Tide Take Rematch, And The Title – New York Times
With bland uniforms, a defense loaded with stalwarts and an offense predicated on smash-mouth football, Alabama remains one of the quintessentially old-school programs in college football.
In the Bowl Championship Series title game, the No. 2 Crimson Tide showed in their 21-0 victory over No. 1 Louisiana State on Monday night that there is still a place in the national elite for a throwback program in which ingenuity comes in the form of a play-action pass. In Alabama, which claimed its 14th national title in the first shutout in B.C.S. title-game history, they do not need to be reminded that football wins are not graded with style points and that touchdowns are overrated.
It was not pretty, nor particularly engaging, but Alabama’s suffocating defense, an effective performance by quarterback A J McCarron and five field goals by Jeremy Shelley helped the Crimson Tide (12-1) win their second national championship in the three years. Nick Saban became the first coach in the B.C.S. era to win three national titles; he also won one while coaching L.S.U. in 2003.
The Alabama victory also gave the state its third consecutive national title — Auburn won last year — and the sixth straight national title for a team from the Southeastern Conference.
Alabama held L.S.U. (13-1) to one first down in the first half and 91 total yards. The senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson fumbled two snaps, averaged just 4.8 yards per completion and never got comfortable running the option. He finished 11 of 17 passing, but L.S.U. never found any rhythm, space or momentum.
L.S.U. won the these teams’ first meeting in overtime, 9-6, because stellar secondary play, elite special teams and an offense that did just enough. This time, it was the Alabama special teams that carried the night, with Shelley’s five field goals tying a record for all bowl games.
Trent Richardson added the exclamation point with a 34-yard touchdown run with 4 minutes 36 seconds to play. (Shelley missed the extra point.)
Alabama’s special teams led the way this time. Punter Cody Mandell kept the ball away from the L.S.U. star Tyrann Mathieu, Shelley hit five of seven field-goal attempts, and a 49-yard punt return midway through the first quarter by Marquis Maze allowed Alabama to corral the game’s momentum.
But it was Alabama’s smothering defense that provided the night’s indelible performance. L.S.U. looked as if it were running in quicksand, with Jefferson looking helpless on option plays and lost in the passing game. His offensive ineptitude was best summarized by one play in the third quarter in which, under pressure, he flipped a shovel pass that Alabama’s C. J. Mosley intercepted.
Jefferson tackled Mosley so hard that it resulted in Mosley’s leaving the game with a gruesome left leg injury, which required him to leave the field on a cart. Jefferson was not the only one frustrated. L.S.U. fans booed him and chanted for the backup Jarrett Lee, who began the season as L.S.U.’s starter before being benched the first game against Alabama.
McCarron orchestrated the Alabama game plan brilliantly. He had thrown a critical interception against L.S.U., and his best statistic on Monday night was that he avoided the big mistake. But he was far from a caretaker, finishing 23 of 34 for 233 yards. While he never found the end zone, McCarron threw aggressively downfield and often at Mathieu, whom Alabama clearly picked on at times.
L.S.U. could not find a spark on offense. The Tigers, one of the country’s dominant rushing teams, averaged 1.4 yards a carry. Alabama’s smothering front seven reduced talented tailbacks like Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford and Spencer Ware to 23 yards on 12 carries.
Alabama came up with a pair of surprise stars. Receiver Kevin Norwood, who entered the game with seven catches on the season, caught four passes for 78 yards. Tight end Brad Smelley finished with seven catches for 39 yards, and was clearly a factor in the Alabama game plan to counter L.S.U.’s defensive speed.
Alabama took a 3-0 lead after Maze’s punt return set up Alabama at the L.S.U. 26. Alabama chipped away to set up a 23-yard field goal by Shelley, leading a cathartic roar from the Alabama faithful.
In the teams’ first meeting, on Nov. 5, neither team reached the end zone. Alabama was haunted by four missed field goals, three of them by the Tide’s long kicking specialist, Cade Foster. But his only role Monday came as a decoy on a fake punt.
Alabama came out aggressive early, with McCarron living up to his promise to play with more fire and emotion. His sweetest throw ended sourly for the Crimson Tide, when Smelley dropped a sweet lob pass in the second quarter that almost surely would have resulted in a touchdown. Instead, it slipped between his hands and Alabama settled for a 42-yard field-goal attempt after a deft fake field-goal attempt kept the drive alive.
But with the ball at the L.S.U. 25, Saban elected to go with his short kicking specialist, Shelley, on the cusp of his range, and Michael Brockers blocked the kick.
That gave L.S.U. fans flashbacks of the first meeting. The lack of touchdowns certainly looked familiar. But in Tuscaloosa, seasons are graded by whether the Tide win the national title.
And this Alabama season will be remembered as a work of art.
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