Wednesday, January 11, 2012

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The Tiger Den


January 11, 2012


Bryan Lazare Senior Writer


LSU coach Les Miles always talks about his team winning all three phases - offense, defense and special teams.


Well, Miles' Tigers squad was 0-for-3 in those areas in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Monday night. As a result, LSU is not the 2011 college football national champion.


Alabama, the Southeastern Conference Western Division runner-up to the Tigers, won all three phases en route to its 21-0 victory in the BCS national title game. For such a result, one must give the nod to Nick Saban over Miles in the coaching matchup.


There was no game this season that LSU was beaten as soundly as it was Monday night. The 21-point loss was the worst for the Tigers since they lost to Florida 51-21 three seasons ago.


Without a doubt, LSU took its worst pounding when it had the football. Everyone knows by now that the Tigers didn't run a play in Crimson Tide territory until the fourth quarter. With a first down at Alabama's 32, LSU went backwards.


On first down, Michael Ford took an option pitch and was dropped for a three-yard loss by DeQuan Menzie. The Tigers were pushed back five more yards when Chris Faulk was penalized for a false start. On second down, Spencer Ware failed to haul in a Jordan Jefferson pass.


On third down, Jefferson overthrew an open Jarvis Landry over the middle. On fourth down, Dont'a Hightower sacked Jefferson, who fumbled. Nick Gentry recovered the ball at midfield. Therefore, no LSU possession ended in Alabama territory.


In LSU's 9-6 victory against the Tide back in November, its only offensive call which worked was the option. Now, everyone could be assured that Saban would have his defense ready for the option in the rematch. That scenario definitely played out. The Tigers did nothing with the option.


The most disappointing part of the offensive game plan was the lack of another way to attack the Alabama defense. LSU didn't try to run the ball inside as Kenny Hilliard and Ware had a combined eight attempts. Of course, it didn't seem that the Tigers line could block the Crimson Tide front.


So, that left LSU to build the offense around Jefferson. Now, everyone knows that Jefferson is not a very accurate pocket passer. He needs to throw the ball on the move with rollouts and boots. Everyone saw a quarterback use those types of passes quite successfully Monday.


Unfortunately, it was Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. The Tide had 23 pass completions with 11 going to tight ends and running backs. Brad Smelley had seven catches for 39 yards. Alabama always had a way of gaining yards on early downs.


The LSU offensive staff didn't follow suit. One bootleg pass was called for Jefferson. For the most part, Jefferson sat in the pocket. As the game wore on, the Crimson Tide turned up the pass rush. Jefferson was sacked four times and scrambled four other times. He also threw an interception to avoid a sack.


There were three offensive plays in the first quarter which set a horrible tone. On the first series, the Tigers had a manageable third-and-two from their 36. The play never developed as Jefferson dropped the shotgun snap from center P.J. Lonergan.


LSU started the second series from its 21. That possession never had a chance as tackle Alex Hurst was called for a false start before the first play. That penalty was the first of three false starts against the Tigers.


On its third series with Alabama ahead 3-0, LSU picked up a first down on a Jefferson scramble. Facing a third-and-four from the Tigers' 47, Jefferson threw a pass in the flat to Alfred Blue. It appeared that Blue had room for a first down.


Blue merely had to avoid a Tide linebacker. Blue was very unsuccessful as C.J. Mosley tackled Blue not for a short gain, but for a three-yard loss. The Tigers never got close to midfield again until they trailed 12-0.


Once again, the Crimson Tide secondary made Rueben Randle a non-factor. He gained 13 yards on three receptions. In the first game, Randle snagged only two passes for 19 yards. Russell Shepard wasn't utilized in any manner. Odell Beckham was the one receiver targeted by Jefferson.


For the first time since Miles became coach, LSU failed to score a point. The game plan wasn't the best. Once the offensive line couldn't open any holes or stave off the pass rush, Jefferson had no chance. Miles had no intention of using Jarrett Lee, who lacks mobility, against the Tide defense.


The Tigers defense played well enough to keep the team in the game. Even though the LSU offense was non-existent, Alabama didn't clinch the victory until Trent Richardson's 34-yard touchdown run inside the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter.


The Tigers held the Tide to seven field goal attempts, However, Alabama got about ten yards deeper each time than it did in the first game. None of the five field goals made by Jeremy Shelley were longer than 44 yards. More importantly, the defense caused no turnovers.


Saban put the game on the shoulders of McCarron, who responded with a 234-yard passing night. Richardson was used as a secondary option. He had 22 touches - 20 runs and two catches - for 107 yards. Marquis Maze injured a hamstring in the first quarter and didn't play the rest of the night.


So, it wasn't a game plan dominated by Richardson and Maze. The Tide went to the air with McCarron finding the other receivers - Smelley, Darius Hanks and Kevin Norwood. Hanks and Norwood combined for 136 yards on nine catches.


Tyrann Mathieu was victimized in coverage when he lined up on the outside on patterns similar to the ones used by Tennessee's Da'Rick Rogers. The bootleg action by McCarron negated LSU's pass rush. The Tigers had two sacks and rarely pressured McCarron.


It was expected that LSU would use a different offensive strategy in which it moved Jefferson in the pocket. Instead, Alabama put McCarron on the move with great success.


Finally, the Tigers had to win the special teams matchup in order to come away with a victory. LSU surprisingly had the poorer kicking teams Monday. Maze had a 49-yard punt return to set up the first Alabama field goal. Mathieu had one punt return for one yard.


Christion Jones took James Hairston's lone kickoff about five yards deep in the end zone. Jones brought the ball out to the Tide's 32. Alabama drove for a field goal to put it on top 12-0. LSU had six kickoff returns - five by Morris Claiborne - and never reached its 30.


Then, Jeremy Shelley connected on five of seven field goal attempts. The only key play by the Tigers came on a blocked field goal by Michael Brockers. But, that second-quarter play brought about no change of momentum.


Finally, there is the issue of stadium atmosphere. In LSU's national title game victories against Oklahoma and Ohio State, it definitely had a Superdome homefield advantage. There was no such situation Monday. At best, the crowd was evenly divided. There could have even been a few more Alabama fans.


There was a competition for secondary tickets - those not sold by the schools. Give the Alabama fans credit for doing a good job at not letting LSU fans dominate the Superdome. The fact that the Tigers didn't have a decided edge in crowd noise prior to the game was an indication of what was to come.




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