|2012 Allstate BCS National Championship
January 9, 2012
#2 Alabama 21 (Final: 12-1, #1)
#1 LSU 0 (Final: 13-1, #2)
Alabama kickers Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster received a lion's share of blame for the regular-season defeat, although it seemed as if the critics weren't paying attention.
The pair missed on four-of-six attempts, but none were anything close to chip-shots. Every time the Crimson Tide made its way anywhere near the LSU red zone, the Tiger defense threw them back. Bama was not only forced to kick field goals, they had to kick LONG field goals. The pair missed from 44, 50, 49 and 52 yards. It was grossly unfair to imply Bama's biggest weakness was not having kickers.
Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron, who had his own difficulties trying to solve the Bayou Bengal defense in November, said confidently, "Well, guess what, not everything's always going to be perfect. I've got the utmost faith in both our kickers. . . . They'll get the job done."
Much like Florida State in 1996 and LSU in 1960, teams that beat opponents (Florida and Ole Miss) in the regular season then were paired against the same foe in the Sugar Bowl, the Tigers came out without an edge they displayed the previous four months.
It may not have made any difference. From the start, the Bama defense was like a boa constrictor wrapped around the LSU offense, struggling to breathe under Jordan Jefferson. Jefferson was the quarterback ever since he replaced Jarrett Lee in the first Alabama game, largely because of his mobility as opposed to Lee, strictly a passer. That thinking played right into Nick Saban's strategy, who "loaded the box" to stop the run - and dare Jefferson to pass.
"We wanted to make (Jefferson) a passer," Tide linebacker Courtney Upshaw said afterward.
The crushing Alabama defense kept LSU bottled up, and McCarron moved the Tide against a Tiger defense that played valiantly but couldn't get off the field. While they did stop the Tide when they threatened the end zone, they couldn't keep Bama out of field goal range.
Shelley kicked one through from 23 yards out on the Tide's second possession, then, shades of Nov. 5, had a 42-yard attempt blocked by tackle Michael Brockers. But in the final 4:18 of the first half, he booted home two more, from 34 and 41 yards.
The second one, coming with two seconds to halftime, was the straw that broke LSU's back. The Tide drove 76 yards with nine plays in 1:55 to get in range to make the score 9-0.
At that juncture, Bama had 225 yards and 13 first downs, and the Tigers just 43 yards and a lone first down. Until those last two seconds, those statistics might have been a reason for concern for any other football team, but not the Bayou Bengals.
In four of LSU's last five games, the Tigers struggled in first halves. In the first game against Alabama, the score was 3-3 at intermission; a week later against Western Kentucky of the Sun Belt Conference, LSU couldn't seem to get untracked offensively, with the Hilltoppers staying with the Tigers for most of the opening 30 minutes; Arkansas took a 14-0 lead against LSU before the Tigers surged to a 21-14 lead at the break; and there was a first-half meltdown in the SEC Championship Game in which the Georgia led 10-7 over the Bengals who couldn't make a first down.
In every instance, in the second 30 minutes LSU became an almost monstrous team and ended up beating them all by an average 33-10 margin.
LSU couldn't have played much worse, and yet they were still in striking distance.
Only after the last play of the first half did a sliver of doubt start seeping in. LSU was now down 9-0 and would have to find a way to score two touchdowns to take a lead against a defense that wasn't yielding first downs. As long as the score was 6-0, all it would take was for one of LSU's arsenal of difference-makers to ignite a single big play to get on the boards. But two? With the third field goal that started to look more than daunting.
Unlike in their recent games, things didn't change for LSU this time. The Tigers managed a paltry 92 yards of total offense, and could only get past midfield once, midway through the fourth quarter. Jefferson was 11-of-17 for 53 yards, and LSU's leading rusher was Kenny Hilliard with 16 yards. When Richardson broke off a 34-yard touchdown run - the only time anyone crossed the goal line in eight quarters between the two teams, the score became 21-0, the same as 52 years ago against Ole Miss, though this represented the only shutout in a title game in the BCS era.
Saban attributed the domination to the Tide's pass rush, saying, with a straight face, his squad dodged potential bullets early. "They had some people open," he said. "In most cases, it was the pass rusher that affected the quarterback. That saved us."
McCarron acquitted himself nicely, going 23-of-34 for 234 yards and being named the game's offensive MVP, while Courtney Upshaw earned defensive MVP honors after tallying seven tackles and a critical sack.
But if anyone wants to talk about a turnaround it would have to be Shelley, who kicked five field goals, best in the history of BCS football. He summed up his two games with LSU with a simple description: "Lowest of lows, highest of highs."
Recap by Sugar Bowl historian Marty Mulé, an award-winning sportswriter who covered college football and the Sugar Bowl for the New Orleans Times-Picayune for 33 years.