/HT: Nick Fairleys Hitlist, EDSBS
This game may very well come down to one play, one drive, hell, maybe even one punt.
Well, as much as I would love to say "told you so," I have to admit, I never considered that a 73-yard punt might wind up being the game-changer. Saturday night wound up being the extreme version of the "irresistible force/immovable object" scenario I envisioned. Beauty is in eye of the beholder, and if offense is your preference in a football game (and it usually is mine, but I can still appreciate defense as well), hey, it takes all kinds. But don't say that game was boring. I enjoyed this one at the Varsity in Baton Rouge with my wife, friends and a packed house (that included the lovely Ms. Isom who follows us on Twitter), and by the end (in addition to a nice buzz), I'd managed to yell so much that not only was my voice gone, but muscles in my neck were sore. This game was intense, and sure, sloppy at times. But it wasn't boring.
Anyways, on to the notes:
Moving further backwards on D, Reid earned his SED Defensive Player of the Week honors with six tackles, a tackle-for-loss, the crucial interception and a nice forced fumble early in the game that happened to bounce out of bounds. Reid, who will have a great shot at the Academic All-American team if nothing else, has gotten better with every game since coming in an injured Brandon Taylor in the 2010 Bama game. Oh yeah, and there was also the play that will probably keep Michael Williams up for a few more nights. It's not easy ripping the ball out of the hands of a 6-6, 260-pound tight end.
Speaking of Jones and Richardson, credit Jim McElwain for coming up with a few quality wrinkles, including moving Jones around and creating some unbalanced looks to help in the run game, as well as using Richardson in the passing game. Ryan Baker may have finished with eight tackles on the night, but he and his mates had two bad coverage busts on a night that big plays were bound to be a premium commodity.
Richardson was every bit the stud back promised, and just as we all thought going in the Tigers never truly stopped him, but found a way to contain him. Sixteen of 23 carries gained three yards or less (HT to SNS for that little nugget).
Overall, the two defenses very much matched their pre-game statistical profiles. Alabama did a better job on a per-play basis, but struggled just enough on the perimeter to give LSU some breathing room on the option plays. LSU meanwhile, gave up a little more in the yardage department, but adjusted as drives went on and created negative plays when they were needed.
Jarrett Lee had his nervous moments and paid for them. The first interception was a pure panic play -- he took the low snap and immediately threw to the first receiver he saw, which just happened to be the one Robert Lester was right over the top of. Had he reset himself, he might have had a shot at finding Rueben Randle or ODB down the sidelines. Plus Chase Clement was wide open on a short out route. On his second, it looked like he failed to recognize the bracket coverage pre-snap, and may have been anticipating a corner blitz.
And while I completely agree with the decision to rely on Jordan Jefferson, especially with him and Michael Ford executing the option to near-perfection, Lee should still keep the starting gig. He's earned that after the season he's had, and I have a feeling he'll rebound from this game much like he did from his poor outing against Oregon.
Kudos to Jefferson as well, who made good on the exact promise we've noted since his return -- to provide a change of pace and another way for the offense to attack a defense. His option mate Michael Ford is in a similar position. Both are crucial role players on this team for different reasons, but on Saturday night when LSU needed those roles to increase, they each stepped up.
Did anybody notice what the playcall was on Ford's final run of the night? The option, to the short side of the field.
Give Alabama's d-line a lot of credit for holding up the LSU offensive line and keeping the linebackers clean when LSU ran between the tackles.
Special teams was the one area LSU could claim an advantage going into Saturday night, and it wound up being a game-changer. Four out of six punts were downed inside the 20, none were returned, and Brad wing managed to completely change the momentum of the game with that 73-yard thunderbolt. Meanwhile, Bama was forced to settle for low-percentage field goals with kickers that they knew coming in were a little shaky.
On the Tyrann Mathieu holding call in the fourth. Stupid play? Absolutely. Flagrant? Certainly. Born out of frustration? Most likely. He and Dre Kirkpatrick had spent most of the game jawing at one another on punt returns, and Kirkpatrick got away with a couple of jams into his facemask. But people do need to calm down on the dramatics just a tad. This wasn't Chaz Ramsey chop-blocking Glenn Dorsey's knee, Warren Sapp head-hunting Chad Clifton on an interception return or even Marquel Wade plowing into a prone punt returner. Mathieu grabbed Kirkpatrick by the jersey, spun him around and he fell awkwardly. It was a foolish, selfish play that was correctly penalized. I doubt Mathieu had any real intent to injure, and I'm quite certain he'll will serve his own penalty amongst his teammates and coaches.
On a final note, the narrative I've seen in some members of the Alabama media and punditry on Sunday and Monday have made me laugh. Yeah, Alabama made mistakes in this game that were costly. So did LSU. There were coverage busts, two potential touchdown passes missed by a late read and a drop and at least two more possible interceptions that were misplayed in the air by Brandon Taylor and Tharold Simon. The bottom line is this: two outstanding football teams played a brutally close defensive game. It came down to a handful of plays, and one team found a way to make them, and make them when it counted. Period.
- Where will we start? Defense of course. Sam Montgomery, Eric Reid and Morris Claiborne each had All-American nights. We'll start with Sonic Sam, who battled Barrett Jones (whom also backed up his accolades on the night) to a near stalemate, but still managed six tackles and two sacks. He also blew up the blocking on a five-yard loss by Trent Richardson on the first drive, setting up the first missed field goal. Both the sacks were pure hustle plays, where he fought through Jones' initial jam before finding A.J. McCarron.
- And it was the fantastic coverage from the Tiger secondary that helped to set up those sacks. Claiborne baited McCarron in to tossing a lazy out-cut to Brad Smelley before jumping the throw. He also broke up a deep pass in the endzone and finished with three tackles.