Forgive me father, for I am about to sin.
When I hatched the idea for this series, back in January, it was really meant for selfish exploratory reasons. I wanted to know more about LSU football history and familiarize myself with players like Billy Ezell and Rydell Melancon. I wanted to learn about Ruffin Rodrigue and Andy Hamilton. I figured some of y’all might be interested in that too. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say a handful of games immediately came to mind. Some seasons are simple. 1997. 2017. 1988. 1995. 2002. And some years are 1992.
2012, for me, is the former, controversial as that choice may be. I recognize totally and completely that some will refuse to accept a loss as the greatest game in any LSU season. The 2012 Bama game is a particular sore spot for most. Hell, I picked a loss from the season after that and it was hardly controversial. Four years ago we voted this the 6th best game of the entire Les Miles era. If we re-voted, I doubt anything would drive it down the list. So I’m sticking to my guns here. This was a helluva football game and the only bad thing about it was the result.
The Greatest Game from 2012: Alabama
It feels like it’s been a decade since LSU played a meaningful, competitive game against Alabama. The competitive games (2016, 2014) haven’t been terribly meaningful. The meaningful games (2015) haven’t been terribly competitive. Some just outright haven’t been either.
In hindsight, we can look back on this game and see the folding of the Miles era. In part due to the result, but more so because of the the events leading to the result. Les betrayed the foundation that made him so distinctly unique as a coach: he quit trusting his players. From that point forward, he cratered into a shell of his former self, coaching a brand of football that could, at best, be described as timid.
If you’ll remember, LSU entered this game ranked 5th nationally. LSU stumbled in Gainesville in October, but turned around to beat undefeated, #3 South Carolina and #20 Texas A&M, on the road, lead by eventual Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. By the end of October LSU were right back in the hunt for an SEC and National Title, assuming they could topple their mighty division rivals.
Alabama was undefeated and, of course, the reigning national champions. This game was was meaningful in all the same ways the showdown from the year before only this time it came with the added edge of LSU’s disappointing title loss. Win the game and LSU became SEC, if not National, Championship favorites.
Much attention turned to Zach Mettenberger. Mettenberger came with lofty expectations of being the QB that would deliver LSU to the promise land after years of failure since 2007. Despite the offensive success of 2011, the poor QB play became the oft-repeated motif for why LSU lost the rematch with Alabama. Mettenberger, most thought, would remedy that. Yet, his play in 2012 hardly garnered much praise. He was a respectable player, but certainly not one you would think could put the team on his shoulders and beat Alabama. Remember, Mett’s true breakout wouldn’t come until the next season. LSU entered the game needing a big day from their QB.
LSU started with the ball and found room early, a welcome relief from the smothered attack of the previous two matchups. Hill found some room on the ground and Mett connected with Kadron Boone on a couple of early connections, breaking LSU into Alabama territory. LSU wouldn’t advance much further, but after failing to cross the 50 in the National Title this felt like a small victory, even if it was only a 34-yard drive.
Alabama took the ball and LSU swarmed, forcing a three and out and change of possession. LSU took the ball again and immediately started to attack, throwing on early downs and spreading the ball around to keep Bama off-balance. Russell Shepard carried for 19. Mett looked for Boone and Landry. LSU crossed the 50 again. Ford, Ware and Hill all traded carries, chipping away at field position working their way down the field. Finally, Bama tightened and forced LSU to settle for a FG, which Drew Alleman nailed from 38 yards out. Three points on two drives totaling 87 total yards may not be an offensive explosion but it gave LSU some early confidence.
Alabama took back the ball and this time turned to Louisiana native Eddie Lacy. Lacy rattled off carries of seven, seven and 28, kicking the Bama offense into gear. Much like Bama, LSU tightened when the opposition crossed the 50. Alabama punted again. LSU continued to spread the ball to multiple targets, even lesser used players like J.C. Copeland and Nic Jacobs. But again, as LSU neared midfield, Bama dialed up their pass rush for a pair of sacks and forced an LSU punt early in the 2nd quarter. Brad Wing beautifully nailed the punt, pinning Bama at their own eight.
McCarron and the Tide took the field and turned back to their running game, this time via TJ Yeldon, who ripped off 15 yards to start the drive. For the first time all evening, the Tide made it look easy, mixing run and pass as they drove down the field without being pushed to even so much as a third down attempt until they reached the LSU 18. McCarron converted it. One play later, the Tide cashed in, on an Eddie Lacy run, with the game’s first touchdown. 7-3 Alabama. The 11-play, 92-yard drive felt like total Tide domination.
LSU took over and were immediately forced to three and out. Could LSU have blown their chance to capitalize before the Tide machine got rolling? LSU punted again, flipping field position from their own 16 to the Bama 36. Cyrus Jones fumbled the punt and, in a piece of good fortune, LSU recovered.
LSU turned to Hill, who picked up 19 yards on first down, which would have put LSU into the red zone, except for a foolish penalty from J.C. Copeland, which drove them back out to the Tide 28. Miles gave Copeland an earful. Copeland stomped on the sideline, clearly hot. It would doom the drive, as LSU would only move backward, before lining up for 40-yard FG attempt. Here, Miles opted to call one of his patented fake FGs. Wing took the snap and tossed a short pass to Drew Alleman who is swarmed by a bevy of Tide defenders. Ill-conceived and poorly timed, the fake did not work against Alabama, who were in a FG safe.
Thankfully, Bama could do nothing to capitalize, but did successfully flip the field with a monstrous 56-yard punt, pinning LSU on their own eight, with 3:38 to go. After Bama stuffed a run play for no gain, Mett found Ware, in stride, running an in route, just beneath a pair of defenders, good for 38 yards. Completions to Landry and Jacobs moved LSU to the Alabama 35, but again the offense would stall out. LSU took the field for a 54-yard field goal and Alleman could not connect.
Bama took over from their own 37 and just 1:08 left on the clock. McCarron captained the two-minute offense like the veteran he was, even after being sacked on the second play on the drive. Bama quickly called a timeout and recovered. McCarron found Lacy and Kevin Norwood. A Ronald Martin pass interference put the Tide on the LSU 17 with :24 to go until the half. LSU desperately needed to limit the Tide to a FG attempt. McCarron found Norwood for another eight yards, moving the Tide to the LSU nine. On 2nd and 2 from the LSU nine, McCarron took the snap and scanned the field looking for an open WR in the end zone. Suddenly, the middle of the line parted and McCarron stepped right up through the hole and into a wide open path to the end zone with :11 to spare. 14-3 Tide. Devastating.
Alabama started the 2nd half with the ball, but LSU’s spirited defense returned, holding Alabama to three and out. Bama returned the favor and LSU quickly punted the ball back. Again, LSU stood up, forcing Bama off the field in short order. Bama’s poor punt put LSU near midfield, at their own 42. LSU turned back to Russell Shepard, via an option play, and nearly fumbled the ball away.
On 3rd and 7 we see the first glimpses of the Mettenberger we would grow to love in 2013. LSU lined up in a one back set with WRs spread wide. Alabama unleashed the hounds on Mett and he stood tall in the pocket and fired an out route to Kadron Boone, taking a nasty hit as he released the ball. Boone plucked the ball from the air and ran into open space for a 19-yard gain. LSU turned to its workhorse, handing to Hill three straight plays, picking up another 1st down. After runs by Hill and Ware, LSU faced another 3rd down, and again needed Mettenberger to make a play. LSU turned again to the one-back offense and this time offered up better protection. Mett lasered the ball on a beautifully thrown out route to Odell Beckham Jr. for the conversion.
LSU turned back to the running game, giving carries to Copeland and Hill. A Jeremy Hill false start turned a makeable 3rd and 2 to a 3rd and 7 that would once again need Mett heroics. Again LSU went one back and again, Mett found his man, this time Landry on a quick route in the middle of the field. Landry plowed ahead to the one. On the next play, Hill crashed it in for LSU’s first touchdown vs. Alabama in 2.5 games. 14-10 Alabama. Tiger Stadium came alive. LSU wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Then, Miles grew bold. Living in the momentum of the moment, he called an onside kick. LSU recovers! Hairston booted it into the ground and quickly scampered after the ball... BUT illegally touched it before it traveled 10 yards. Alabama ball. Alabama went straight to the running game, handing the ball to Yeldon four straight times, driving to the LSU 10. LSU calls a timeout. Out of the timeout, Bama gives to Yeldon again and this time they botch the exchange, leading to a fumble. Sam Montgomery recovers. It wasn’t pretty, but LSU stayed alive. The crowd whipped into a fury.
Starting from their own 10, LSU started with a safe Hill run, picking up four. Quietly, Hill piled up 91 tough yards vs. the talented Bama defense. Then, something miraculous happened. LSU ran a quick play action pass, designed to find fullback J.C. Copeland in the flats for a short gain. But Copeland, the ever massive FB turned up field like a charging rhino, absorbing the blow from a pair of defenders, shucking them both off like a pair of weakened hyenas and continues hard charging down hill for 42 yards. Redemption for Copeland and LSU were in business to start the 4th quarter. The crowd, as the kids say, was LIT.
Again Alabama forced LSU into another 3rd and 7. Again, Mett needed to make a play. Again LSU turned to their one-back shotgun offense. Mett took the snap and Bama came barreling down again with a ruthless pass rush. Mett stood tall and once again found Landry matched up on a safety, picking up 23-yards and another first down, this time inside the red zone. After a Hill run up the middle, LSU lined up in the I-Formation. Mett takes a three-step drop and lofts a pass high and to Landry’s back shoulder, dropping it over the Bama coverage. Landry plucked it from the sky. Touchdown LSU. 17-14.
Still, 13:00 remained on the clock. Bama’s next drive proved short and fruitless as the crowd dialed up the noise level, somehow finding levels of intoxication unseen since that morning’s tailgate. LSU took over from their own 37 after the Bama punt. Suddenly, they had a chance to put the game in serious doubt for Alabama. A false start and a TFL later, and it seemed LSU would give the ball right back, as fruitlessly as Alabama the drive before. On 2nd and 16, Mett dialed it up again. Lining up in one back, but this time under center, Mett play faked to Hill and hit the back step of his drop, zipping the ball to a wide open OBJ, who ran a beautiful route and settled down into the soft spot in the zone. LSU’s line held up and after the catch, Beckham’s athleticism took over. Suddenly, LSU were on the Bama 33. A short Hill carry and a six-yard completion to Landry set up a 3rd and 2 for LSU from the Bama 25. LSU gave to Hill, who picked up a yard, bringing up a 4th and 1. Miles faced a decision. He could try for the FG, which would only extend the lead to six points. Or, he could go for the knockout blow. Miles went for the knockout blow. LSU lined up in Wildcat, ready to take control of the game. But Bama would not yield, standing Ware up right at the line of scrimmage. Bama ball.
It could have been a major momentum shift for the Tide, but the LSU defense wouldn’t have it so. The stellar unit took the field and immediately forced a three and out again. LSU would not die. Taking over from their own 18 with 7:20 to go, LSU had two goals: Kill the clock and score. A touchdown likely puts the game away. Even bleeding enough clock and nailing a FG may be sufficient.
LSU started with a carry for Hill for four yards and then Mett threw incomplete to Shepard. Now 3rd and 6, LSU needed Mett again. Where did LSU turn? One back, shotgun offense? You betcha. Bama blitz again? You betcha. Mett, delivered again? You betcha. He stood tall in the pocket, confidently dealing now, this time lasering the slant to Landry for an easy conversion of 13 yards. After a pair of short carries, LSU needed a conversion on 3rd and 6 again. One back, shotgun offense like Lionel Richie baby, all night long. This time Mett finds Hill matched up on a LB running a short route to the sideline and perfectly throws it ahead of him for the first down.
After a short Hill carry, LSU tried a quick inside handoff to JC Copeland. Copeland picked up a couple and then fumbled the ball away. Thankfully a Michael Ford false start wiped the play off. Now LSU faced a 2nd and 11 with under 3:30 to go. The inconsistent LSU offense were knocking on 400 total yards of offense and burning down the clock.
This next play, well, it stands up to any Shakespearean soliloquy. From the I-Formation, Mett play faked and then threw a seriously deep out to the opposite side of the field, into a double-covered receiver. Normally this a terrible idea, but normally people aren’t throwing to Odell Beckham Jr. Long before OBJ became legend for his circus catches, we see the glimpse here. Beckham leaps up, one defender behind back and one just in front of him, and snags the ball from the air. Credit to Mett for dropping the ball between two defenders and credit to OBJ for being, well, OBJ. First down, LSU.
LSU were now at the Alabama 32 with the clock ticking below 3:00. It felt like now, of all moments, was when LSU should have been most aggressive. Here is Bama, on the ropes, and Mettenberger throwing absolute bullets to his talented WRs. LSU converted 3rd down after 3rd down on the talented arm of their quarterback and now, as they approach the red zone, Miles chose to play the clock game.
LSU handed to Copeland, who picked up three yards. Alabama timeout with 2:34 to go. On 2nd down, LSU handed to Hill, who lost three yards, burning only six seconds when Alabama called another timeout. Now 3rd and 10 from the Alabama 32, Miles played his full hand. LSU again handed off, this time to Hill, who picked up four yards. About a minute ran off the clock, ticking to 1:39 before LSU called a timeout of their own. On 4th and 6, LSU had only one play, even with Alabama having no timeouts remaining. They lined up for the FG attempt. Alleman took the field, kicking from 45 yards out. He missed left. All for naught. Alabama ball on the 28.
I don’t want to relive the final drive in too much painful detail, but McCarron completed three straight passes for double-digit yards to get Bama to the LSU 28 with a full minute remaining on the clock. After throwing incomplete on first down, McCarron found Yeldon on a little screen pass that looked to be a short gain. Suddenly, the seas parted and Yeldon found a near untouched path to the end zone. Touchdown, Alabama. 21-17.
LSU wouldn’t respond. The dream was over. And so too was the Les Miles era. We just didn’t know it yet.
23-21 W vs. #3 South Carolina
24-19 W @ #20 A&M
41-35 W vs. Ole Miss
That South Carolina win looks like a pretty good choice, but they did get absolutely murder balled by a Will Muschamp-lead Florida team. I dunno, knocks the luster off. Beating Johnny Round 1 started at like 6:30 am and the crowd was half asleep in what turned out to be a sloppy game that honestly looks better with hindsight. The Ole Miss game was a doozy, but they stunk.
Come on, the Bama game was the best game of the season and you know it.
What’s the Greatest Game of 2012?
This poll is closed
It’s Bama, Pawllll
Beatin’ the Ole Ball Coach
Odell Beckham Bowler Return beats Ole Miss