(UPDATED: 1 a.m.)
NEW ORLEANS – Far removed from probation, far removed from the cartoon that Alabama football had mutated into during the Mike DuBose-Dennis Franchione-Mike Price (“Roll Tide!” quoth he to the stripper)-Mike Shula eras, far removed from the humbling of Nick Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide rule college football once again.
It was painful for LSU Monday night. For the rest of us, it was just convincing.
Alabama smacked LSU 21-0 in the BCS championship game at the Superdome, the first shutout in 14 BCS title matches. This makes two national titles in three seasons for the Tide. It’s three BCS titles for Saban (the first coming at LSU in 2003).
That puts him halfway to Bear Bryant. If he doesn’t retire or decide to give the NFL another try, he may get there.
When somebody suggested to Saban the other day that this was a particularly emotional game for him, given that he was going against his former team, he quickly slapped that storyline away.
“This is not about me, OK?” he said. “It’s not about me.”
But it kind of is. College football powers tend to be identified by their coach — and not even the most deluded of cardinal-clad Alabama fans could have envisioned this kind of success so quickly.
Since going only 7-6 in his first season in Tuscaloosa – including a season-ending four-game losing streak and a demoralizing defeat to Louisiana-Monroe — Saban’s teams have posted records of 12-2, 14-0, 10-3 and 12-1. That’s a bottom line of 48-6, with two national championships.
Nobody can touch that.
“It’s certainly been a privilege to have the opportunity to coach this group of young men,” Saban said. “It’s sometimes easy to do the right thing some of the time. But these guys, over the last year, have done things right almost all the time. The goal [Monday] was: Control your destiny, control what you do. The outcome of the game, as good as LSU was, will be determined by how we play and what we do. And I think the players really responded well to that.”
Saban showed the movie, “Red Tails,” about the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American pilots during World War II.
“Those guys’ motto was the last plane, the last bullet, the last man, the last minute, we fight,” Saban said. “And we always stay with the mission. And I think that kind of described the spirit of that group extremely well. But it also describes the spirit of the group of players that we have on our team this year. It takes a tremendous amount of resiliency to come back.”
LSU coach Les Miles had a different perspective: “I never saw that coming.”
It had been 44 days since Alabama played a game (a win over Auburn). It had been two months since the Tide had lost at home to LSU 9-6 in overtime.
Following that loss to the Tigers, Saban didn’t slam his players. To the contrary, he praised them for their effort and focus. He convinced them that if they keep winning, they might still have a chance to play for the BCS title. He was right. The narrow defeat combined with an unexpected series of losses around the nation left Alabama as the BCS’s No. 2 ranked team at season’s end, behind only the 13-0 Tigers.
Some folks didn’t want to see this rematch. They believed it devalued the regular season meeting. They thought two teams from the same conference shouldn’t be allowed in the final. But no rules prohibit that. More importantly, these clearly were the two best teams, and Alabama proved Monday it clearly was No. 1.
The Kirby Smart-led defense shut out a team that was averaging over 38 points per game. The Tigers were held to 92 yards in offense. The running game that had worn down every other opponent was limited to an anemic 39 yards on 27 attempts.
It was total domination of a team that had won 13 straight games, including eight wins over ranked teams, the last two by scores of 42-10 (over Georgia in the SEC championship) and 41-17 (over then-No. 3 Arkansas). Credit to Saban, and credit to Smart, the former Georgia safety, who has evolved into one of the college game’s top coordinators and figures to land a head coaching job before long. The score was only as close as it was because the Tide had to settle for five field goals.
When the teams met in November, the Tigers won a battle of field goals in overtime 9-6 (Alabama converting only two of its six attempts.) And there we were again Monday night, with a game only Lou Groza and lovers of 8-millimeter game film could love. While Alabama’s defense was dominating, the Tide was bucking for the Golden Toe Award again. This time, they had more success. Saban’s slight consolation prize for four productive but fizzled drives: field goals of 23, 34 and 41 yards by kicker Jeremy Shelley – compensating for a blocked 42-yard attempt – to take a 9-0 lead in the first half.
LSU would’ve been thrilled with even a field goal attempt. Its first eight possessions netted seven punts, an interception and net yardage of 6, 0, 17, 3, 7, 23, minus-1 and minus-6 yards. It had to be pretty humbling for Miles, whose team entered the game ranked 12th in the nation in scoring at 38.5 points per game.
Even Smart didn’t seem to expect this. He said, the other day, “I certainly don’t expect the same kind of game [as the last meeting]. I don’t think [LSU] will be as conservative this time.”
Conservative or wide open, LSU just couldn’t do anything.
Saban has taken Alabama to a level it hasn’t been to since the 1960s and ’70s. Both are on top again.
By Jeff Schultz