Alabama's Evil Genius Meets LSU's Mad Hatter With Everything At Stake (C v C)

Henry BallSenior Analyst INovember 4, 2009

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 08:  Head Coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide is congratulated by head coach Les Miles of the Louisiana State University Tigers after the Tide defeated the Tigers 27-21 in overtime on November 11, 2008 at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

In addition to getting bragging rights, the winner when No. 9 LSU meets No. 3 Alabama in Tuscaloosa this Saturday will be in the driver’s seat to win the SEC West. That should, in turn, secure the winner a spot in the SEC Championship for what has become the annual play-in for the BCS National Title game.

For the Tide perspective see Walter Kirkwood's Take:

Here is a detailed look at the game from a Tiger's perspective:

Overview: This might have been the most highly anticipated and heavily scrutinized year in recent Tiger memory as LSU fans hoped the team would rebound from a disappointing 2008 campaign. 

After wins—yet less than dominant performances—against the likes of Washington, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi State, no one seemed to be buying anything more than another five-loss flop this year. 

That seemed to be all but certain when the anemic offense was unable to scrounge more than three points and a dozen first downs against Florida at Home.

Three short weeks and two impressive offensive out-bursts (netting 73 points) later and the Tigers seem to be peaking at the perfect time.

Sophomore QB Jordan Jefferson—who may have been protected, if not hidden by early season game-planning—has really blossomed and the play book has opened up.

The defense, under first year coordinator John "The Chief" Chavis, has steadily improved with each outing since an inauspicious start in Seattle.

After shutting down fierce rival and then No. 1 offense Auburn and shutting out forgotten rival Tulane, LSU is again near the top of the SEC in scoring defense allowing just 12.1 points per contest. 

In fact, in the last three games, which includes Florida and Auburn, the Tigers’ defense has yielded just 7.6 points per game and is without question the strength of the team.

An x-factor could be special teams. The Tigers aren’t exactly known for "Beamer Ball" type special teams but they do have the ability to turn a game around with all phases of their kick-off and return teams.

The final piece of the puzzle lies under the brim of the second most famous hat in the history of college football.  Les Miles earned the nick name as "The Mad Hatter" for being willing to make gutsy calls in big situations with everything hanging in the balance.

As much as Miles has been criticized this year (and last) for not continuing to make those calls, don’t be surprised if the Hat comes roaring back this Saturday.  The key to those calls, despite the accusations that it was all the luck of a riverboat gambler, is opportunity, personnel, and confidence.

Since 2007, the personnel and confidence have been the issue, most notably at the quarterback position.  The Auburn game’s play-calling would suggest that Miles’ and by extension, offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s confidence in Jordan Jefferson has reached a higher level.

That could mean a "Return of the Riverboat Gambler" theme for College Gameday Final on Saturday Night, which would suit LSU fans just fine—no matter how wrong the label might be. 

Rating the Teams:  

Offense: Given the poor performance in early games and as recently as three weeks ago versus Florida it is hard to imagine the No. 100 ranked total offense putting up many points against the, at times over whelming, extremely well coached defense of the Crimson Tide, which ranks No. 4 in the country.

Nonetheless, the offense, has improved immensely and has the weapons—WRs Brandon LaFell, Terrance Tolliver, Ruben Randall; RBs Charles Scott, Keiland Williams as well as WMDs Russell Sheppard and Trindon Holliday—to score from anywhere at any time. 

Moreover, they may only need to generate moderate scoring and enough time of possession to keep the Tide’s offense off the field as much as possible.

On the other sideline, Heisman hopeful Mark Ingram and the Tide’s running game ranked No.4 in the SEC  is very good at exploiting the outside edges and controlling the line of scrimmage, which happens to be LSU’s Achilles’ heel.

If the Tide can establish the power running game against LSU, like Florida and others have, they could run down the defense, the clock and the Tigers' emotion and will not have to worry much about LSU being able to figure out how to score.

Edge = Push: Both offenses have struggled at times but either one could make use of endless weapons at skilled positions to win a low scoring defensively dominated thriller.


Defense: While neither squad is the ‘eye-gouging’ No. 1 defense (sorry, I couldn’t resist) in the conference, it is unquestionably the strength of both teams.  LSU ranks No. 4 in the SEC in total defense and No.3 in scoring, while Alabama is No. 2 in both of those categories.

Both defenses are extremely well coached and can be difficult for quarterbacks (particularly young and inexperienced ones) to read. 

Nick Saban loves to disguise blitzes and run combo (zone/man) coverage that allow his safeties and or corners to provide big plays, which often turn into points.  They are also No. 1 in sacks and tackles for loss, which could be an issue for Jordan Jefferson who has been sacked more than any other SEC quarterback.

On the Tigers' sideline, Chavis is also very effective disguising his defense and while they do not tally a lot of sacks they do force QBs to make good decisions and are No. 1 in the league in turnover margin.

If the Tigers score points off of turnovers it could be the demise of the Tide’s Championship dreams.

Edge = Push: Both defenses have dominated opponents and neither is likely to allow the opposing offense to enjoy a field day on Saturday. 

The game might be decided on a pick-six or a returned fumble, which could bode well for either team.


Special Teams: Chad Jones/Trindon Holliday or Javier Arenas could change this game in about 8 seconds.

Edge = Push: The league’s best Punter - Derek Helton should be back according to Les Miles, if he is not then the edge shifts to Alabama.


Coaching: This is the component that give’s the game it’s moniker, Saban Bowl.  Rightly so, as it is truly  one of the most interesting match ups in all of college football.

Not because of the history of the coaches or their common link to one of the programs involved, but because it is two of the best coaches in college football that use entirely different styles to achieve strikingly similar results.

Saban is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest football minds of our era.  He employees an aggressive, hard-hitting, well coached defense that has won (and will win future) championships. 

On offense, he allows his coaching staff to do their jobs but conspicuously the offense often resembles him; well managed, methodical and able to succeed even when you (think you) know how to beat them.

Across the field and ‘miles’ away in terms of philosophy and style, Les Miles employees more of a CEO style.  Like his predecessor – Nick Saban – he has been one of the best recruiters in the country both of talented players and successful coaches.

Gary Crowton, known as an offensive genius and the aforementioned ‘Chief’ John Chavis are allowed to do their job within the context of Miles’ overall game/program plan but, as we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks – with Mile’s strolling the sideline, laminated play sheet in hand – he will step in and make the calls he feels he needs to. 

Edge = LSU: If you ask ten experts (not connected to either school) who they would want coaching their team on game day, eight of them will say Saban, with no disrespect meant toward Miles.  Yet, this Saturday they would be wrong. 

This game will be tailor-made for the proverbial ‘Rabbit’ to pull something out of the proverbial ‘Hat’.

It should be a hard hitting battle/survival of the fittest right to the last tick of the clock.  No two teams in the country are more evenly matched with play-makers, speed, athleticism, and talent. 

It very well could come down to a single play or ‘gutsy’ call late in the game.  If it does, Saban is out of his league.


The Tiger’s will win if:

  • Jefferson can keep from spending too much time on his back side.
  • It’s a close game late.
  • Mark Ingram is contained.
  • The Defense can force McElroy to make mistakes.

The Tiger’s will lose if:

  • The O-line can’t slow the pass rush and make a few holes for the run.
  • The defense can’t keep Alabama’s run game in check.
  • It becomes anything that resembles a shoot-out.

Prediction: With my head I see this as a very close game that Alabama ‘should’ win at home. 

With my heart and ‘my gut’ I see it being too close to favor the home team.

In his weekly press conference Nick Saban basically admitted that the pressure on his team has affected their play.  No doubt, he has spent the off week trying to focus his team on “what they need to do to get the results” but these are 18 to 21 year old men and one extra week is not going to remove the pressure.

On the other hand, the Tigers are a complete after-thought.  No one expects to see them in Atlanta and they really have nothing to lose.  I expect them to be well prepared, hungry, loose AND victorious.

LSU 24 – Alabama 23

By Henry Ball (a.k.a. Southern Man, CFB Czar) Featured Columnist and Syndicated Writer

Henry contributes to the Bleacher Report , College Gameday Network and other Sports Media outlets.


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