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Best Games of the Les Miles Era #2: Alabama 2011 - The Game of the Century

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#1 vs #2. Miles vs Saban. LSU vs Alabama.

Kevin C. Cox

A game can never really be a "Game of the Century." A game being coined the "Game of the Century" means it really was the Game of the Century. Thing is.....we coin a lot of games the "Game of the Century." Usually this comes about when we see #1 play #2. 31 times in the 20th Century did #1 play #2. Now considering there were millions of CFB games played in the 20th Century this doesn't seem like a lot. But to have #1 vs #2 you have to have the stars align. Maybe it's an OOC game. Perhaps it's two teams in the same conference meeting at just the right time. So 31 times is quite often.

The other big problem is that we often call games the "Game of the Century".....BEFORE the game takes place. It's often not the best game of the century. In some cases, the game has the pre-game hype, AND it delivers. Texas-USC for the 2006 National Championship. But there's the case of the game being coined that beforehand and having an unsatisfactory ending. Notre Dame-Michigan State 1966 and Ara Parseghian running the clock out to preserve a 10-10 tie instead of going for the win.

Despite all of this, if there's a game that could appropriately be called the Game of the Century for the talent on the field, the story lines, the pre-game rankings, how good the teams were, and what was on the line......it was LSU-Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on the night of November 5, 2011.

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The Build-Up

This game was built up like the Thrilla in Manila. It wasn't talked about for a week. People had it scheduled a MONTH in advance. Everyone knew what could be in store. Once it got to game week though, ESPN hyped it up as much as they could. If I recall correctly, they had reporters stationed in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge. CBS made sure to schedule it for primetime. College GameDay was, of course, going to be on the campus of the University of Alabama.

There were so many talking points. Les Miles vs Nick Saban. The SEC's dominance over College Football. Whose defense was better? Who was better? They were both 8-0. And of course, who would win? I know Kirk Herbstreit picked Alabama on GameDay, and it felt like most were picking the Tide to win. Well, everyone except Lee Corso who trolled the Bama faithful on GameDay by appearing to put on a Elephant head before donning a Tiger one.

After all that, it was game time. Time to roll. For me, I was the only LSU fan in my house. I am the only LSU fan in my house. So this was me watching the game, ready to have multiple heart attacks and trying not to disturb the rest of the people in my house. So...that'd be easy, right? Anyway. Onto the game.

The Game

1st Half

The wait was over. It was time. Alabama, surely looking to capitalize on an electric home crowd, went on offense first. And they did. Two big plays by Trent Richardson and Alabama was into LSU territory and near the red zone. The drive would stall over the next 3 plays, and Cade Foster - the Tide's "long distance" kicker - pushed it well wide from 44. A sign of things to come, perhaps?

LSU took over and managed to move the ball a bit themselves through a few Spencer Ware runs and a completion from Lee to Odell Beckham. The Tigers themselves stalled and were forced to punt. Brad Wing then boomed a punt and downed Alabama inside the five. A sign of things to come, perhaps?

Alabama's next drive looked to be dead in the water at 3rd & long from deep in their own end. McCarron would complete a 19-yard completion however to Marquise Maze. A couple more completions to Maze and a big Eddie Lacy run positioned the Tide well inside the LSU 35. But again, due to penalties and some strong LSU tackles, the drive stalled. Foster was called on for a 50-yard FG and once again missed. The story of the game was starting to take shape.

The 1st Quarter ended scoreless, after Jarrett Lee dropped a snap and then threw a bad pick to Robert Lester. A 19- yard completion from McCarron to Hanks set up Bama well again. Another nice run by Richardson and Alabama was in their best position of the night. As had been the script so far, the LSU defense buckled down and pushed the Tide back, potentially out of FG range. We wouldn't need to find out, as Bennie Logan blocked Jeremy Shelley's kick. The Tide were now 0/3 on FG's. Special teams, special teams as Uncle Verne said.

Jordan Jefferson came in for the next series. LSU worked their way inside Alabama territory a bit, but once they got there the Tide stepped up and forced Wing to punt once again. And once again, he pinned them inside the five. The script was further showing itself to us.

Despite Alabama working themselves near midfield, that was aided mostly by a facemask call. After two good stops on Trent Richardson, a busted coverage saw Trent race clear down the sideline into the LSU 20. This was it, right? The moment Alabama punched it in and sent BDS into a frenzy? Um, nope. Two yards on three plays. But Shelley would knock it through, and the Crimson Tide had struck first. 3-0, Alabama.

But as LSU had done up to that point, and would do the rest of the night, they responded. Every time Alabama made a big play or had a good drive, LSU answered. And they did here. After a solid ground attack to start the drive, Jefferson found Russell Shepard for a 34-yard completion. The Tigers looked in business, but settled for three. At halftime, LSU 3, Alabama 3. My emotions were mixed. 3-3 was a perfectly fair score, and our defense was giving them nothing once they got in our half of the field. But our offense wasn't clicking, and they had the better of it. A bit worried.

2nd Half

Jordan Jefferson continued to man the offense, but LSU was only able to muster one first down. Brad Wing made his only mistake of the game, and perhaps the season, that I can remember off the top of my head. He shanked a punt that set up the Tide at their own 48. After a Bama punt, LSU decided to go back to Jarrett Lee for the next drive.

Bad idea. Mark Barron picked off Lee's pass, and they set up at the 35. Jarrett Lee just never quite solved Alabama and could never quite get it going vs. them. If we thought it was Jordan Jefferson's game at HT, it certainly was now. And at the time, you felt that was the right idea. JJ was the best option.

Yet again though, Alabama got nowhere. The script kept repeating itself all night. Alabama big play, LSU response. And you started to feel just a bit better about things. The first half was worrying at some stages, but you got more and more confident Alabama wasn't putting the ball in the end zone on us. And they couldn't get those long FG's either. Foster did knock through this FG though, from 46. 6-3, Alabama.

On LSU's next drive, the roles were reversed. This time LSU put together a drive and got deep, before the Tide D snuffed out the option, pinned their ears back, and forced a punt. You could feel a pivotal moment on the next Alabama possession. Points from the Crimson Tide, especially a TD....and the game might have been out of reach.

It started to feel that way too. McCarron completed some key passes, and Alabama pushed it out to their 40. Then he made a mistake. And Mo Claiborne took advantage. An INT and return inside the 20 suddenly put LSU in business to tie it up. As usual, the defense stepped up. LSU got nothing going and had to settle for three. Drew Alleman booted it through. LSU 6, Alabama 6.

Then Bama delivered a punch of their own. A long drive, punctuated by a huge run by Trent Richardson - the only big play he made in the 2nd Half - put them in business. Then....they went Wildcat. Huh? What? Nick Saban is going wildcat? In this game? It's 6-6 in the 4Q! That's dangerous! And then the play unraveled. Hold up....oh no....Maze has a man open...he's inside the five f***...HOLY MOTHER OF GOD ERIC REID HAS THE FOOTBALL!!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME???

That was how I felt in that moment. That's probably how all of us felt. Believe it or not, that might not have even been the most important play of the 4th Quarter. That was coming.

LSU managed to get Brad Wing a bit of breathing room, gaining 8 yards. Still, he was in his end zone. Brad Wing had hit some booming punts that night. He had a 60-yard one. If he hit his average, 42.8, still great, it'd put Alabama at midfield. He was amazing but to turn this into a true positive it'd take something incredible.

We got something incredible. Wing hit it far. He hit REALLY far. Pushed Maze back to the 40. And then Maze, on a bum ankle, let it drop. It rolled, and rolled, and rolled some more. It went 72 yards. Back to the 20. The life was sucked out of Bryant-Denny. The momentum, already on LSU's side, kept on pushing itself to the Tiger sideline. Incredible.

The rest of the way would be the same it had been all night. Some good plays, a bit of movement of the ball, but a defensive struggle. Defensive dominance. This game was defense personified.

Overtime

Alabama got it first. And their possession was exactly how so many had gone all night. LSU pinning their ears back on D, getting the penetration, and pushing them back. And never really letting them get close. Alabama missed those FG's because LSU put them in a position where Cade Foster wasn't making them. McCarron took a 3rd Down sack to further punctuate LSU's defensive performance.

Once LSU got it, it was protect the football. They did. And then Michael Ford nearly broke one all the way for a 20-yard scamper TD. I still wish he had put that in. But alas. It came down to Drew Alleman. Ice-cold nerves. Kicks right down the middle. Perfect.

LSU was still perfect. LSU was #1. LSU walked in the underdog, walked out the top dog. The Best Team in the Country.

Aftermath

The narrative always seemed to be Alabama got tons of yards but missed FG's and that was why they lost. Alabama got yards. They got more big plays on offense. But they never put themselves in a position where they were bearing down on the end zone. They got close, but when LSU needed to step up, they damn sure did. Both teams got stops. Both teams made big plays at different moments. But in the big moments, the clutch moments, incorporating every facet of the game.....LSU made more. Alabama got those 2 INT's. Richardson had some runs. But LSU always had an answer to that big Crimson Tide haymaker. And when LSU made their final one with that sack on McCarron on 3rd Down in OT....and delivered their own big Tiger haymaker, Alabama didn't have one more counterpunch. That was why LSU won.

But the most memorable part of this game, the defining scene so to speak, may not have occurred on the field. It may have been over the course of three NFL Drafts. When 42 players from Alabama and LSU were drafted. 23 from the Tide, 19 from the Tigers. 13 1st Round draft picks, eight from Alabama and five from LSU. That's what defines this game. That's this game's tale. The talent on that field. Just how much we saw. It was almost unprecedented. We saw two all-time teams take the field. In the regular season. Two absolute heavyweights. With talent levels so rich it was darn near illegal. And it was a joy to watch.

But the story in the immediate aftermath was LSU. They showed how well-rounded and just how good they were. No matter the ridiculousness that ensued afterwards that put LSU in an unfair position to win a National Title, the fact that they had a tougher road after coming in an underdog and remaining #1, LSU won.

The Game of the Century was a game won by the Tigers. Forever the greatest LSU team, and the greatest team to play College Football that year.