published Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

High Tide look ahead to Nov. 3 rematch

  • photo
    Alabama head coach Nick Saban celebrates with AJ McCarron (10) after the BCS National Championship college football game Monday, Jan. 9, 2012, in New Orleans. Alabama won 21-0. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NEW ORLEANS — Maybe Alabama's football players can take the rest of this week to enjoy Monday night's 21-0 suffocating of LSU in the BCS championship game and not have to hear about the next matchup with the Tigers.

Oops. Too late for that.

Members of the Crimson Tide and Tigers already have been asked about their Nov. 3 encounter in Baton Rouge, which will be televised by CBS in prime time. Each team is expected to start next season ranked among the top three nationally, though most Americans would prefer only one matchup next year following Monday's second-half snoozer.

"We're ready for it," Alabama defensive end Jesse Williams said early Tuesday morning in a joyous locker room. "Hopefully we'll get another chance next year to continue to stamp our dominance for the SEC."

Alabama outplayed LSU for most of their Nov. 5 meeting in Tuscaloosa, but the Tide missed four field goals in a 9-6 overtime loss. They left no doubt Monday night, racking up 384 yards to 92 for LSU, and the Tigers did not cross midfield until less than eight minutes remained.

In the biggest game the two SEC West foes ever have played against one another, the Tigers ran four plays in Alabama territory.

"I can tell you that we will look forward to taking the field against that team yet again and that we understand that they won the last round," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We got that one figured out, so we'll respond."

By thrashing the Tigers before a mostly stunned Superdome crowd, Alabama debunked three stout opinions that emerged from their first meeting.

1. Alabama struggles against the option.

The Tigers averaged nearly 8 yards a carry on option plays in Tuscaloosa, but LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson had no room to get things going in the rematch. Alabama didn't allow a run of 8 yards Monday until Jefferson scrambled for 18 midway through the fourth quarter.

"We had a lot of time off and really worked on that a lot," Williams said. "We have a great defense, and we feel like we can stop anything. Towards the end of the third quarter, you could definitely tell that they didn't want to play against us."

2. LSU is superior in special teams.

Alabama's Marquis Maze had a 49-yard punt return in the first quarter that set up the first of Jeremy Shelley's five field goals. LSU had allowed 6 yards on punt returns all season, and the Tigers had averaged 13.8 largely because of Tyrann Mathieu, who had scoring returns against Arkansas and Georgia.

The Tigers had one punt return for 1 yard Monday, and they were contained on kickoff returns as well.

"We heard about that a lot," Tide linebacker Nico Johnson said, "but we wanted to come out and prove we could make a difference in special teams, too."

3. Alabama would build its offense around Trent Richardson.

Nobody could have predicted Tide quarterback AJ McCarron throwing 25 times in the first half and racking up 234 yards through three quarters, when Richardson had a modest 55 on the ground.

Coach Nick Saban said the plan was to open things up with McCarron and they wanted to do that in the first meeting. Factoring into that was the continued growth of McCarron and the trust Saban and offensive coordinator Jim McElwain had in him.

"If you're afraid to do things because you don't trust the players, then you're probably never going to be able to allow them to grow and be all that they can be," Saban said. "It's just like your children. There are just some things you have to let them do."

McCarron's 34 passes were a career high, and he matched his high in completions with 23. He did not throw a pass in the fourth quarter.

"He made plays all across the field and played smart football," said tight end Brad Smelley, who had seven receptions. "These past four or five games, he's just been a completely different quarterback than he was at the start of the season."

Said receiver Kenny Bell: "They stacked the box to stop Trent, thinking that we were a one-dimensional team, but AJ kept putting the ball on the money."

Alabama could take some lumps in the next several days should players such as Richardson, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick make themselves eligible for the NFL draft. Yet the Tide have a talented returning roster and are assembling the nation's No. 1 recruiting class for a fourth time in five years.

Will they win at LSU? They have to beat Michigan first.

"This coming season will be about us all over again," tackle D.J. Fluker said. "When we fix our team, then we can start worrying about other people."

Monday night, there wasn't much Alabama needed to fix.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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