combined to miss four field goals in that game. Shelley made five field goals Monday (23, 34, 41, 35 and 44 yards), a record for the BCS title game.

The victory by Alabama (12-1) represented the sixth straight BCS national title for the Southeastern Conference and the third overall for Coach Nick Saban, who also won in 2003 with LSU and 2009 with Alabama. Saban, the only coach to win BCS crowns at different schools, also became the first coach to win three BCS titles.

Saban’s third came with what will be considered one of the best defenses in recent college football history. Alabama led the nation in every major statistical category and allowed just 8.8 points per game in the regular season, the lowest average since 1988 (Auburn).

The defense was at its best Monday, when it held LSU to five first downs and 92 yards of offense. LSU’s offense drove into Alabama territory just once in the game.

Alabama was so sound in virtually all facets that it won without a pass reception by Marquis Maze, its best receiver who was hurt during his 49-yard punt return in the first quarter. Maze would watch the second half from the sideline, where he was seen crying.

“You can’t give Nick Saban 47 days to prepare to have him not have a plan,” Hightower said.

Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw was selected as the game’s defensive MVP. Quarterback AJ McCarron, who completed 23 of 34 passes for 233 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions, was the offensive MVP.

Both teams had important special teams plays in the first half: Alabama got the 49-yard punt return from Maze and LSU blocked a field goal. But that’s where the similarities ended.

Alabama dominated every other aspect of the half: The Crimson Tide collected 13 first downs to LSU’s one; it outgained LSU 225 to 43 total yards; and Alabama controlled the ball for nearly two-thirds of the half en route to a 9-0 halftime lead.

Holding a 12-0 lead midway through the third quarter, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley intercepted a shovel pass by LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson at the Tigers 28-yard line.

Mosley appeared to suffer a leg injury after the interception. While being taken to the locker room on a cart, Mosley raised his right arm, prompting roars from the Crimson Tide faithful who had long awaited a second chance at their bitter rival.

Dating from the Nov. 5 game, the teams played more than 110 minutes before the first touchdown, which was scored by Alabama running back Trent Richardson on a 34-yard run with 5 minutes 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

More than a month of buildup and hype reached a zenith Monday. Scalpers asked for close to $2,000 for some tickets. Outside of bars, fans of both teams stood in long lines that snaked around corners. Others cooked up gumbo and barbecue in tailgates more than a mile from the dome.

Across the street from the Superdome, 3D animated graphics of LSU images as well as a 31 / 2-story, continuously updated scoreboard projected on the side of the 28-story Entergy Corporation building.

Fans who came to see defense got what they wanted.

Alabama shut down LSU’s offense from the game’s start, forcing the Tigers into consecutive three-and-outs. The option attack, which was effective at times in the first meeting with Jefferson under center, had little success on LSU’s second possession.

Jefferson pitched to running back Spencer Ware, but Upshaw dragged him down for no gain. That led to the first big play of the game, a line-drive punt by Brad Wing that Maze took through the middle and down the sideline for a 49-yard gain to the Alabama 26-yard line. That soon led to the night’s first field goal.

Early on, Alabama leaned heavily on Brad Smelley, the tight end who saw increased production late in the season and who caught four passes in the first quarter alone Monday. But it was an acrobatic 26-yard completion to wide receiver Kevin Norwood, who leaped over cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and kept one foot inbounds, that further propelled Alabama.

On fourth and four from the LSU 32, Alabama trotted out Foster to attempt a long field goal. But McCarron, who was the holder for the kick, took the snap and flipped the ball to tight end Chris Underwood for a four-yard gain. The first trick play — by Saban, not the so-called Mad Hatter Les Miles — gave Alabama a first down by inches.

When the drive stalled, Saban sent in Shelley for a 42-yard field goal attempt. But 6-6 Michael Brockers got a hand on it, and the block ignited the LSU side of the dome.

Later in the half, Alabama engineered an 11-play, 58-yard drive that bled more than six minutes off the clock. But once again, the Crimson Tide was forced to settle for a field goal attempt. Shelley knocked the 34-yard kick through to give his team a 6-0 lead. McCarron exhibited full control in the final two minutes of the half, leading his team 52 yards in nine plays. That set up Shelley’s 41-yard field goal as time expired.

A football sailing through the uprights, one of the images that most resonated in Monday’s national title game.

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