Alabama uses aerial attack to win
McCarron to Smelley connection lifts Crimson Tide to BCS title
NEW ORLEANS – Sorry, Bob McDill. But you may not get a royalty off this one because no one heard it.
About 50 minutes before kickoff Monday, the songwriter who penned 30 No. 1 titles had his Louisiana Saturday Night smash-hit bellowing throughout the Superdome and the LSU fans were rocking. Then, Alabama took over.
The Crimson Tide came on the field right then as the Bama fans drowned out the song with one of the loudest cheers of the night. That is until head coach Nick Saban hoisted the BCS championship trophy above his head following a 21-0 demolition of the top-ranked Tigers.
Although the box score might look similar to LSU’s 9-6 overtime victory in the first matchup this year, the game broke form as soon as Alabama got the ball. In the end, there was even a -- gasp -- touchdown scored.
Quarterback AJ McCarron passed on each of the first two downs of the game, a pair of completions to tight end Brad Smelley and the Alabama Air Show was under way. Okay, it wasn’t that prolific, but there was no question the Tide seemed to have made changes the Tigers were not ready for.
“It’s good to make a few plays early, get that confidence rolling,” Smelley said. “I knew that I was going to be able to make some plays this game. AJ was able to hit me right off the bat. We were just able to keep the ball moving in those down-distance situations.”
It wasn’t anything significant. Finding gaps in space, places where the game film showed plenty of opportunity, something Alabama didn’t take advantage of in the first meeting this year when McCarron went 16 of 28 for 199 yards and tossed an interception. This night, with the world watching, those extra little adjustments helped him complete 23 of 34 for 234 yards, including 12 passes that went for first downs.
“We knew coming into the game somebody else had to step up, and coach just gave me an opportunity,” McCarron said. “When you have a group of receivers like I have, it makes your job easy as a quarterback. And you just gotta put it in their area. They go up and make the plays for you and they make you look like the hero.”
Smelley did his part, coming up with a game and career-high seven receptions. All of it was just a matter of timing.
“We were just dressing up plays, probably the same plays, just dressing them up and confusing them all part of our offense,” Smelley said. “That is part of coach Mac’s [offensive coordinator Jim McElwain] schemes. He does a good job disguising plays and getting the defense in bad position. There was a lot of that. We had a lot of shifting and motion that worked in our favor tonight.”
There were only a handful of times it didn’t go Bama’s way, although one in particular strikes Smelley as one he wishes he had back. The first play of the second quarter, Smelley thought he should have given the Tide a little spark as he had a pass fall through his hands as he roamed free down the sideline.
“Oh yeah, I was thinking six. I should have made that play,” Smelley said with a chuckle. “I know I can make that play, that was a missed opportunity for us, but at the end it didn’t matter. We were grinding them out and put 21 points on the board. We would have liked to have more touchdowns, but at least we got one.”
Legging it out
Saying there was a lot of pressure on the placekickers coming into this game was an understatement consdering the Nov. 5 game that saw a combined five field goals for 15 points in four-plus quarters.
LSU kicker Drew Alleman was the last player off the field just seconds before his team received the opening kickoff Monday. He was getting in a few extra reps, expecting that he’d get plenty of work since they were again facing the No. 1 defense in the nation. Instead, it was Alabama placekicker Jeremy Shelley, the sophomore who missed a field goal in overtime that helped LSU to the regular-season SEC title, who came away needing to hit the ice bath.
Shelley set a bowl game record – not just a BCS championship game, but any bowl game – with five field goals and seven attempts. He connected from 23, 34, 41, 35 and 44 yards, the last being a career long while the first was actually the game-winning points.
“I messed up a little bit last time but I knew we needed to come back and make these, so once I hit that first one, I was like, ‘Okay, let’s keep this going,’ ” Shelley said.
It wasn’t all perfect. Despite his record performance, he still had a blip as he botched the extra point after more than seven quarters of only field goals.
“I wanted to put the extra point up … but I just kind of shook my head and it reminded me of Lee Tiffin in 2009, he did the same thing and I was like, wow, I’m just following in the footsteps,” Shelley said.
Bama owns the red zone
LSU did what it normally does. And in this case, it was not a good thing.
The Tigers came into the game ranked 97th nationally in red zone defense. Right behind them? Kansas, Buffalo and Fresno State, not quite the expected lot to join when you’re known as one of the best defenses in the country.
After allowing teams to score 20 of 23 times in the red zone coming in, LSU couldn’t make enough adjustments to keep the Tide off the board. Alabama went 3 of 3 in the red zone, effectively icing the game with field goals on three consecutive possessions spanning intermission.
When they were on offense, the Tigers couldn’t do much better. They managed just 92 total yards of offense, including only 39 on the ground.
“I told my team I did not see it coming,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “And that’s my fault. I wish I could have done something to help it … but we have to get better.”
By the numbers
1 – Losses in BCS games by LSU, which came into the contest No. 1 all-time at 4-0
2 – The previous low for points in a BCS title game when Florida State lost to Oklahoma 13-2 in 2001
3 – Number of titles won by coach Nick Saban (two at Alabama, one at LSU), the first to win three BCS crowns
4 – Number of quarters LSU trailed in the title game, one more than all of its previous 13 games combined
5 – Field goals by Alabama’s Jeremy Shelley, an all-bowls record
7 – Catches by Alabama tight end Brad Smelley, a career high
9 – Punts by LSU’s Brad Wing, who averaged 45.7 yards per kick
21 – Total points in the game, the fewest by both teams in a championship game since 2001
26 – Total third downs between the two teams, with only five conversions
33 – The number of victories for Alabama in bowl games, an NCAA record (the 58 appearances is also a record)
48 – Number of wins by the Alabama senior class, the second-highest total by a BCS squad in history, trailing only Nebraska’s 1996 senior class (49)
92 – Total number of yards by LSU in the game
96 – Rushing yards by Trent Richardson, improving Nick Saban’s record at Alabama to 34-1 when having an RB top the century mark
234 – Passing yards by Alabama’s AJ McCarron, just 50 yards short of his career best
78,237 – Attendance for the 2012 national title game