The Art of War is a handy little text that is normally more useful in the corporate world than anywhere else in our present state of affairs.
If you’ve never heard of the text, then I’d suggest typing it into Google at the very least. The book mostly deals with the nature of conflict, but I’m going to focus on one particular area of the book.
Every angle has likely been exhausted on this matchup by now, which could be more a product of this being the second time these two conference rivals are playing each other this season. There are few, if any other topics that can incite such a heated debate as this—at least that is true in my Twitter universe. It is an argument that has been flipped and flopped, twisted, beaten with a hammer and squeezed for every last drop of whether or not a rematch should be taking place.
Whether you believe in the rematch is up to you, and it is your right to possess your very own unique opinion on the matter. With a little help from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (using Lionel Giles’s 1910 translation), I will analyze tonight’s game using the “seven considerations” found in the chapter “Laying Plans.”
If you think it’s crazy to compare war and football, then I don’t think you could be further from the truth. Now, when I say war, I mean it in the traditional sense and not modern warfare. Two teams, or armies if you will, line up on a field and strategically attack each other. Each team has a coach—or general—and that general’s leadership is reflected throughout his team. Football is violent. War is violent. There are obvious differences, but they are also strikingly similar.
In the chapter, “Laying Plans,” Tzu lists what he refers to as seven considerations—which, according to him, allows him to discern a “winner” and “loser.” It is by these seven considerations that I will determine a winner for tonight’s game.
I. Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral Law?
According to Tzu, The Moral Law “causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.” (P. 7, Tzu)
I don’t think either team has an issue with their “sovereign” leaders—Miles and Saban—and both teams are in “complete accord” with their head coaches.
Unfortunately, neither LSU or Alabama possesses an edge here as both leaders are “imbued” with Moral Law.
II. Which of the two generals has most ability?
This question is sure to be split evenly between both warring sides.
In order to determine this, I think previous clashes should be used in evaluating which coach has the “most ability.”
Les Miles holds a 3-2 record over Nick Saban, though the largest margin of victory between the two teams is nine points since Saban took over at Alabama. In the last two meetings, however, it seems that Les Miles has held the edge in the matchup.
This season, Saban and Alabama played right into LSU’s biggest strengths: their secondary and special teams. In a crucial moment late in the game, Saban chose to deviate from his biggest asset—Trent Richardson—and called a pass play instead. There was far too much risk involved in asking Marquis Maze to toss a jump ball downfield, especially when Richardson was running with a different kind of intensity on that particular drive.
In a battle to see who blinked first, Saban faltered. Les Miles stayed true to his strengths and the Tigers came out victorious as a result. However, if we’re talking about “ability,” very few coaches are equal to Saban. I give the edge to Miles, but it is ever so slight.
III. With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?
This game is in a climate-controlled dome, therefore Mother Nature won’t be playing a role.
IV. On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?
Alabama is among the least penalized teams in college football, ranking third with an average of four penalties per game. LSU ranks 72nd with 6.23 penalties per game.
I won’t bring up any off-field incidents here, but Alabama does hold an advantage in the discipline department; however, it was Alabama that committed several costly mistakes that took points away from them.
Both teams, in fact, uncharacteristically committed mistakes they weren’t used to making. LSU and Alabama rarely give the ball away, yet both squads threw two interceptions each. This was no doubt due to the rigid defenses in place.
For LSU, it was Jarrett Lee that threw both of the Tigers’ interceptions and I highly doubt he will see the field tonight. A.J. McCarron only tossed one while Maze was responsible for the other.
Alabama committed the most costly mistakes in the first battle and for that, I must give LSU the edge.
V. Which army is the stronger?
LSU is certainly the more battle-tested of the two “armies”, but which is stronger?
The Tigers emerged victorious in the first game, though it took overtime to establish a decision. Still, Alabama played into LSU’s strengths and suffered for it. If Alabama cannot break past the 30-yard line, then their kicking game will be an issue yet again.
We’ll call the area surrounding the 30-yard line a sort of “no man’s land.”
There is a bit of uncertainty that exists if Alabama is able to penetrate the staunch LSU defenses and push into the 25-yard line range. Alabama’s special teams would receive a significant boost if it can do so. Jeremy Shelley is very accurate on kicks under 40 yards, while Cade Foster is unreliable on nearly any kick he attempts.
LSU boasts a significant edge in special teams and Alabama should avoid playing into that strength as much as it possibly can.
Alabama possesses the best player on the field in Trent Richardson and you can bet that Saban will make sure he relentlessly assaults LSU with his biggest weapon this time. I give the Crimson Tide a small advantage here.
VI. On which side are the officers and men more highly trained?
Not one player on LSU’s current squad has National Championship experience. Their coaching staff has it, but the players do not.
Alabama’s current staff and a few players, including Richardson, have this experience. They’ve been here before. I would expect Alabama would have a slight edge.
For what LSU lacks in National Championship experience, it makes up for it in experience at the quarterback position. LSU holds a significant advantage at quarterback as long as Lee stays off the field.
Alabama is better at the linebacker position, while LSU holds a talent edge in the secondary—though Alabama is more experienced on defense all around. LSU’s team proved to have the championship poise in early November on hostile ground and they should get a slight edge for that reason.
VII. In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?
I can think of an instance where this would have a negative association with LSU, and that would be the handling of Jordan Jefferson’s alleged participation in a bar fight before the season started. Jefferson clearly proved that he has no remorse for the situation, although I’m not sure this affects any sort of outcome significantly.
In a battle so evenly matched, it’s difficult to determine a clear-cut winner. The initial battle resulted in a stalemate during regulation time and came to a decision only through overtime.
Even though LSU stopped Saban’s “revenge” streak, I have to go with the normal outcome rather than the exception. Saban rarely loses to the same opponent two times in a row and it would be an even more extraordinary feat for him to lose three times in a row.
By going through these seven (or five, really) considerations, it’s easy to see why this is a bit of a difficult game to determine. The advantages that each side possesses are slight and this game will be yet another dogfight. I simply cannot see a Nick Saban-led squad falter for a third consecutive time to the same opponent.
Alabama 16, LSU 13
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below. You can e-mail me suggestions or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @JoeSportswriter.