Before I begin, I wanted to refer people to my previous Alabama blogs. Most of my hits this week have already been the main rivalry blog first written in 2010 but updated annually.
Last Friday, I wrote specifically about LSU’s meetings with Alabama while undefeated.
So in my SEC Wednesday blog/column, I said I would be taking LSU and the points. I’m going to talk about picking the winner now.
With my luck in recent weeks, I should probably hedge my bets and pick Alabama to win, but I have to call it how I see it. Alabama has won four in a row in the series, but I’ll tell you why that doesn’t matter.
The first thing I would note is Alabama has been favored against LSU every year since 2008, and LSU has won twice since then. Also in that time, Alabama has only won by more than they were supposed to twice.
This is not a rematch. Nick Saban and his defensive coaches haven’t had over a month to prepare for a quarterback that they’d seen two months ago like the 2011 BCS championship. I think LSU’s quarterback now is better anyway. Harris didn’t throw a single pass against the Tide last year, so they not only have nothing from this year to look at, they have nothing against them at all. So I think these factors were essentially what made the difference between the game on 11/2011 and the one on 1/2012 and obviously are not at play tomorrow.
In 2012 and 2014, LSU had the lead until the final minute. If they were equal teams every year, this would be troubling; but they haven’t been. Alabama won the national championship in 2012 and the SEC in 2014. LSU finished with three losses in 2012 and five losses in 2014. So it would have been rightly considered an upset had LSU won either.
If you just look at the score, you might think Alabama blew LSU away in 2013, but that really isn’t the case. The game was tied with less than five minutes left in the third quarter. LSU entered the game with two losses, while Alabama entered the game undefeated. Alabama did pull away late; but again, you would not have expected them to have to do that based on other wins and losses that year. Alabama being able to go back and forth from McCarron throwing to Yeldon running was a big problem for the LSU defense in that game, and I don’t think the current Alabama team will replicate that. Of course, I loved the way that season ended for the Tide; but if they make that long field goal or win in overtime, they likely would have won a third straight national title.
Apart from 2007, when LSU played many more players Saban recruited than Alabama did, LSU did better than they should have based on the respective overall seasons every year of Miles vs. Saban previous to 2012.
In 2010 and 2011, LSU and Alabama were pretty even. LSU played a better schedule in 2011, but it’s not surprising based on other results that they played each other twiee and each time got a win. Alabama was still playing for a national championship when they went to Baton Rouge in 2010. They would have had to upset Cam Newton and Auburn, but Alabama was expected to win the LSU game.
Bama also had better teams in 2008 (when they lost the SEC Championship to Florida) and 2009. LSU went to overtime in 2008 and should have had a chance to win but for a botched call in 2009. That was the Alabama team that went undefeated. So that’s six times LSU has done better on the scoreboard than should have been on paper, and only twice that Alabama has.
Just to be clear, give credit to Alabama for being the better team of late; but that accounts for the success much more than some unique approach to playing LSU.
Of course Alabama has a good chance to win—there is a small percentage chance they could even win easily—but I think LSU has a better chance this year.
Apart from a picture which I will post again, I haven’t made reference to the long-term dominance of the road team in this game. Since and including 1970, LSU has beaten Alabama 15 times. Guess how many were in Baton Rouge…
Obviously since they alternate yearly, Alabama has also done much better on the road in this series than at home. LSU did tie Alabama a couple of times at home that I didn’t mention, so the recent series has actually been pretty even. It’s even closer if you start after Alabama’s 11-year winning streak in the series from 1971 to 1981 (inclusive).
I was going to go into detail about some of the more interesting plays in the recent series, but the videos tell the story better than I can. LSU’s reverse on fourth down is pretty easy to find. I mentioned a botched call in 2009. You may have heard of a guy named Patrick Peterson. He intercepted an Alabama pass and I guess they didn’t think he had complete control, but it looked pretty obvious to me. LSU could have been a much better team in 2008, but I think they had a record number of pick-sixes that year. Some of the losses had two or three of them. I’d rather not relive that.
Touchy feely stuff
Instead, I’m going to conclude by mentioning a couple of extra motivators for LSU. If you just want serious sports coverage and not emotional stuff, you might want to stop reading now. ESPN may be covering one or both of these tomorrow on GameDay, SportsCenter, etc.
I don’t usually write about things like this; but I’ve had a couple of personal relationships end in death lately (people that I know would want to be watching the game), so I guess I’m in a place where it seems appropriate. I usually make fun of those people who get emotional after games, but I think this might be one where that happens to me, possibly regardless of the winner. I think sports can be very therapeutic in these situations, but in some cases they also remind us of people that we miss and so forth. I usually use the journalistic style of referring to people by their last name, but I won’t do that for this section.
The first story is about a young man named Sid Ortis, who passed away from cancer this week. There are pictures of him with Miles and some members of the team. He lived in Alabama, but he was a big Tiger fan. Apparently a local minister put Sid in touch with Les. I’m sure this game had extra meaning for Sid even though he didn’t quite make it.
Les talked about him during his Monday press conference (about 8:35): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuBsCS2TplE
Les said, “We all will have our day, and he was with his mother and father and is in a better place… I think about how fortunate that we are—that I am… my family being healthy and being in position to continue.”
If you didn’t know this about Miles, something about sick kids really tugs at his heartstrings. On Wednesday, he talked some more about Sid (nothing really new or different) and mentioned helping a little girl get her medical expenses paid in the first couple of minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56WfKS7zPAM
I don’t expect most people who aren’t Tiger fans to know who Jim Hawthorne is, but Jim has been the voice of the Tigers and called every LSU game since 1984. I barely knew what a football was in 1984, so obviously I don’t remember anyone else doing it. Growing up in the 1990s when we had some really sorry teams, often you heard the Tigers on the radio or you didn’t find out much about them.
I’ll give an example. In 1994, LSU appeared on Jefferson Pilot (the syndicate that preceded the SEC Network) twice and on ESPN once. For most games, if you didn’t listen on the radio, you only saw them in local news coverage or in the newspaper.
In February, Jim announced that last spring would be his last baseball season but that he would remain the voice of the Tigers until the conclusion of the 2015-16 basketball season.
His streak of 387 or 388 games called will end prematurely with this game after what is reported to be quadruple bypass surgery. He said 388, other sources said 387, maybe McNeese St. is the sticking point.
During the Wednesday press conference linked above, Les said, “what’s a couple bypasses? …Put a Band-Aid on it, let’s go.”
It is unclear whether Jim will call another football game. Not that the Tigers needed more motivation, but I’m sure as Les would say there is a want to do well for these people who have meant so much for the LSU football community.
You may remember that the highlight of last season was the win over then-#3 Ole Miss, which came the day after Les’s mother passed. So maybe things like this can influence outcomes.