NEW ORLEANS – The shutout wasn’t as easy as it looked. Even though LSU failed to score in the BCS national championship game, it surprised Alabama.
“And you had 40 days to get ready for it,” Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. “You don’t know what they’re going to do. You have to wait and see and adjust. And we did. A lot of credit goes to the kids for adjusting on the run.”
Alabama (12-1) won the game 21-0 and laid claim to No. 1 largely because of its aggressive and effective passing attack that put LSU (13-1) on its heels from the start, a ground game that allowed the Crimson Tide to maintain possession, and a defense that stunned everyone with a shutout. It made LSU the first Southeastern Conference team to lose in the BCS national title game. Of course, Alabama became the SEC’s sixth consecutive champion.
Smart said the idea was to force LSU to pass, and when Jordan Jefferson did, the LSU senior quarterback usually did so under pressure. He completed 11 of 17 passes for 53 yards, was intercepted once and was sacked four times.
Not that LSU had any luck running. It gained a net 39 yards despite throwing Alabama a major curve.
“They changed everything,” Smart said. “It was like a different team out there tonight. They did everything completely different from what we thought, so it made it a lot tougher.”
Jefferson, often running the option, gained 51 yards, the bulk of which was taken away by sacks. But freshman Kenny Hilliard gained 16 yards, junior Spencer Ware seven, and sophomore Michael Ford one. That coming from an offense that in the previous 13 games boasted four running backs with seven rushing TDs.
“We had to make some adjustments early,” Smart said. “We had to change our fronts, change our coverages, because they were running a lot of option plays, which we thought they would, but they didn’t run ‘em like they did the last game. They ran a lot of two-back option and tonight they ran it all out of one back. They got in a lot of different formations against us. We actually had to play against stuff we had never practiced. The kids responded well. They did well.”
Alabama avenged a regular-season, 9-6 overtime defeat to LSU, and obviously was nonplussed all night.
“We knew we could beat them the first game,” backup senior nose guard Nick Gentry said. “In that game we had a lot of mistakes and couldn’t do anything on offense. We’d drive down there and get in the red area and their defense was too stout. Defensively we had to keep playing. We knew our offense would put up points — we’ve got athletes all over the other side of the ball — so all we had to do was shut them down, get some turnovers and get them the ball back to score.”
But even Gentry, who had three tackles, including one of those sacks, and recovered a Jefferson fumble, couldn’t have imagined a blanking.
“I didn’t think we were gonna shut ‘em out,” Gentry said. “I’m not going to lie about that. But I knew our defense was good enough to hold them to less than seven points and that’s what I was thinking. But a shutout, that’s real big in the national championship.”
It was the first one in the national championship. The previous low was in 2002 when Oklahoma beat Florida State 13-2.
“They couldn’t move the ball,” Alabama senior safety Mark Barron said.
“We had a quality game plan that went uncalled,” LSU coach Les Miles said, “because we couldn’t sustain the run.”
Alabama could and that success led to the BCS-record five field goals by Jeremy Shelley.
The Crimson Tide ran for 150 yards, 96 by junior Trent Richardson and 43 by sophomore Eddie Lacy, 33 in the second half.
Sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron completed 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards and, what’s more, he threw on first down 14 of the first 15 times the Crimson Tide had a first down in the first half and the first two times in the second half.
“AJ, he was so, well, I don’t understand it. Most quarterbacks, they get the jitters, but he was calm and ready to play the game,” Gentry said. “He had seen the future of this game. He told me, ‘I think we’re going to dominate these kids,’ and that’s what happened.”
A big reason was throwing the ball to senior tight end Brad Smelley, who had a game-high seven catches for 39 yards and was one of seven Alabama players to catch McCarron passes. The last time they played, Smelley had one reception for eight yards.
“Smelley’s been good all year,” Gentry said. “He’s probably one of our most underrated guys. He beats us at practice all day long. He’s always open. He’s probably one of the best offensive players on the field. I’d put him up there with Trent Richardson.”
Smelley had six of his catches in the first half.
“AJ had a lot of confidence and our receivers made plays all night,” said Smelley, part of a senior class that went 48-6 the past four years. “We knew we could do our thing. We knew we had one of the best offenses in the country. We showed it all season. It just didn’t happen that first matchup but we came out and showed how dominant our offense was.”
Dominant might be a bit strong, but it certainly overpowered LSU, a huge credit to outgoing offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, who is leaving Alabama to become head coach at Colorado State.
“I didn’t get to see any offense because I was over the making adjustments, but McElwain and them did a great job,” Smart said. “Time of possession, just ate ‘em up. Ate ‘em up. They kept the ball for a long time, which helped us a lot.”
McElwain, one of the more good-humored football coaches you’ll find, when asked about McCarron coming out firing, said laughing, “I’m still trying to figure out how to get in the damn end zone, so I don’t know.
“But the last time I checked we got more than they got, so that’s what matters.”
In their previous five meetings since Nick Saban took over as Alabama’s coach, LSU had won three times but Alabama had outscored the Tigers 112-110. McElwain was really upset after the last meeting, when the CrimsonTide went four quarters plus OT without a TD. Monday night, Alabama didn’t get into the end zone until 4:36 remained when Trent Richardson ran 34 yards for a TD.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said. “They did a nice job, but I would have never dreamt they would have gotten in the end zone.”
“We wanted to stay in big personnel and kind of dink and dunk a little bit,” McElwain said. “And we were trying to run the ball in little personnel. You know, that’s just a great defense, but our guys stayed in there.
“But look guys, I’m just excited we got a first down. I’m excited we finally got a touchdown and it was fitting it was Trent Richardson who iced it, because that guy is a great player.”
And with that, McElwain was ready to move on.
“This was a great going-away present,” McElwain said. “It doesn’t get any better. The people in Alabama are awesome and we’re going to miss it like nobody can imagine.”
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