NEW ORLEANS – The Rematch of the Century, it wasn’t. For Alabama, it was good enough for No. 1, if not a lot of style points.
The Crimson Tide romped to another BCS championship against top-ranked LSU with a smothering defensive performance Monday night, a numbing barrage of field goals and even a long-overdue trip to the end zone. Final score: 21-0.
No. 2 Alabama posted the first shutout in the 14-year history of the BCS, relying on Jeremy Shelley’s right leg for most of the points – he made a bowl record-tying five field goals – and letting its defense do the rest for its second BCS title in three years.
“That was the message before the game: to finish,” coach Nick 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 ‘Bama fans will remember this as a thing of beauty, Alabama (12-1) erased any doubts that it deserved to be in the title game over another one-loss team like Oklahoma State or Stanford.
Amazingly, these Southeastern Conference powerhouses played twice in a span of about two months, and never came that close to scoring a touchdowns until Trent Richardson broke off a 34-yard run with 4:36 remaining.
It only took 115 minutes, 34 seconds, plus an overtime period in their first meeting.
LSU (13-1) 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 crossed midfield only once.
They were outgained 384-92 in total yards, managed a puny five first downs and didn’t cross the 50 until there were 8 minutes left.
From there, they went back, back, back – the last gasp ending appropriately with beleaguered quarterback Jordan Jefferson getting the ball knocked from his hand before he could even get off a fourth-and-forever pass.
The BCS title belongs to Saban, who is carving out quite a legacy of his own at the school that still worships Bear Bryant.
“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. The Tigers will have to settle for the SEC title.
Back on Nov. 5 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama held the top spot in the first matchup between the 1-2 teams. The Tigers won 9-6 in overtime, kicking three field goals while the Crimson Tide missed four of its six attempts.
It was the first time in the BCS that teams played for the title after meeting during the regular season.
Credit the Alabama defense for this victory on college football’s biggest stage.
Led by dominating linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower, 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.
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.
The Tide set the tone early. Morris Claiborne was clotheslined by Alabama’s Trey Depriest on the opening kickoff return, then Michael Ford was sent flying by Damion Square and Jesse Williams on a 2-yard run.
LSU didn’t recover.
“We couldn’t sustain any consistency,” Miles said. “The calls became much more difficult.”