TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Notwithstanding that college football’s projected game of the century had the distinct look of a Liverpool-Chelsea soccer game, this night belonged to Les Miles.
Miles replaced Nick Saban, who had won a national championship at LSU in 2003. Miles won a BCS title himself four years later. But it seemed he never was fully embrace in Baton Rouge. Then came last November. A Miles-esque fake field goal in the fourth quarter led to a touchdown and a 24-21 comeback win over Alabama at LSU. And he just did it again.
Miles and the Tigers found themselves in the unusual position as the BCS’s No. 1 ranked team but a five-point underdog to No. 2 Saban and Alabama Saturday. Safe to say it will be the last time this season they will be an underdog — and the last time Miles has to hear, “He’s good, but he’s not Nick.”
In a meeting of two 8-0 teams, the Tigers won in overtime 9-6. The last defensive spasm and the game’s fifth field goal won it — a 25-yarder by Drew Alleman.
It’s time for Miles to get his due. He’s not just the Mad Hatter who flips a coin between plays. He wins games — big games. Taking a team into Tuscaloosa and winning is no easy task, especially over the coach he keeps getting compared to.
Miles beat Saban at his own game — with defense, with physical play, with a punch to the mouth.
When asked afterward if he considered faking a field goal attempt earlier in the game, Miles smiled and responded, “There was not a chance we were going to fake anything tonight.”
He fooled us again.
Georgia, which scored 63 points in its walkover of New Mexico State Saturday. The Bulldogs moved into the SEC East lead by virtue of South Carolina’s loss at Arkansas. Suffice to say, if the Dogs hold on and win the division, their offense will have a monumental challenge in the conference championship game.
Nobody expected this game to resemble Sid Gillman nirvana. But to have the two best teams in the nation tied with two field goals and two interceptions after regulation wasn’t quite the blueprint, either. Shouldn’t something labeled the “Game of the Century” require at least one touchdown?
“I don’t know — this as close to a national championship game as I’ve been in,” said LSU defensive end Markevious Mingo. “I guess not.”
Great games don’t require finesse and art. One day, somebody may find a time capsule with a grainy black-and-white 8-millimeter film of this game. But few figured it was the kind of game Miles could win and Saban would lose.
If you looked close, you could see the smoke rising off of Saban’s head. His team drove the ball effectively in their first four possessions and had four scoring chances. The net result: three points. Kicker Cade Foster missed 44- and 50-yard field goal attempts. Saban later changed strategy — but the wrong strategy. Facing a fourth-and-17 from the Tigers’ 31, he opted to send in backup kicker Jeremy Shelley for a 49-yard attempt rather than going for it or even punting to gain field position.
Shelley’s kick would’ve hit a Lilliputian in the head. It was blocked.
Alabama left too many points on the field in a game where points figured to be at a premium.
In the end, LSU made plays and Alabama botched them. Early in the fourth from the LSU 28, Saban — as if channeling Miles — called for a halfback pass by Marquis Maze to Michael Williams. The Tide’s tight end seemed to have the ball as he was going down at the Tigers’ 1-yard line. But Reid took it away for an interception (a play that was upheld on replay).
When the Tigers’ ensuing drive ended quickly, the Tigers’ Brad Wing, standing at his own goal line, boomed a punt to midfield that Maze inexplicably let sail over his head. By the time the ball stopped rolling, it was at the Bama 18 — a 73-yard punt.
In overtime, it was Alabama, not LSU, that melted in the moment. The Tide had a substitution penalty. Quarterback A.J. McCarron was sacked. Foster missed a 52-yard field goal. That made it easy for LSU: Drew Allman made a 25-yarder. Game over.
Some will scream that the BCS rankings shouldn’t change and the teams should play again for the title. But why? Alabama had its chance, even if as Reid said later: “Alabama is definitely worthy of being No. 2. I don’t think they should move from the No. 2 spot. They should stay right where they are. I just thank God we got the victory.”
Miles won a BCS title four years after Saban in Baton Rouge but he never was fully embraced. That should change now. He just beat Saban at his own game.
By Jeff Schultz