With "the perfect season" no longer an option, the goal for the Alabama football team is simply to focus on finishing in the pursuit of excellence.
To excel—to surpass others or to be superior. Eclipse, exceed, transcend or simply to rise high. The last is certainly more fitting for the Tide. To rise high, to supersede and to overcome. And what they need to overcome is the offense, defense and special teams of the LSU Tigers.
No matter how one chooses to cut it, the loss on November 5th to the No. 1 LSU Tigers, at home, in Bryant-Denny Stadium, was a loss to a team that was better on that day. LSU defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide and the victory was complete. Alabama was left wanting, and they had done all they could possibly do on that day to achieve victory.
Not only better on that day, but the Tigers completed the regular season undefeated. They went one step further and completed the season as champions of the Southeastern Conference, thumping the Georgia Bulldogs in Atlanta by a score of 42-10.
LSU finished the regular season with the coveted prize in the SEC, the conference championship trophy.
For the entire season, the LSU Tigers have proven to be a great second half team. Offensively and defensively, they have made the necessary adjustments to finish the game with the most points on the scoreboard. And in the end, they are entering the BCS national championship game with a perfect record.
In the first game of the year against Oregon, at the end of the first half, LSU led by a score of 16-13. They outscored the Ducks 14-0 in the third quarter, and in the fourth quarter added 10 points, effectively nullifying the 14 point fourth quarter push by the Ducks.
In Week 2, they completely dominated Northwestern State by a score of 49-3. In Week 3, the Tigers took on Mississippi State, in Starkville. At the end of the first half, the score was 6-3, in favor of the Tigers.
While the second half remained a defensive struggle for much of the game, LSU limped into the fourth quarter with a 9-6 lead over the Bulldogs. LSU started the fourth quarter on their own 20 yard line, following a 49-yard punt by MSU's Baker Swedenburg, resulting in a touchback, to end the third quarter.
Quarterback Jarrett Lee moved his offense 80 yards in seven plays, completing 5-of-5 passes, ending the drive on a 19-yard completion to Reuben Randle. The lead was 16-9 at that point, a lead that was insurmountable by the MSU Bulldogs, as mistake prone, Chris Relf was replace by sophomore Tyler Russell to finish the game for head coach, Dan Mullen. LSU finished the game as victor, by a score of 19-9.
Week 5 provided the most difficult challenge in the early part of the season for the No. 2 ranked LSU Tigers, traveling to Morgantown, West Virginia to take on the Mountaineers. LSU came out of the shoot quickly, taking a 13-0 first quarter lead. By halftime, the Tigers had taken a 27-7 commanding lead, using big plays by the rushing and passing phases of the offense, demonstrating balance and strength.
In the third quarter, WVU made a push of their own, finding a weakness in the highly touted LSU pass defense. Quarterback, Geno Smith put together two impressive touchdown drives, each drive highlighted by downfield completions to speedster, Tavon Austin. One completion for 38 yards, the second for 72 yards, into the teeth of the Tiger defense.
With the score 27-21, and a great shift in the momentum of the game, West Virginia kicked off to LSU with 0:59 remaining in the third quarter. In the 0:17 seconds that followed, senior defensive back and special teams return man Morris Claiborne travelled 99 yards and returned the kick to the West Virginia end zone, letting the air out of the inflated, hopeful fanbase and sucking the life out of the opposition.
West Virginia would not score again. The domination of West Virginia was complete when the LSU rushing attack too over in the fourth quarter, adding two additional scores. The LSU Tigers defeated the Mountaineers by a score of 47-21.
After the game, LSU head coach, Les Miles said to reporter Andrea Adelson, "I like the position we're in, but I don't think we're the best team in college football today," Miles added, "I think there is a hope and want and desire to be there. I don't know if we're good enough right now to do everything we want to do. That's putting the cart before the horse."
He also said to Adelson, "Our guys seem to answer the bell, enjoy a competitive environment." Miles went on to say, "I feel comfortable going on the road and playing with this team. I think if we continue to improve, continue to do the things we're capable of, somewhere down the road, we'll stake a claim on something important."
As the season progressed, the LSU Tigers also continued to show progress, and though they met their match on the road in Tuscaloosa, on November 5th, they showed great perseverance, patience and pragmatism in the win against the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide.
And at season end, LSU is undisputedly the best team in college football. They are solid on offense, defense and special teams. What is even more impressive, is that they have utilized two quarterbacks, four running backs and a bevy of receivers to punish opposition defenses, behind a better than average offensive line. And there are no superstar standouts that demand attention or claim superiority over any other player on their team or any other player in the conference.
The parts are interchangeable, and they are a team in the true sense of the word. Many of these same players will play on Sundays, and play with regularity.
If Alabama wants to excel, they will have to do so in the last game of the 2011 college football season, a game that will carry over to January 9th of 2012. They will have to do this on a national stage, in a game that will capture the attention of the entire college football audience.
And in the end, there will be no excuses for losing, none that will carry any weight, at least. It's time to put away childish claims, and just win. It's time to put away the individual trophies, put aside the accolades and play as a team to accomplish what you set out to do as a team in the spring of 2011. Finish with a championship, finish as a champion.
The pursuit of excellence always involves overcoming extreme challenges. There is one challenge left for both teams.
For LSU, they can accomplish perfection by overcoming a great opponent for a second time in a single season. An opponent whose legacy is the pedigree of an SEC and college football dynasty. For Alabama, it is overcoming the opponent who took them to the limit in regulation and then took from them the opportunity to complete a perfect season.
All smack aside, both teams are worthy of the prize. Yet only one will hoist the crystal trophy at the end of the day. And as an Alabama fan, if LSU should win, I will commend the players and coaching staff for a job well done, an exceptional job in one of the most hostile environs in college football, the SEC.
But make no mistake, I want the Alabama Crimson Tide to gel in this game, to play a complete game with nothing left to be desired on the field or in the collective minds of the Alabama staff.
Pluck and grit will be in great demand, Roll Tide Roll.