Sunday, February 18, 2018
Colleges

This time, more glory is on the line for LSU, Alabama

NEW ORLEANS — Coaches Les Miles and Nick Saban are finished with their awkward grip-and-grin photos with each other and the crystal trophy.

Tonight, it's time to get down to business: LSU vs. Alabama, Part II. The BCS championship.

The teams had met two months ago in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a so-called "Game of the Century" that sent both teams to the training room the next day and left fans around the country feeling a bit cheated by a defensive struggle in a college game now dominated by point-a-minute offenses.

Neither team made it to the end zone in that first meeting, even with the benefit of extra time. LSU won a battle of field goals, 9-6 in overtime.

Everyone expects more scoring in the rematch, but there's no way it's turning into a back-and-forth shootout.

"I'd expect it to be big-boy football," LSU's Miles said Sunday.

LSU (13-0) has already put up a body of work that clearly establishes it as the nation's best team. In addition to that Nov. 5 win at Alabama, the Tigers have victories over two other major bowl champions, Rose Bowl winner Oregon and Orange Bowl champ West Virginia. In all, they've knocked off eight teams that were ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, with only three of those games in Baton Rouge.

"The only team I've told them not to schedule is the Green Bay Packers," Miles quipped.

Alabama (11-1) didn't even make the SEC title game, but the Crimson Tide managed to sneak back into the national title race when Oklahoma State lost late in the season. Perhaps sensing just how fortuitous Alabama was to get a do-over, Saban wants his players to seize the moment.

"I would like for them to focus on the opportunity, not the pressure part," he said, "so that they really are zeroed into the mental practice and the things that when they go out there and play, they're going to be confident in doing their job the way they need to do it to have success."

Alabama likely would have won the first meeting with LSU if not for the performance by its two kickers. Cade Foster botched three field goal attempts, including a 52-yarder in overtime. Jeremy Shelley failed to convert a 49-yarder, far beyond his normal range.

The Alabama offense hopes to make it a little easier on them this time. "We've got to get them closer. We've got to get them kicking extra points. We can't be going for three points every time," Tide lineman William Vlachos said.

Getting close to the end zone against LSU is not easy. The Tigers have two All-America cornerbacks in Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu and Morris Claiborne. The Tigers have allowed the second-fewest points (10.5) and are no lower than sixth in the other three major rankings.

But the Crimson Tide defense led the nation in every major category, allowing just 8.8 points a game.

The first meeting marked a turning point for LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson. He began his senior year with a four-game suspension for his involvement in a bar fight but took over when Jarrett Lee threw a pair of interceptions against the Tide. Jefferson guided the Tigers to their biggest victory and started the final four games.

Miles veered away from a question about whether one more win would stamp LSU as one of the best teams in history.

Jefferson had no such qualms: "If we do win this game, I think we will go down as the greatest team."

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