Senior College Football Columnist

Didn't enjoy LSU-'Bama I? Try on a different perspective for size


NEW ORLEANS -- I was thoroughly entertained by the offensive shootout in the Alamo Bowl a few weeks back. It was also a blast to see the back-and-forth collection of big plays in the Rose Bowl. And I was fascinated seeing just how many points West Virginia could rack up on Clemson in the Orange Bowl. But for all of the fireworks we've watched on the field over the past four months, the best play of the season came in the first version of LSU-Alabama. And it was a defensive play.

Eric Reid's leaping interception to snuff out an Alabama trick play sparked LSU to a 9-6 win. Without the Tiger DB's dazzling play -- where he spotted Alabama's Michael Williams running free, realizing as a safety it was a sin to let an opponent beat him deep, and doubled back to make a leaping grab, snatching the ball away from a 6-foot-6 tight end -- skeptics probably aren't deriding the first matchup for its "dismal offensive showing."

Would having that one touchdown, which the Tigers snatched away, appease some folks to convince them this was worthy of being considered an entertaining game?

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When I think of that game in early November, the first word that comes to mind was riveting. It was three-plus hours of drama that got ratcheted up with every subsequent turn of the game. John Chavis, LSU's veteran defensive coordinator, called it the most physical game he's ever been a part of. 'Bama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart called the first game "beautiful."

"It was grown men battling," Smart said Saturday morning, adding that he too felt it was the most physical game he's been involved with. "There were a lot of top-speed collisions. Go ask the NFL personnel people. They loved it. They were watching good-on-good and they enjoyed it."

But about all of those missed field goals or the fact that there wasn't a single touchdown? Were these guys watching a different game?

Well, maybe. Ask people connected to both teams and they'll tell you if you didn't enjoy that first LSU-'Bama battle, you probably don't get it, and that's a big part of why the SEC has won five BCS titles in row, and it's about to be six, and the team you probably root for plays in a conference that just can't hang.

Courtney Upshaw, Alabama's 270-pound linebacker, would take issue with anyone calling the 9-6 LSU win boring after he's watched some of these 80- and 90-point shootouts during this bowl season. "One team scores in five seconds and the other team comes back and scores in two seconds," Upshaw said dismissively. "We're the SEC for a reason. We're defense-oriented."

William Vlachos, the Tide's starting center says he doesn't watch much sports on TV, but concedes he was entertained by West Virginia scoring 70 points in the Orange Bowl. But that game didn't showcase what makes football such a special game, Vlachos explained.

"When you look at the core of football, you look at blocking, look at tackling, you look at rushing the ball, great defense, special teams play, all that type stuff. I think that [the first LSU-Alabama game] incorporated it all at a very high level. Even though there weren't many points scored, you're dealing with probably the two best defenses in college football in that game.

"Two offenses are also very good, and the defenses, I guess, won out, and obviously we weren't able to put the ball in the end zone when we got in the red area. I think for a true football fan, I think they really enjoyed that game."

It's not like these two teams can't score. They've been lighting up the score board on everyone else. LSU averages more than 38 points per game. 'Bama averages 36. Both are in the top 16 in the country in scoring, despite the fact they are convinced in every tough game they play, they can try and minimize the offensive risks because they're so dominant on D that they can win with defense.

Much of the criticism about this rematch has been intertwined with laments about how the first game was so low-scoring. To me, that part of the static is irrelevant. Selecting No. 1 vs. No. 2 should not be a programming decision.

That said, I can understand those, like my colleague Dennis Dodd, who have a problem with the notion that LSU shouldn't have to defeat a team twice to prove they are the national champs, especially since that would leave us open to more debate about how if 'Bama wins the rematch, whether the Tide's entire body of work trumps everything LSU already has done. That's an unfortunate possibility because of the college football system in place.

We all look at college football differently than we do the NFL, NBA or college basketball. We've gotten conditioned to the no-playoffs way and thus the context in which we must view things.

As for the Monday night rematch, well, if this makes some of you feel better, don't look for any less scoring than the first time.

"It ain't gonna happen," Smart predicted. "Both teams will take more chances."

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.

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