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2012 BCS National Championship Game Preview: Alabama vs. LSU

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The rematch the college football world has been waiting for is finally here… After that 9-6 OT barnburner in November, Alabama will have a chance to exact revenge as they take on #1 LSU with the winner moving on to the National Title game against (12-1) Oklahoma State who narrowly escaped defeat at the hands of Andrew Luck and (11-2) Stanford… wait, what? Voters arbitrarily decided which 11-1 team was best and who deserves to play for the National Title game… there’s still no playoff or at the very least a plus-one format… the NCAA is still in the stone age with regards to Division-I errrrr, I mean FBS football? A team that didn’t even play for their conference championship, let alone win it is in the National Title game??? That makes total sense. It will also make sense in 40 years when my grandkids look at NCAA football “National Titles” much in the way the youth of today look at “NFL Championships.” You see, unfortunately here in Cleveland“NFL Championships” are all Browns fans have to hang their hats on. Well, that’s not true; the Browns also have 4 AAFC Championships to go along with the 4 NFL Championships, but you get the point. While, I am a sports historian and absolutely respect and consider those titles valid, the vast majority of people under the age of 40 only count championships in Super Bowls. Sadly, that’s how the generation twenty years from now will think of college football national titles. Our entire childhood and upbringing will be viewed in the same light as many people our age look at our elders who talk about the good-ol days. We will be the grandparents being patronized by future generations of eye-rolling pipsqueaks as we decree: “No, really, national championships are the same thing as the (insert corporate name here) Bowl that decides the true National Champion in a playoff!” I digress, unfortunately, despite any and all logic, we are stuck with the ancient school presidents and their archaic, nonsensical system.

Getting back to the game at hand, LSU-Alabama V2.0 has the makings of a classic, but then again so did the original version and we saw how that turned out. Before getting on my case and calling me I’m an idiot for saying that two terrific defenses played a game for the ages and that I just don’t understand good football (you can call me an idiot, just not for that)… the first matchup was more about awful offensive play than great defense. Both coaches seemed to understand the reality that this rematch was going to happen and left everything in the bag. That’s not to say that the defenses aren’t very good for both LSU & Alabama (they are #1 and #2 in scoring defense in the country), but it is to say that they aren’t as good as the 9-6 score would make them out to be. Without further diatribes, allow me to lay out how I think this one will go.

When LSU has the ball, it would be a good idea to try and establish the option early on. It’s fairly tough to find a hole on the Alabamadefense, but they have been exposed by fundamentally sound option quarterbacks. That said, LSU QB Jordan Jefferson will have to make the right reads or he will get eaten up by Crimson Tide defenders like Courtney Upshaw. However, if he makes the right reads, the Tigers should be able to at least move the ball because the Alabama linebackers have a tendency to get caught up in traffic and aren’t quick enough laterally to get to the corner in time. I don’t see Les Miles and OC Greg Studrawa getting crazy and opening up the gameplan, however if I were them I would try to create chaos by letting it fly in run situations. Alabamais comfortable filling up the box and forcing you into 2nd & 3rd and long situations where they can get off the field. Taking some shots early might plant a seed of doubt into Nick Saban’s head and open up some running lanes; but if Miles is going to do it, he has to stick with the plan. Taking some deep shots would also help to mitigate do-it-all safety in Mark Barron who possesses a very versatile skill set and has the ability to single-handedly turn a game all by himself. While he is adept at just about everything his weakness, he struggles at times if you can isolate him on a wide receiver. LSU, unlikeAlabama does have a consistent playmaker on the outside in receiver Rueben Randle. The Tide did a nice job on Randle in the first matchup, but they were very physical with him. If the refs decide to call a tighter game, he may find himself with a step or two on theAlabama secondary and rack up some big numbers. Another key for the Tide is making sure that they wrap up and don’t letJefferson improvise. He is excellent at keeping plays alive and his accuracy has improved as the year has gone on. IfAlabama can limit the plays of 20+ yards they will have a very good shot at bringing another national title home toTuscaloosa. If they can’t, they will find themselves in a hole that they don’t have the speedy playmakers to get out of.

When Alabamahas the ball they must establish the run. It shouldn’t be too difficult considering they have Trent Richardson, who is clearly the best offensively player on the field for either team. Richardsonhas to keep Alabamaout of definite passing situations as they are short on playmaking receivers. This isn’t to say that they can’t move the ball through the air, but it would definitely be much more difficult without a run. Compounding things is the fact that LSU likes to pin their ears back and attack on passing situations and they have two outstanding players in the secondary in Morris Claiborne and the Honey Badger Tyrann Mathieu. It will be interesting to see what kind of blocking scheme the Alabamaoffensive line employs in this game. They are at a disadvantage when it comes to strength against the LSU d-line, but they may be able to use a zone-blocking technique to give Richardsonsome daylight. Even without it, he has the ability to break tackles and find daylight, but if he’s given some holes he will have no problem getting to the 3rd level of the Bayou Bengal D. Alabama needs to get the ball in his hands as much as possible. LSU can get blitz-happy and is susceptible to the screen game, so look out for that as well. Saban may also use some misdirection to try and keep the Honey Badger caught out of position. The fakes had better be sold well otherwise it’s an effort in futility given Mathieu’s athletic ability and instincts. If they can do it though, they will be able to attack through the air much likeWest Virginia did in putting up 500 yards against them. Marquise Maze is the Tide’s best receiver, but he is nothing more than a possession guy. He doesn’t have much speed and I don’t see him having many opportunities if they lineup Claiborne on him. That being said,Alabama needs WR Kenny Bell, their only real deep threat, to step up and force a zone or safety help over-the-top. Unfortunately he’s a sophomore, struggles against press coverage, and can disappear from games. The lack of deep threats means that if Richardson doesn’t get untracked LSU could very well stack the box and shut down the Alabama offense.Unfortunately I don’t see Richardson being shut down and that will open up the field for players like Maze and TE Brad Smelley to pick up 10-15 yard chunks. While it won’t be pretty, I think it will be effective enough.

When it comes to the coaching matchup: Nick Saban may have the likeability of a bruised toenail, but given 6 weeks to prepare for a team he has already faced and I like his chances of success. That’s not to say that Les Miles is a slouch, but one of these games he’s going to find himself on the other side of the line that he walks so delicately. When it does happen it will be a magical moment of madness where he puts a Gatorade bucket on his own head and starts punting footballs onto the field. While I don’t expect that tonight is the night, you just never know with The Mad Hatter. All in all, I do expect a fairly close game, but one I thinkAlabamapulls out.

Alabama Crimson Tide 20 – LSU Tigers 13


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