NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Alabama defense took no chances in the rematch.
When Jordan Jefferson dropped back to pass, he was swept under by a tide of crimson. When the LSU quarterback took off running, he must’ve felt like Alabama had a few extra players on the field.
Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower and Co. sure made it seem that way.
With a smothering display of old-school football, the No. 2 Crimson Tide blew out the top-ranked Tigers 21-0 in the BCS championship game Monday night.
Coach Nick Saban’s Tide also moved into the top spot in the final Associated Press poll for the eighth time, tying Notre Dame for the most of any team in college football.
In this postseason of high-scoring shootouts, one of the greatest defenses in college football history carried another title back to Tuscaloosa.
“They are unbelievable,” said Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones, relieved that he only has to go against them in practice. “That defense is as good as any defense I’ve ever seen. They rush the passer, they have awesome linebackers and they’re great in coverage. They really don’t have any weaknesses. They have to be as good as any defense ever.
He’ll get no argument from Jefferson and the Tigers (13-1), who had beaten Alabama 9-6 in overtime on Nov. 5 — a game the Tide was still smarting about when it got to the Big Easy.
LSU didn’t cross midfield until there were 8 minutes left in the game. The Tigers finished with just 92 yards and five first downs.
“This defense is built on stopping them, and that’s what we did,” said Upshaw, the game’s defensive MVP. “We wanted to come out and show the world we beat ourselves the first game. We wanted to come out and dominate from start to finish, and that’s what we did.”
The Crimson Tide (12-1) kept kicking field goals and finally made a long-overdue trip to the end zone late in the game — the only touchdown scored by either team in their two meetings.
Jeremy Shelley tied a bowl record with five field goals and the defense did the rest, posting the first shutout in the 14-year history of the BCS. It was the Tide’s second BCS title in three years.
“That was the message before the game: to finish,” Saban said. “In fact, it was how bad do you want to finish? We certainly didn’t play a perfect game, we got a field goal blocked, we couldn’t find the end zone for a long time, but we just kept playing.”
While only crimson-clad fans will remember this as a thing of beauty, Alabama erased any doubts that it deserved to be in the title game over another one-loss team like Oklahoma State or Stanford.
Then again, one of those teams might have actually scored a touchdown before Alabama finally did, with 4:36 left in the game, long after fans may have flipped to something more entertaining than a one-sided kicking contest. Amazingly, these Southeastern Conference powerhouses played twice in a span of about two months, and never got one of those things that’s worth six points — you know, touchdowns — until Trent Richardson broke off a 34-yard run with 4:36 remaining.
It only took 115 minutes, 34 seconds, plus the overtime period in their first meeting.
LSU had beaten eight ranked teams — including Alabama in early November — to establish itself as the clear No. 1 going into the bowls, but the Tigers didn’t come close to matching their performance from the Game of the Century in Tuscaloosa. Instead of putting up a “Godfather II,” this one was more akin to “Speed 2.”
The Tigers were outgained 384-92 in total yards. On that one and only trip into Alabama territory, they quickly went back, back, back — the last gasp ending appropriately with the beleaguered Jefferson getting the ball knocked from his hand before he could even get off a fourth-and-forever pass.
“We didn’t do a lot different,” Saban said. “We did some things on offense formationally. Our offensive team did a great job. Defensively, we just played well, played the box. Our special teams did a great job.”
He has won a pair of BCS titles at Alabama, plus another at LSU in 2003. He’s the first coach to win three BCS titles, denying LSU’s Les Miles his second championship. The Tigers will have to settle for the SEC title, but that’s not likely to ease the sting of this ugly performance.
A couple of months ago at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama held the top spot in the first matchup between the 1-2 teams. The Tigers won with three field goals, while the Crimson Tide missed four of its six attempts.
OK, so maybe that wasn’t a classic. But it was downright thrilling compared to the rematch, the first time in the BCS that teams played for the title after meeting during the regular season.
Credit the Alabama defense for that.
LSU simply couldn’t do anything — running or passing. Kenny Hilliard led the Tigers with 16 yards rushing, while Jefferson was 11 of 17 passing for 53 yards, usually hurrying away passes before he was sent tumbling to the Superdome turf. He was sacked four times and threw a mystifying interception when he attempted to flip away a desperation pass, only to have it picked off because his intended receiver had already turned upfield looking to block.
“I think people have stopped appreciating defense,” Jones said. “What an awesome game defensively. Two really good defenses, and we were fortunate enough to put some points on the board.”
A.J. McCarron was the offensive MVP, completing 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards. Richardson added 96 yards on 20 carries. But an even bigger cheer went up when the defensive award was presented to Upshaw, who had seven tackles, including a sack, and spent a good part of his night in the LSU backfield.
With the way his defense was playing, McCarron simply had to avoid mistakes and guide the offense into field-goal range. He did that to perfection.
“When you have a great offensive line like I have, and great players around you, it makes your job easy as quarterback,” McCarron said. “I’ve got to give all the credit to them. I wish I could have the whole team up here.”
Miles said the rematch would be another display of “big-boy” football, and that was apparent on the opening kickoff and first play from scrimmage. Morris Claiborne was clotheslined by Alabama’s Trey Depriest on the return, then Michael Ford was sent flying by Damion Square and Jesse Williams on a 2-yard run that immediately set the tone.
But this time, the special teams went Alabama’s way. Marquis Maze dealt the first big blow for the Crimson Tide with a 49-yard punt return midway through the opening quarter, and he might’ve gone all the way to the end zone if not for a leg injury that forced him to pull up. Punter Brad Wing was the only defender left to beat, but Maze had to hobble out of bounds.
McCarron completed a 16-yard pass to Darius Hanks at the LSU 10, setting up Shelley’s 23-yard chip shot field goal. If nothing else, Alabama had accomplished one of its goals coming into the game: to at least get close enough to the end zone for its embattled kickers to have a better chance of converting.
In the first meeting, Shelley and Cade Foster combined to miss four field goals — all of them from at least 44 yards.
In the do-over, Foster stayed on the sideline while Shelley also connected from 34, 41, 35 and 44 yards. Not that it was a flawless kicking performance. Shelley had another kick blocked and pushed another wide right, attempting a bowl-record seven field goals overall.
In addition, he missed the extra point after Richardson’s touchdown.
It didn’t matter.
“The whole defense is the MVP,” Upshaw said. “The whole defense. Roll Tide, baby. Roll Tide!”
LSU’s best weapon was Wing, who averaged nearly 46 yards on nine punts. That was about the only highlight for the purple and gold, which failed to match its BCS title game victories in 2003 and 2007, the last two times the game was played in New Orleans, about 80 miles from its Baton Rouge campus.
“We couldn’t sustain any consistency,” Miles said. “The calls became much more difficult.”
Miles never considered switching to backup quarterback Jarrett Lee, who started the first eight games for the Tigers — four of those while Jefferson was serving a suspension for his involvement in a bar fight.
“We felt like with Jefferson’s feet and the ability to get out of the rush, that it was fair that he finished,” Miles said. “He certainly had a tremendously strong year in any regard. Boy, we wanted to finish this one. It’s hard to finish a season that was so successful this way.”
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