I come in peace. After making enemies of most of you, I circle back around to finish up this series with the greatest game from the greatest year in LSU football history. I find neither of those definitions to be debatable. Yes, what happened in January sucked out loud, but I’m not going to allow it to poison what was the most magical and fun football watching experience in mine and yours lifetimes.
The 2011 LSU Tigers were a hellacious band of ass whippers that took absolute pleasure in pulverizing every opponent on their path. Like true big cats in the wild, they would stalk and attack their prey, then bat it around with their paws before devouring it. Seven points leads turned into 31-point leads before you could hiccup. And they didn’t do it playing a cream puff schedule of directionals. No, they beat the eventual Pac-12 Champions, the eventual Big 12 Champions, Big East Champions and National Champions. Most know this, but what most forget is that nine of their fourteen games from that season were played against ranked opponents. Four of those nine were against teams ranked in the top five. LSU won games by a margin of 24.43 points that season and that includes losing in the title game by 21. In the words of Ice Cube, LSU fucked around and got a triple double. Every. Single. Weekend.
So hell yeah, it’s the greatest season in LSU football history. And you know what? This is not just the greatest game from 2011. It’s the greatest LSU football game in history.
The Greatest Game from 2011: Alabama
Full game cannot be embedded, so link HERE.
The original game of the century really did the term justice. LSU entered no. 1, leaving behind piles of dust in the process. Alabama entered no. 2, looking more or less equally dominant sans an ugly win over Penn State. Both teams dunked on Florida by roughly 30 points. That’s irrelevant, really, much like the McElwain era in Gainesville.
So yeah, this wasn’t just the biggest game in the SEC in 2011. This was the biggest game in the biggest conference in the best sport in the world in 2011. Hell, this might be the greatest sporting event in human history. Prove me wrong. It was a game with so much preceding hype that Verne Lundquist lead the opening kickoff saying, “At. Long. Last.”
Some moments live on best in the imagination. I could recount this game through a meandering play-by-play, but a simple recounting of facts isn’t nearly as enjoyable as reliving the joy of the moment.
One reason I love this game is I’ll forever remember it like one of those classic heavyweight fights. Joe Frazier and Muhammed Ali. You knew damn well neither man was going down early. These were two teams at the peak of their powers trading knockout blows, falling down and getting back up and begging for more. So, you know, that contingent of people who insist this game was boring, they are just flatly wrong. And yes, I’m biased. I’m biased toward excellent football and that’s exactly what this game would be. (okay, okay, I’ll relent on the horrendous FG kicking)
It’s easy to forget that Alabama really controlled the early part of this game. Their opening four drives covered 206 total yards, resulting in four FG tries. They failed to capitalize on any of the first three, even after a clearly rattled Lee tossed a horrendous pick, setting them up on their side of the 50. Bama only managed 22 yards, and this time, LSU blocked it. Finally they found points on their fourth try.
LSU’s offense looked much more disjointed. For the first time all season, the moment simply looked too big for Jarrett Lee. You could visually see him shook from the pressure. He looked anxious and routinely threw off his back foot, as if trying to evade pressure that sometimes didn’t even exist. It became painfully obvious that if LSU were to win, it wouldn’t be on the right arm of Lee. Jefferson, on the other hand, looked calm, collected and focused. He didn’t offer much in the passing game, but the offense finally found a little traction once he took over in the 2nd quarter. Jefferson, to me, will long be a hero of this game. The option left, pitch to Michael Ford was higher art than the Statue of David.
Not THE hero, but a hero, because it features a lengthy list. How about Brad Wing? Wing punted six times and while his 38.2 avg doesn’t look sexy, he planted four of those bad boys inside the 20. And that’s not even the most memorable thing he did during the game. Kicking from his own end zone, facing an all out Alabama block attempt, he unleashed the hounds and uncorked a 73-yarder that may go down as the greatest punt in LSU history.*
*Tune in next year for Greatest Punt From Every Season, brought to you by Poseur and Paul.
Back to JJ. Bama scored with just a shade under 4:00 to go in the half, so naturally, LSU needing quick points, puts in their option quarterback. Another reason this game stands the test of time are the little quirks of strategy. Coaches zigging when they should zag. And so LSU drives down the field, mostly using the option before asking Jefferson to drop back and pass. JJ gets mauled and throws it up for god knows who. Uncle Verne is confused and calls it intercepted. Not entirely unreasonable, because he’d probably never seen Russell Shepard catch a pass before. But Shepard did*. This is also the game I believe made LSU fans loathe Verne.
*One year later, Shepard would be the unspoken subject of a famous Les Miles rant.
LSU ran five plays inside the eight but wound up settling for a FG. And so, after all the action Bama managed to generate, while LSU stumbled around trying to find their offense, the teams entered the half exactly as they started the game: tied. LSU’s final drive showed glimmers of hope. Perhaps they finally found a formula for some modest success. And the defense, though not looking like its normal dominant self, well, we had no reason to believe it would cave at any time.
LSU started the 2nd half with the ball and with Jefferson as QB. They managed to drive only 12 yards on six plays. Most astounding thing about the drive? Somehow it absorbed 4:02 of game clock. Was Les Miles trying to run out the clock already?
After a failed Bama drive, resulting in a punt, Les dug under the hat for another one of those quizzical decisions: he put Lee back in the game. It’s not so much that Lee shouldn’t have seen the field again, as the questionable field position from which Les pulled the trigger on the decision. Starting from their own 17, Les put the QB most likely to throw a horrendous interception back into the game. Fittingly, Lee threw a horrendous interception.
Despite gifting Alabama premium field position, the LSU defense would not wilt, forcing Bama to a FG attempt after three plays. This time, Cade Foster delivered, nudging Bama back up to a three point lead. Lee was now directly responsible for Alabama having two scoring opportunities. He wouldn’t see the field again.
But this is pretty much the story of the 2nd half. LSU played a lean-on them style of offense, almost as if they were sitting on a lead and trying to run out the clock. Except, they were trailing. They put together these meandering, seemingly fruitless drives that ate off chunks of clock. Strategically, it’s a precarious decision, unless you are Les Miles, who bends time and space to his will.
Which brings us to another hero: Morris “Mo” Claiborne. On a play action pass, Claiborne made one of those plays we became so accustomed to Mathieu making throughout the year. He erased gaps and space and time, running the route better than the WR to catch the ball and head the other direction, settling down at the Alabama 15. Mo Claiborne, Patrick Peterson, and Tyrann Mathieu all took the field together at one point. LSU needed the lengthy return, because the offense moved nowhere and Alleman came on to nail another short FG. Two trips inside the RZ and LSU wouldn’t capitalize for six.
The next drive is the only one that ever happened in this game, to hear it be told by an Alabama fan. And you see, no matter how many times you slow down the replay and no matter how many grandkids you tell otherwise, let this sink forever in: Eric. Reid. Intercepted. The. Football. Roll Tide.
This was also “Uncle Verne becomes LSU’s enemy” part two. To listen to the call, I think Lundquist was trying to convey confusion, but his “Oh NO” came out more like “Well how could that have possibly happened to my favorite football team in all of the land, the Alabama Crimson Tide.” Bama fans think Saban got too cute and they are probably right. But thems the breaks, baby.
LSU did nothing with the change of possession, but still it birthed the glorious 73-yard punt from Wing leading to teams swapping drives that were only productive to the extent that they ate up clock. And so, regulation ended just as the second half began and just as the first half ended and just as the first half began: tied.
Fitting for a game this big to need an extra stanza. Bama started with the ball. It felt like points equaled victory. Bama moved only backward on the drive, losing 10 yards, forcing another long FG attempt. The beleaguered Cade Foster took the field, needing a 52-yarder to win. Naturally, he missed.
LSU took over and look, I’ve watched it 100 times and I’ll never not remember this game ending on Michael Ford scampering, untouched, up the left sideline after an option left. That memory is simply etched into my brain as how the game ended, even knowing full well the final score was 9-6. Somehow, Michael Ford scored the first three-point TD in football history.
It’s the best game in LSU history and I’ll never forget it.
What’s the Greatest Game from 2011?
This poll is closed
Beating Bama in their house
Crushing Northwestern St.
Mauling Mississippi State
Obliterating West Virginia
Styling on Florida
Crumbling Western Kentucky
Smashing Ole Miss
40-27 W vs. #3 Oregon
49-3 W vs. Northwestern St.
19-6 W @ #25 Mississippi State
47-21 W @ #16 West Virginia
35-7 W vs. Kentucky
41-11 W vs. #17 Florida
38-7 @ Tennessee
45-10 vs. #19 Auburn
42-9 vs. Western Kentucky
52-3 @ Ole Miss
41-17 vs. #3 Arkansas
42-10 vs. #12 Georgia