LSU stuns Alabama with solid defense, creative play calling

Dave Moormann
Alabama's Trent Richardson loses the ball as LSU's Brandon Taylor and Karnell Hatcher converge.

Two men, who correctly predicted LSU’s 24-21 victory over Alabama, said in order for the Tigers to win they would have to do something out of the ordinary.

One of the men suggested LSU line up quarterback Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee in the backfield along with former quarterback Russell Shepard. Alabama didn’t quite do that, but the Crimson Tide did put quarterback Greg McElroy at wide receiver and hiked the ball to running back Mark Ingram, who gained 5 yards.

What LSU did later in the game Saturday not only put Alabama’s feeble attempt at trickery to shame, it would have made former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden proud.  Bowden built his early reputation on chicanery against highly ranked teams. Coach Les Miles is following suit, and though Miles may sometimes be criticized for his lack of organization and creativity, no active coach can match him for the successful chances he’s taken in his six years at LSU.

A case in point was LSU’s upset of Alabama. The Tigers needed more than a vanilla approach to defeat the defending national champions. As if Miles heard the men’s private conversation, Miles presented the Tigers with a smorgasbord of plays that allowed his multi-talented athletes to showcase their skills.

From tight end Deangelo Peterson’s end-around on fourth-and-1 that set up a go-ahead touchdown run,  to Josh Jasper’s fake punt, the Tigers bombarded Alabama with an assortment of plays that at times even befuddled Alabama coach Nick Saban’s vaunted defense.

Add in the hard-charging runs of Stevan Ridley, and the backup support for injured Tigers, and LSU was not to be denied. Ridley’s repeated first-half runs seemed ineffective, although on hindsight it apparently softened up the Alabama defense, which may have been Miles’ intent all along.

Ridley went without a third-quarter carry, which allowed him to remain fresh for a fourth-quarter onslaught that resulted in 60 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run that put the Tigers in front, 21-14 with 8:13 left.

Ridley operated behind a makeshift line, too, after T-Bob Hebert and Alex Hurts left with injuries. Defensive backs Brandon Taylor and Morris Claiborne were hurt as well. The value of LSU’s depth never was more apparent, as LSU overcame a 7-3 halftime deficit with a 14-point, fourth-quarter explosion.

“My team likes to get in tight quarters, and they play,” Miles said. “They’re competitive and scrapping for the ball. There’s a special piece to this team. They’re committed to one another. It took a team (effort)….

The key is to close it out and to play a physical brand of football that is not just played in the first 50 snaps but played in the first, the 51st and 71st, if needed. And, that’s what they did.”

The Associated Press rewarded LSU with a seven-spot jump in the polls as it supplanted Alabama at No. 5. LSU hiked its records to 8-1 overall, including 5-1 in the Southeastern Conference. Undefeated Auburn is the only SEC team with a better record. Should LSU and Auburn tie for the SEC West title, Auburn’s victory over LSU would send it to the SEC Championship Game.

It’s unlikely LSU has spent much time dwelling on that. The Tigers have a BCS bowl game in their sights, which hardly seemed possible at points earlier in the season given some of the glaring mistakes they made. With its pure athleticism, and the daring of its head coach, LSU has managed to overcome its deficiencies to become one of the country’s best teams.

The University of Louisiana at Monroe, Ole Miss and Arkansas remain on the regular-season schedule, and there’s a good chance LSU may run the table. In any event, 10 wins is almost a certainty.

For now, though, let the Tigers continue “rejoicing and feeling good,” which is how Jefferson described the post-game locker room. As Jefferson said, “This is a win that we deserve.”

Amen to that.