LSU vs. Alabama: After Game of the Century, a Rematch of the Century
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — They've done it all before, already faced off in a Game of the Century.
Some remember that first meeting as a defensive slugfest. Others complain it was an offensive snorefest.
Well, put it out of your mind. This is the one that really counts.
Call it the Rematch of the Century.
Top-ranked LSU and No. 2 Alabama will meet for the second time in a little over two months Monday night at the Superdome. Their first encounter, it turns out, was just a warm-up for the BCS championship game.
Alabama coach Nick Saban hopes his team learned from the initial contest, a no-touchdown affair in Tuscaloosa that required extra time and resulted in a 9-6 overtime victory for the Tigers.
"Sometimes when you have a negative experience, you're more willing to maybe learn some of the things that can be valuable to you in the future," Saban said. "I look at the first game as more of an opportunity for us to learn and understand some of the things that we're going to need to do to be able to have a chance to be successful this time."
Everyone expects more scoring in the rematch, but there's no way it's turning into one of those back-and-forth shootouts we've seen so many times this bowl season.
These are two stellar defenses, a pair of teams that buck the trend toward a college game dominated by point-a-minute offenses.
"I'd expect it to be big-boy football," LSU coach Les Miles said.
LSU (13-0) has already put up a body of work that clearly establishes it as the nation's best team. In addition to its Nov. 5 win at Alabama, the Tigers have victories over two other major bowl champions: Rose Bowl winner Oregon and Orange Bowl champ West Virginia. In all, they've knocked off eight teams that were ranked in The Associated Press Top 25, with only three of those games in Baton Rouge.
"The only team I've told them not to schedule is the Green Bay Packers," Miles quipped.
Maybe it's only appropriate for the Tigers to find one more daunting challenge standing in the way of a championship season — a great team they've already beaten.
"When we take the field, we'll be an emotional, fired-up football team," Miles vowed.
Alabama (11-1) didn't even make the championship game of the Southeastern Conference, but the Crimson Tide managed to sneak back into the national title race when Oklahoma State lost late in the season. In the strangest of twists, Saban's team will be the one celebrating its second national title in three years with a mere split of the season series with LSU.
Perhaps sensing just how fortuitous Alabama was to get a do-over, Saban wants his players to seize the moment.
"I would like for them to focus on the opportunity, not the pressure part," he said, "so that they really are zeroed into the mental practice and the things that when they go out there and play, they're going to be confident in doing their job the way they need to do it to have success."
That sort of robotic talk is typical of Saban, who spits out championship teams with assembly line precision, devoid of any flair. While Miles' disjointed grammar and goofy antics make it difficult to take him seriously at times, there are no such issues with Saban. He's all business, mixed in with a healthy dose of fear and autocracy.
"He's not like that all the time. He does have a personality," junior Robert Lester said. "But he's hard on us because he wants us to get the job done. On the field, he demands what he wants. By doing so, the guys go out there and try to do it perfect to please him. It works. You can tell, because we're playing in the national championship game again."
Saban did break character a few times Sunday, as the coaches made their final appearances in front of the media.
When someone's cellphone went off in the back of the room with a loud song, the coach interjected, "Is that a little Al Green? Turn it up, man." He drew laughs when telling how he grilled anyone who wanted to go out on a date with his daughter. "None of them ever really answered me," he said, managing a slight smile. "They were so intimidated so I never got much good information."
Saban even revealed the morning routine he has with his wife.
"We get up at 6:15 every day and watch the Weather Channel for about 30 minutes before we start our day," Saban said. "I get most of my marching orders in that 30-minute segment of what we should do or how I should do it or why it's important to do it that way, what I need to talk to the team about. I get coached up very well in that 30-minute segment of the Weather Channel."
He might want to see if there's a Kicking Channel.
Alabama likely would have won the first meeting with LSU if not for the dismal performance by its two kickers. Cade Foster botched three field-goal attempts, including a 52-yarder after the Tide went the wrong way with its overtime possession. Jeremy Shelley also missed.
Given these are two defenses that take it personally when someone gets close to the goal line, Foster and Shelley are likely to be called on again in the championship game. But the Alabama offense hopes to make it a little easier on them this time. Foster's other misses were from 44 and 50 yards. Shelley failed to convert on a 49-yarder, far beyond his normal range.
"We've got to get them closer. We've got to get them kicking extra points. We can't be going for three points every time," Alabama lineman William Vlachos said. "Obviously, it's not the kickers' fault when we're throwing them out there for 50-yarders every time."
No one doubts the Alabama defense, which wouldn't look that out of place in the NFL with 260-pound linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw. The Crimson Tide led the nation in every major category, allowing a minuscule 8.8 points a game.
LSU, with not one but two All-American cornerbacks in Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu and Morris Claiborne, isn't far behind. The Tigers have allowed the second-fewest points (10.5) and are no lower than sixth in the other three major rankings.
While those who prefer high-scoring games might be flipping around the dial Monday night, these teams aren't apologizing to anyone. In fact, they give rave reviews to LSU-Alabama I.
"I thought it was beautiful," Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. "That was grown men out there battling. It was the most physical game since I've been at Alabama. It was brutal — the pounding, all the big hits."
That game also marked a turning point for LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson. He began the senior year of his checkered college career with a four-game suspension, punished for his involvement in a bar fight, but took over when Jarrett Lee threw a pair of interceptions against the Tide. Jefferson guided the Tigers to their biggest victory and started the final four games.
Another victory over the Tide, he said, and "I think we will go down as the greatest team."
No matter who wins, the SEC is sure to be a winner. The conference is assured of an unprecedented sixth straight national title. No other league has won more than three in a row.
"I'm for the SEC," said Saban, who won a BCS title during a previous tenure at LSU. "I'm not rooting against anybody in our league."
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in New Orleans contributed to this report.
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