LSU-Alabama Pregame & Other Thoughts

In College Football, General LSU, History, Rivalry on November 2, 2012 at 2:20 PM

I’ll start off by mentioning a couple other writings of mine that might provide some interesting backstory. I wrote the first last week about Les Miles’ record at LSU, but it also compares his record to that of other coaches, including Saban’s at LSU and Alabama. Then of course there is my blog about the LSU/Alabama rivalry, dominated for decades by Alabama but controlled by LSU for much of the first decade of the 21st century before becoming competitive again of late.

This is unrelated, but I also wanted to share a couple of links about Marcus Lattimore. Spurrier got a bit of criticism for his sort of backhanded acknowledgement of Dabo Swinney’s kind words about Lattimore. Dabo didn’t go quite as far as “Hog Lady” though. The SEC isn’t just great defenses and running backs, you have to love the fans and personalities as well.

Back to the important goings on, we do have two of the most successful active head coaches with their current programs facing one another, and of course LSU was fortunate to have had them both.

If you’ll look at the stats I gave in the Les Miles blog, I think it’s an even bigger coaching match-up with Urban Meyer at a new school and with Pete Carroll in the NFL. It’s harder to argue there are other guys doing as well or better.

There was a time where the Red River Rivalry had two coaches that were at about the same level Miles and Saban are now, but I think both Texas and Oklahoma have gone a little downhill in recent years. And there was never a point where that game featured two programs with a combined 3 national championship and one runner-up in 5 seasons, with of course one runner-up in that time (LSU last year) as well. (It took 10 seasons for Oklahoma and Texas to accumulate two national championships and three runners-up between them; two national championships and one runner-up took place in the six seasons between 2000 and 2005.)

Of course, when Urban Meyer was still at Florida, his game against the Tigers in 2009 represented 4 combined championships since 2003. So that was bigger at the time, especially being that Saban hadn’t won one at Alabama yet.

Saban and Miles followed similar trajectories on their way to LSU. A little bit of NFL experiences, but they were hired from being the head coaches at second-fiddle state universities. I don’t mean to take anything away from them, but the great programs in Michigan and Oklahoma are not the ones that end in “State”, although Sparty has a little more of a substantial history.

I wanted to talk about Miles vs. Saban head-to-head and mention a few notes about the series overall before assessing this season’s game.

Saban vs. Miles

The first match-up between Miles and Saban took place only 5 years ago.

Until the bowl game, I was impressed by LSU’s performances in these games. I’ll mention each one.

The 2007 result in hindsight wasn’t that great, but LSU was traveling to face a team that was at that point 6-2. You come away with a win by a TD, you’re happy with that. Especially given that LSU didn’t have the same luck against similar Arkansas and Kentucky teams that season despite eventually winning the BCS and AP championships.

2008 was easily the worst season that Miles has had at LSU with the Tigers finishing 8-5, and Alabama was undefeated at the time of the game (finishing 12-2). In fact, the Tide wouldn’t lose that season until the SEC Championship game against Florida. This was the year of the Jarrett Lee Pick-6 Pandemic, and that was eventually LSU’s undoing in this game as well but not before taking that Alabama team to overtime.

Alabama also won the next year to bring Saban’s record against Miles to 2-1, but this was the Alabama team that actually finished undefeated and LSU wasn’t given a chance to win by many prognosticators. The game was much closer than the final score of 24-15, and the outcome was in doubt until the final minutes. You also might remember the arguable interception by Patrick Peterson.

This was followed by the 3-point LSU wins in 2010 and 2011. I don’t need to recap last year’s game in Tuscaloosa, but before the 2010 game, a lot of people had written LSU off after they were “exposed” by Auburn in a 7-point game on the Plains. Actually, it was lingering skepticism over LSU’s 7-0 start that included games that went down to the wire against mediocre North Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida teams.

Alabama had lost to South Carolina (more on Spurrier vs. Saban) in a moment but had a chance to win out and win the SEC, potentially returning to the national-championship game. Had Alabama beaten LSU, that 28-27 Auburn game (a major comeback win for the blue Tigers on the way to their national championship) would have been winner-take-all for the SEC West.

Anyway, about Mr. Spurrier, he had been the last coach to beat Saban two years in a row before Miles pulled that off last year. This was in Saban’s first two seasons at LSU (2000 and 2001). Florida dominated both times, even though in that second season LSU would wrangle an SEC title despite three conference losses.

Chris Low pointed that out in this edition of his SEC blog. That’s worth a read. It would indeed be interesting if LSU won this one to give Miles wins over Saban three times in four games.

As it stands, they are knotted at 3-3 overall. Miles has the most wins against Alabama of any head coach in LSU history. Saban is 1-1 with the Tide at Tiger Stadium in two very close games

Game Notes and Preview

LSU is defending a 22-game home winning streak dating back to October 10, 2009, when it lost to Florida. That Florida team went 13-1, losing only to Nick Saban’s Tide.
When Saban began at LSU, the Tigers hadn’t beaten Alabama in Tiger Stadium since 1969. Since then, LSU is 4-2 at home against Alabama (losses in 2002 and 2008; these were LSU’s only seasons with fewer than 9 wins since Saban’s first season in 2000).

The visiting team overall has won 3 out of 5 regular-season games in the series overall, and in the last few decades, the visiting team has a decisive edge in the series. Despite failing to win so many home games against the Tide in a row, the Tigers have been fairly competitive at Alabama since the early 1980s, actually winning four in a row at Alabama on two separate occasions (1982-88 and 2001-07), but I’m sure I’ll have more to say about that next year.

I’m honestly not expecting an LSU win here, but as I’ve mentioned previously, I wasn’t expecting one against South Carolina, and frankly, the Gamecocks’ win over Georgia was more impressive than anything I’ve seen out of Alabama this season. However, no one has given Alabama much of a game so far, and if LSU continues to have a barely-existent passing game, it would be very difficult for the Tigers to win this one.

Based on its play against South Carolina and Texas A&M, I think the LSU defense can have the necessary success though.
On the other side of the ball, they’ll be more tested than usual and I’m concerned about a repeat of Florida as far as running the ball, but I still like what I’ve been seeing from the O-line and the running backs, so I’m cautiously optimistic there.

So basically, Mettenberger has to show something he hasn’t shown yet. It’s not out of the question, but it’s not a given until it actually happens. He is getting better at the quick slants and the important third-down situations, but he needs to hit the open receivers downfield… and by the way, he needs to realize that it’s better if they have to stop or slow down than if the ball is out of reach. Also, he’s been too hesitant to run. I know he’s not Jordan Jefferson, Matt Flynn, or Matt Mauck, but if you need 5 yards and you have 10 in front of you and great blocking, sometimes you need to run. Even an awkward scamper from a pocket passer every now and then gives the defense something else to think about.

Also, I don’t always think the LSU receivers have given him enough room for error. There have been too many drops (I don’t even want to mention the fumbles) and again, they can also realize that it’s more important to catch the ball than it is to make a perfect catch in stride. It’s also important to make a good play on the ball to at least help make sure the defense doesn’t catch it.

LSU should have an emotional edge playing at home and no doubt being frustrated by how the last game against the Tide turned out, but it doesn’t matter if they don’t execute.

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