Wednesday, November 2, 2011
we'll beat LSU ... unless we don't
There is, as you may have heard, a rather large football game in Tuscaloosa this Saturday. It's arguably one of the largest home games in the history of Alabama football, and definitely the largest game in Tuscaloosa (if only because big games like this took place in Birmingham until the turn of this century).
Full disclosure: Growing up, I never thought of LSU as a big "rival" of Alabama's. The two biggest games on the schedule have always — and continue to be, for the record — Tennessee and Auburn. LSU was always one of those games that was always tough, but usually an impediment in the way of a championship.
Two things changed my personal view of the game; and, by extension, the general view of the series from a national perspective. Weirdly, both are related to Nick Saban.
First, when Saban went to LSU in 2000, he changed that program from "talented group that plays everybody tough" to "national power." And in doing so, he raised the expectation level for the fan base, as well — suddenly being "respectable" or "tough" just wasn't enough anymore. For the Alabama-LSU series, that meant a shift in the dynamic of the series; for much of the decade, LSU was the superior program, and Alabama was the scrappy underdog looking to foil the Tigers' championship plans.
Of course, by now everyone knows that Saban's return to the SEC — taking the job at Alabama — threw a little extra intensity into the LSU game. It's not fair, of course — Saban is not a native of Louisiana by any means, and he didn't betray the Tiger fan base to go to Alabama (he betrayed Miami). Even so, the mere sight of the guy on Alabama's sideline incites LSU fans — a notoriously rowdy lot anyway — into a frenzy. And I guess I can understand, sort of, but it makes me want to beat them more than ever.
All that to say, I've spent most of the past month thinking about how we're going to beat LSU. In 2009 and 2010, I was pretty confident that ours was the better team; in '09, I spent most of the day telling anyone who would listen that we were going to blow the Tigers out. That was dumb, it turns out, and in no way do I feel that way heading into Saturday. In fact, I don't know how to feel about anything.
Which is the point of this blog. Here are the factors I can come up with for Saturday's game — by all accounts, two evenly matched teams, talent-wise — coupled with the equally valid reasons that say those factors are basically garbage.
• We're playing at home. This has to be at least a slight advantage, right? The night atmosphere in Tuscaloosa — 100,000 people who have been anticipating this night for a month and will have all day to ... um, prepare — has to be worth something, doesn't it?
Unless ... First of all, the home team has rarely owned much of an advantage, historically, when LSU and Alabama match up. Just check out the history of the series and you'll see: the recent trend (two straight won by the home team) is virtually unprecedented here. Hell, for about 30 years, Alabama couldn't lose in Baton Rouge ... ever. And the last time the home team won three straight? The '40s.
Second, LSU has no reason to fear coming to Tuscaloosa. The dramatic win in Tuscaloosa two years ago was fun, but it was also the first time LSU had lost in Bryant-Denny since 1999 (that would be the year before Nick Saban came to Red Stick). In fact, going all the way back to 1990, Alabama has defeated LSU in the state of Alabama a total of four times.
And, of course, there's the tiny little fact that LSU has already whipped two pretty good opponents away from home this year.
So it's nice to have the game at home, but not a huge advantage.
(Note: There's one other nagging concern I have, and it might be baseless, but hear met out: There's at least the possibility that Saturday's crowd will lack in enthusiasm specifically because of the importance of the game. Basically, I'm a tad concerned that so many diehards will sell their tickets — because they can feed their family for a month on the scalper price — that the stadium will be full of people who aren't so much interested in the game as they are in being there. Sort of like a Super Bowl crowd. And maybe it won't happen, but it's worth thinking about.)
• We have Nick Saban on our side. Saban vs. Miles ought to be a strategic mismatch. Les Miles, frankly, is the Forrest Gump of college football coaches: a doofus who somehow keeps stumbling into big situations. In a game where the talent is basically the same, where a few plays and strategic coaching decisions matter, having the better coach — and better coaching staff — should make a huge, huge difference. Plus, given his history with rematches and what happened to us last year, Saban, et al, should be prepared psychologically for this one. Which should mean a victory ... shouldn't it?
Unless ... Look, there's no nice way to say this: Miles outcoached Saban last year in Tiger Stadium. LSU was more prepared, hit harder and made plays in crunch time. Worse, LSU outplayed Alabama in the fourth quarter, the place where Bama prides itself on making its hay.
Further, for all the talk about coordinators, LSU's John Chavous is as good as anybody calling defense for Alabama, and it shows. And, as we've noted already, LSU has already beaten two opponents better than anyone we've faced, and they've beaten them both away from home, by making better plays in the fourth quarter.
• The most explosive player in the game and one true difference maker wears crimson. Maybe LSU has a wide assortment of great talent on its sideline. It does not, however, have Trent Richardson. He's the best individual player on either team, and in a game where the talent on either side is basically equal, the best player should make the difference. Right?
Unless ... Well, unless LSU's Tyrone Mathieu is the best individual player. And since the game may ultimately be decided by a turnover, it's probably nice to have the DB most likely to cause that turnover on your side.
So there you have it. I think we're better. Unless we're not.
(I'm gonna be sick again.)