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07 Nov 2011

One Foot Inbounds: Slugfest

by Robert Weintraub

The ball hung in the air for what felt like hours. It came down at the goal line, with two men fighting for possession. The result would either be first-and-goal at the 1, or an interception that would keep the game tied in the fourth quarter.

Rarely does a huge game like LSU-Alabama contain a single play that is so symbolic and encompassing, but this intense defensive battle was decided by the slimmest of margins. And when Eric Reid beat Michael Williams in a tug of war for the ball, LSU had not only turned back a major scoring threat, it had won the metaphor. The Tigers wanted the game just a little more, were just a little more physical, made just a few more plays than did 'Bama. And so LSU held off the Tide 9-6 in overtime, and maintains its number one ranking while holding the inside track to the BCS title game.

This was a particularly violent affair, with a pair of defenses as good as any from the past two decades. Surprisingly, there was a sizable chunk of the Twitterverse that found the game dull because of the lack of good offensive play. These are the same people responsible for the rule changes that have made the NFL ridiculously titled toward offense. The same people who are too impatient to read a book. The same people who think the Cardinals 1-0 win over the Phillies in Game 5 of the NLDS was boring.

In other words, idiots.

How anyone could not appreciate the defense being played last night is beyond me. There were 10-15 NFL players in the starting lineups, and who knows how many more in reserve. I often point to the 2006 rumble between LSU and Auburn, won by Auburn 7-3, as the primary example of a hard-hitting, low-scoring game that was monstrously entertaining because of the violence on display. This was even more intense. When 101,000 Tide fans are too nervous to drink, you know the game is worthwhile. Those who disagree, I give you Northern Illinois 63, Toledo 60 from Tuesday night. Sure it was fun, just like binging on my kids Halloween candy was fun -- for about 15 minutes. Then the queasiness sets in.

Speaking of nausea, that’s what the 'Bama special teams brought about for Rammer Hammer Nation. The old saying "if you have two quarterbacks you don’t have any" was disproven to a degree by LSU. But the new saying "if you have two kickers you don’t have any" was written in tears by Nick Saban. Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley combined to miss four of six field goals, including three on the first three 'Bama possessions of the game, and one in overtime. Meanwhile, LSU kicker Drew Alleman was perfect on his three tries, including the winner, and punter Brad Wing was perhaps the MVP of the game, with several kicks killed deep in Tide terrain, and a huge 73-yarder that hit a TV cable and tilted field position after the Neil interception.

Dads in Alabama -- raise your football-mad sons to be kickers!

For the first eight games, LSU was the speedy playmaking defense while Alabama simply fractured teams with physical play, intimidating them and breaking their will. But Saturday night it was LSU that won the physical war, sending several Tide players limping off the field (important ones too -- Maze, Kirkpatrick, Jones). 'Bama star running back Trent Richardson was the best player on the field for large sections of the game, but every time he threatened to take over, the LSU defense would hurl him backwards. 16 of Trent’s 23 carries were for three yards or less. LSU has a second unit that would be a top-ten defense, and that depth was critical in the Bryant-Denny cauldron.

Jordan Jefferson may not be the most popular person inside a Marine Corps base, but he won’t have to buy drinks at Shady’s anytime soon. JJ came in to spell Jarrett Lee, who reverted to 2008 form at the worst time, throwing a pair of picks. Jefferson wasn’t great, but he made a handful of plays at big moments, perhaps none bigger than his rifled lefty option pitch while being creamed in overtime, a play that set LSU up for the chip shot field goal. Lee will have a chance to regain his mojo against Western Kentucky and Ole Miss, and LSU will need him to do so before the Arkansas game to end the season, not to mention the potential SEC and BCS title games. As Lee won’t be facing Alabama’s defense, I like his chances.

I was on NBC SportsTalk earlier in the week and said something about earthquake scientists needing to train their seismometers on Tuscaloosa, given the collisions sure to take place. Little did I know they would resonate all the way to Oklahoma. Kirk Herbstreit was on the air when Stillwater was rattled by an aftershock (here’s Bill Connelly’s upload). Where Al Michaels would have jumped in and gone all Peter Jennings on us, Herbie patiently let Chris Fowler finish his question before revealing that he didn’t hear any of it because, you know, the building was shaking. What a pro!

A little earlier, Oklahoma State had held off several cracks from inside the 5 to finish off the dying seconds and edge Kansas State 52-45 (another defensive void). Collin Klein was heroic in defeat, bleeding from several orifices (orifi?) while trying to lead his 'Cats to the upset. It didn’t happen, but you can blame the K-State defenders, who had a difficult time in coverage, tackling, and rushing the passer, for that.

That most certainly wasn’t the case in Tuscaloosa.

TOEDRAGS

  • While Superman and Batman were battling in Tuscaloosa, Spiderman kept slinging away in the shadows, hoping to slip past the two DC powerhouses. Arkansas played a tremendous two-way game for once in taking out South Carolina 44-28. The Hogs were hammered by Alabama but still have LSU ahead, and they traditionally give the Tigers fits.
  • Georgia now controls the SEC East, and with a win over Auburn next week would pretty much wrap up a trip to Atlanta. The Dawgs hammered New Mexico State in a bit of exemplary scheduling, 62-13. The only interesting moment came when UGA tight end Aron White caught a touchdown pass and went flying into the hedges. How dare you scar such beautiful groundskeeping!
  • And in the Bizarro LSU-Bama game, Kentucky picked up its first conference win against fellow conference lowlight Ole Miss, 30-13. Linebacker Danny Trevathan is another excellent linebacker playing in obscurity -- the Wildcat had 17 tackles and an interception in this one.
  • I was wearing a Boise State t-shirt during the LSU-Bama game, just so you know. Not making a statement, just savoring the irony. The Broncos had an indifferent start in Vegas (for their sake, let’s hope that stays in Vegas), but clobbered UNLV 48-21. I’m splitting the difference on Boise in terms of rankings -- see below.
  • Michigan had four cracks from inside the 5 to tie Iowa, but the Hawkeyes blitzed to prevent Denard Robinson from beating them with his feet. On second down, Junior Hemingway almost pulled off the Old Man and the Sea of catches, but a hint of leather hit the turf. Iowa held on for a 24-16 win.
  • Michigan State and Ohio State avoided upsets, but not so Nebraska. Big Red was taken down on Northwestern’s first ever visit to Lincoln. Somewhere, Bob Devaney is pissed. Backup Kain Colter, who sure sounds like a Cornhusker but actually is Northwestern’s quarterback, came in for the injured Dan Persa and ran for a pair of scores. He threw in an 81-yard touchdown pass for good measure. Sparty is now in charge in the Legends Division, and that’s a sentence I didn’t imagine I’d ever type.
  • Here’s another one -- Rick Neuheisel could be in the Pac-12 title game. Two weeks ago, the Bruins were buried in the desert by Arizona, but like Uma Thurman they busted out of a shallow grave. Now they’re in pole position in the South division after stunning Arizona State 29-28, holding on as the Devils missed a field goal at the gun. Give Neuheisel credit for holding the team together after the Terror in Tucson, while the Sun Devils once again underachieved in a big spot.
  • A shame for Oklahoma to lose Ryan Broyles, the new all-time reception leader, to a season-ending knee injury. The Sooners did what they always do: hammer Texas A&M at Owen Field, this time by a 41-25 margin. The previous six defeats of A&M were by an average of 41 points, so just as the Aggies were making progress, off they go to the SEC.
  • Big doings in the Big East, as Cincinnati held off Pittsburgh 26-23 in a thriller that could put the Bearcats back in the BCS. That’s thanks to their win three weeks back over Louisville. A couple of years back I was at the Nike campus for a high school seven-on-seven tournament. Miami Northwestern cruised to the championship behind its sharp quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. He was slated to take the shuttle bus over to The U as so many Bulls have before, but changed his mind and went up to Louisville instead. Nice move. The Cards stunned West Virginia 38-35, payback for losing out to the Mountaineers on that Big 12 bid. Bridgewater had a good game, and the ‘Ville returned a blocked field goal for a big score. They still need help if they are to take the conference. Or leave the conference. I can't remember anymore.
  • Obviously, beating West Virginia wasn’t much of an achievement after all. My Orange fell short against Connecticut, and neither Ray Allen nor John Wallace were involved. Syracuse gave up a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to lose 28-21, and are now 5-4. From BCS dreams to hoping for a return to the Pinstripe Bowl...

OFI TOP 25

1. LSU
2. Oklahoma State
3. Boise State
4. Stanford
5. Alabama
6. Oregon
7. Arkansas
8. Oklahoma
9. Clemson
10. Virginia Tech
11. Houston
12. Wisconsin
13. South Carolina
14. USC
15. Kansas State
16. Georgia
17. Southern Miss
18. Penn State
19. Cincinnati
20. Nebraska
21. Georgia Tech
22. TCU
23. Auburn
24. Texas
25. Arizona State

I’ll give Oklahoma State the benefit of the doubt and move them past Boise, but Stanford doesn’t have a high-quality win either. Alabama probably whips all three, but I either keep them No. 2 or drop them to No. 5, and that can’t be done.

LOWSMAN TROPHY WATCH


1. Both defenses, LSU and Alabama.
'Nuff said.

2. Brad Wing, P, LSU. The left-footed Aussie will be feted at the Baton Rouge Outback Steakhouse for the rest of his collegiate career -- or would be, if that place wasn’t so faux-Australian.

3. Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas. Deep in the shadow of the LSU-Bama slugfest, the Hog with the Cajun-sounding surname destroyed South Carolina with three sacks, including a strip of Connor Shaw that iced the game for Arkansas.

4. Tommylee Lewis, KR, Northern Illinois. When a game gets to 123 points, you need some big plays. Lewis provided back-to-back touchdowns on kick returns for the Huskies, 100 and 95-yarders. The Double Jeopardy jokes write themselves.

5. Rodney McLeod, S, Virginia. The strong season by the Wahoos continues, as McLeod had three picks against Maryland in a 31-13 win.

Posted by: Robert Weintraub on 07 Nov 2011

20 comments, Last at 09 Nov 2011, 10:02am by Aaron Brooks Good Twin

Comments

1
by QQ (not verified) :: Mon, 11/07/2011 - 5:06pm

Good Defenses are fun to watch but bad Offenses are not. Both teams are more than Legit on Defense but there was still a lot of Bad Decision making (Throwing into Double Coverage) and Poorly Thrown Passes. Both INTs LSU threw were thrown into Double Coverage and the last Alabama one was a combination of a Horrific Decision and Terrible Throw.

After a while it was hard to tell if this game was LSU vs Alabama or Seattle vs Cleveland

2
by Eddo :: Mon, 11/07/2011 - 5:30pm

Agreed. I enjoy good defensive football, and while the LSU-Alabama game certainly was a display of great defenses, it also included two offenses that couldn't seem to get out of their own ways.

8
by lionsbob :: Mon, 11/07/2011 - 8:10pm

Chicken and egg. Alabama and LSU were two offenses who were putting up almost 40 points a game going into the game. While the offenses won't be confused with the Green Bay Packers, they have been playing very well all season. Some of the conservatism was a "who will blink first" type thing, but those are 2 elite defenses playing.

9
by Kal :: Mon, 11/07/2011 - 9:28pm

no, the two TEAMS were putting up almost 40 points a game. The offenses were consistently putting up much less. They've been playing okay, but they mostly were playing with short fields and defensive/ST scores.

They were two elite defenses playing. It would have been a bit nice to see two fairly good offenses playing against those defenses.

11
by lionsbob :: Mon, 11/07/2011 - 11:16pm

Alabama had 3 non-offensive TDs out of 40 TDs. And the short field more accurately describes LSU more than Alabama.

Of course this sites advanced stats have Alabama as having a good offense...

15
by Kal :: Tue, 11/08/2011 - 10:58am

Okay, that's one of the two teams. I hear that there was another team Alabama played. Confirm/deny?

19
by Adam H (not verified) :: Tue, 11/08/2011 - 3:51pm

Playing with short fields and defensive/ST scores? Sounds like they were playing against bad offenses! And there wasn't much of that in the LSU/Bama game, which indicates both offenses did a decent job of controlling the game.

If you want to see good offenses playing against those elite defenses, go back and watch the Oregon and Arkansas games!

12
by Goldenflash7903 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/08/2011 - 12:33am

I agree with you completely. I texted friends saying this looks like Browns/Seahawks. Those defenses are both very good, but not that good. Isn't this the same LSU team that gave up over 500 yards to West Va and over 400 to Oregon?

It was also absolutely infuriating waching the play calling in the 4th quarter. Alabama ran the ball on first and ten from near midfield. Lost 6 yards, and proceeded it with the exact same play on second, that lost another 6 yards. A screen pass on 3rd and long led to a punt. What a completely inefficient sequence of FBS football.

3
by CuseFanInSoCal :: Mon, 11/07/2011 - 6:07pm

This was a particularly violent affair, with a pair of defenses as good as any from the past two decades.
I'd quibble a bit about that. I don't think either defense is on a level with 2008 USC, 2001 or 2002 Miami, or 2002 Ohio State. I think LSU and Alabama have very good defenses this year, but I'm not getting any kind of all-time great vibe from them.

4
by Hang50 :: Mon, 11/07/2011 - 6:16pm

Thankfully, the season didn't end this weekend, but if it did, what a great bit of entertainment an eight-team playoff would make, this season in particular. That's a very fine top eight. If we took the seeding right out of Rob's ranking, our first weekend would be stellar:

* LSU v. Oklahoma
* Oklahoma St. v. Arkansas
* Boise St. v. Oregon
* Stanford v. Alabama.

Wow.

5
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 11/07/2011 - 7:03pm

Except you have 2 Big 12 teams, 2 Pac 12 teams, and 3 SEC teams along with Boise. While I agree it would be cool, I think the only way a playoff happens is if there are a couple automatic qualifiers from the Big 10, Big East, and/or ACC.

6
by Chappy (not verified) :: Mon, 11/07/2011 - 7:27pm

"The Tigers wanted the game just a little more, were just a little more physical, made just a few more plays than did 'Bama."

I generally agree with the article, but this statement is nonsense. What exactly did LSU want more of? It certainly wasn't passing yardage or first downs because Alabama had them beat there. My sense of the game is that, plain and simple, Alabama's special teams let them down. If Alabama makes just one of those field goals it is a completely different game. I certainly don't think they are calling for a WR to pass if they have a field goal lead with a chance for another field goal.

Sure, both teams played great (and great D), but the whole 'wanted it more' storyline is too cliche.

7
by lionsbob :: Mon, 11/07/2011 - 8:07pm

Agreed. LSU basically allowed Alabama to hand them the game and barely did anything with it to come up with the win.

10
by Joseph :: Mon, 11/07/2011 - 11:05pm

Since Rob said "they won the metaphor," I thought he was being somewhat sarcastic and piling on the media types who say that "team X just wanted it more."

On another note, I feel vindicated for predicting that LSU's special teams would make the difference (see last Mon.'s comment thread)--although I feel only slightly vindicated because I thought Wing, the LSU punter, would make the biggest difference. While he made a difference (73 yds!!!), it was the FG kickers who made the difference.

17
by Oldcat (not verified) :: Tue, 11/08/2011 - 12:53pm

LSUs FG kicker wanted it more. Or maybe the long-snapper.

13
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 11/08/2011 - 9:37am

Question on the "interception". My understanding of the rule was that simultaneous possession goes to the receiver. The tight end made the initial catch, and the ball was shared when the TE and DB landed, thus downing the catch. Isn't what happens after the receiver was down irrelevant?

Every other time I've seen that play in college it's been awarded as a catch, not an INT.

14
by gtliles82 :: Tue, 11/08/2011 - 10:23am

It looked to me like the tight end lost control as he was coming to the ground, thereby discounting possession for either player. The ball was then wrestled away by the DB without ever touching the ground. I think the ruling was correct.

16
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 11/08/2011 - 11:19am

Possession was still joint when the TE's shoulder touched the ground, which should stop the play.

18
by Intropy :: Tue, 11/08/2011 - 1:49pm

Upon going to the ground you have to maintain possession whether another player is trying to wrest it away or not or else it's as if you never possessed it. He didn't maintain possession so the play was live since the ball had not hit the ground and since no player with possession of the ball had gone to the ground. If after going to the ground they maintained joint possession, it would go to the receiver.

20
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 11/09/2011 - 10:02am

http://p.twimg.com/AdnbDlSCMAAyAE-.jpg

You tell me. Both players on the ground, WR has dominant possession, and made the original catch. I'm still searching for a legally valid reason why this wasn't a catch.