NEW ORLEANS – By all accounts, the first LSU-Alabama game was as physical as it gets in college football.
“And it’s still going to be the same this Monday.” Alabama running back Trent Richardson said. “I don’t expect anything less than that and I know they don’t expect anything less than that. When you’ve got two teams that have been battling like that the whole year and playing in this league the whole year, that’s what you’re gonna get when you have teams like us and LSU.”
If it is the same when the Southeastern Conference rivals square off for the BCS national championship in the Superdome, the players know it won’t be easy to get out of bed the next morning. Not that Richardson considers such things.
“Most of the time I’m the one trying to deliver the blow anyway,” he said. “Hopefully they know I’m here and they’re the ones saying ‘Whoa,’ when I run the ball.”
He won’t get an argument from LSU safety Eric Reid.
“He’s powerful and he has a low center of gravity, so you can’t go in there only on your toes. You have to be ready to come through your hips,” Reid said, who forced a Richardson fumble after one of his receptions and had a game-saving interception in the first meeting. “You have to be ready and hope you have some buddies around you to help bring him down.”
Nonetheless, Richardson claimed he wasn’t extra sore after the last time they played, when LSU won 9-6 in overtime in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5, 2011.
“I felt like we left a lot of stuff on the field,” Richardson said. “When we went into the locker room, we felt like we’d let ourselves down. But at the same time, they were the No. 1 team in the nation. So you couldn’t say we didn’t put up a fight that we could live with. There were things we didn’t finish, but we’ll finish them this game.”
He said he never thought during the game that the Crimson Tide were going to lose, “even in overtime when they kicked the field goal,” the focal point of the Alabama offense said, who carried the ball 263 times this season for 1,583 yards and 20 touchdowns, and caught 27 passes for 327 yards and three TDs.
But against LSU, he was held far below his rushing average. For that matter, Richardson’s 89 net yards in that game included just eight in the third quarter.
“We got all 11 hats to the ball,” LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. “We concentrated on him getting the ball a lot, which he did, and we concentrated on bringing him to the ground, which I feel we did. That was the biggest part of the game, keeping him going East and West and not letting him get up the field and make big plays on us.”
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis agreed that the Tigers did a good job on Richardson, who gained 18 yards the first time he ran in Alabama’s first series, and then had a 24-yard gain early in the fourth quarter. It was that second run that set up what Alabama thought was going to be the game-winning touchdown, one that was taken away by Reid’s remarkable interception at the goal line. All that being said, take away those two runs and Richardson ran for 55 yards on his other 21 carries.
“The one thing we did was keep him out of the end zone. We allowed him to make a lot of big plays. And you use that word allow, but he’s a very talented guy who makes those plays on everybody. The job that we did, you look at that kind of yardage and you’re not pleased with it at all, but we did some good things. We tackled him well but he made plays.”
Richardson, a product of Escambia High School in Pensacola, Fla., the same school that boasts former Florida and Dallas Cowboys star running back Emmitt Smith, also caught five passes for 80 yards against LSU. Of course, neither he nor anyone else scored a TD in that game.
“I played my heart out,” he said. “I did what I can do and you can’t do anything else when you play against a defense like that.”
It’s a defense that looks a lot like the one against which he practices all the time. So dominant were the LSU and Alabama defenses this season that Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain cracked that the last time he remembered one so far ahead was “maybe the ’85 Chicago Bears.”
Maybe that explained why Richardson said he thought the mentality of Alabama in the first game was that they needed to get into the so-called red zone, the area inside LSU’s 20-yard line, but that wasn’t enough.
”We figured if we got into the red zone, we were gonna be OK, but they did some stuff that we couldn’t score on and we did some stuff where we stopped ourselves from scoring. We have to capitalize on what we have and put the ball in the end zone.”
Alabama certainly was close, something that still bothers offensive lineman William Vlachos.
“I think it makes you kind of sick sometimes to watch that film because there’s so many little things out there that, as an offensive line, if we sustain our block for another half second, Trent’s going for 60 yards and not six,” Vlachos said. “ And I think that’s something that we’re conscious of.”
Accordingly, Richardson said he expects touchdowns in this game, “but I know it’s going to be a close game and I don’t expect it to be a high-scoring game, because that’s just how we play football. I expect it to be a tough game to the end.”
Richardson, who almost chose LSU for college, might be the only bona fide offensive star in this national-title game. Certainly all of LSU’s best players are on defense, including another Heisman finalist, cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and another All-American cornerback, Morris Claiborne. The LSU offense boasts receiver Rueben Randle, who has 50 catches for 904 yards and eight TDs, but the rushing attack is split between four running backs and the one with the fewest carries, Kenny Hilliard (eight TDs on just 57 carries), might be the best of them all.
Mathieu finished fifth in the Heisman voting, while Richardson was third behind two pretty stout college quarterbacks, the eventual winner, Robert Griffin III of Baylor, and Stanford’s Andrew Luck. Not that Richardson doesn’t have hardware for his shelves. He won the Doak Walker Award and was first-team All-American on at least nine different such squads.
But none of that made up for losing to LSU.
“We want to win every game,” he said. “We lost the first one. We’re going to make sure we go out and have fun and finish this ballgame.
“I’m not saying we didn’t want to win the first one, but, yeah, we lost the first one and we did want to be in the SEC Championship, but stuff happened like it happened and we’re in this ballgame here. We have a second chance. A lot of people don’t ever get that second chance like we did, so we’re trying to make the most of it.”
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