Tag:2012 BCS national championship
Posted on: January 10, 2012 3:04 am
Edited on: January 10, 2012 1:05 pm
 

Jefferson switch backfires on Miles as Lee sits

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



Bringing Jordan Jefferson off the bench on Nov. 5 might have won Les Miles his first meeting with Alabama this season. But that same decision might also have lost him the meeting that mattered.

Jefferson's mobility and the option looks he opened up help rescue what had been a flailing offense in Tuscaloosa, with his final option pitch of the night -- a 15-yard gain by Michael Ford -- clinching the win in overtime. It was after that first Alabama game that Miles and the LSU staff went away from 9-0 starter Jarrett Lee and towards Jefferson for good, with Lee attempting just five passes total over the Tigers' final four games. And Jefferson appeared to have repaid that leap of faith, putting together effective showings against Ole Miss and Arkansas.

But Monday in New Orleans, it appeared Jefferson's earlier success against the Tide had been nothing more than purple-and-fool's gold. The same option plays went nowhere when they didn't go backwards. Jefferson was hopeless as a passer anywhere beyond the line-of-scrimmage, completing 11-of-his-17 passes but for a useless 3.1 yards an attempt. His legs rarely helped him against the vicious Tide pass rush, as he finished with 14 carries for 15 yards. And Jefferson capped his night with the game's only interception, a mind-bending on-the-run chest pass to a running back -- Spencer Ware -- who had already turned to block for him. 

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It got so bad that Jefferson was booed by his own fans, in a national title game, in New Orleans. But still, even with the LSU offense looking more likely to put points on the board for the Tide than for their own team, Lee never entered the game. His final game as a collegian ended without his having taken a snap.

"I did feel like I'd get opportunity tonight," Lee said, "and I didn't."

Neither Lee nor the Tiger faithful were the only ones wondering if Miles had Jefferson a longer leash in the Superdome than he'd earned.

"Jarrett didn't get a shot. I felt like maybe he should have," said senior offensive lineman Will Blackwell. "He didn't, but that's not the reason we lost. Jarrett Lee not playing is not the reason we lost.

"Jarrett won nine games for us and we did very well in those nine games. He throws the ball a little bit better than Jordan, but Jordan runs it a little better. It's kind of a pick-your-poison kind of deal. Unfortunately, tonight we picked the wrong one."

Even Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart admitted he's expected to see Lee, saying he was "real shocked" Miles had never gone to the bullpen, before politely adding "They kind of rode the horse that brought them." 

In his postgame press conference, Miles was asked multiple times about his decision to stick with Jefferson -- once by former New Orleans Saints quarterback and current radio host Bobby Hebert, father of LSU lineman T-Bob Hebert, in a rambling and confrontational "question" that has to be read to be believed -- and stated (in his own Milesian style) that he felt Jefferson was better-suite to handle the Tide pass rush.

"We did consider Jarrett Lee," Miles said. " But we felt like with the pass rush that we were getting that we needed a guy that could move the seat and not sustain that pass rush ... As much as I would have liked to have put Jarrett Lee in because the program owes him a lot, he really did a great job for us in the beginning of the year and really throughout his career, I felt like it would be unfair to him with the pass rush ... That was my call."

Certainly the threat of the Tide sack artists was a factor to consider. And Blackwell is right that the Crimson Tide would have won that game if Tom Brady was at the LSU controls. But between LSU's stubborn determination to make the option "work," Miles's refusal to bench Jefferson (even if only to get his head on straight) and the phasing out of Lee over the season's final weeks, it seems fair to ask if the much larger factor was simply that LSU's staff was convinced that Jefferson gave them the best chance to win--no matter the evidence mounting in front of their eyes.

Why would they be so certain? The only logical explanation is because that's how things had worked out for them the first time around, and after weeks of preparation, LSU simply wasn't prepared for them to not work out a second time. In switching to Jefferson in the Game of the Century, Miles won a huge battle. But after Monday, that same choice seems to have helped cost him the national championship war.

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Posted on: January 9, 2012 11:51 pm
Edited on: January 10, 2012 12:22 am
 

Shelley finds redemption for Tide kicking game

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The jokes were never fair. Yes, Alabama missed four field goals in the first meeting against LSU. Yes, those misses were a major factor in the Tide's defeat. And no, designated kickoff specialist/long-range kicker Cade Foster hasn't had much of a season, going 2-for-9.

But that should never have meant that the Tide can't kick field goals. Junior Jeremy Shelley is, in fact, really, really good at kicking field goals. Field goals shorter than 40 yards, anyway: entering the BCS national championship game, Shelley had attempted 18 such kicks, and converted 16 of them. He'd missed one extra point all season, in 53 tries. He hadn't missed any kick shorter than 30 yards. 

But because Foster melted down against the Tigers and Shelley's one attempt in that game -- from well outside his usual range -- was blocked, the Tide kicking game was a laughingstock, a one-liner, a punchline. (If you don't believe us, you should have seen Twitter during the unfortunate field goal-kicking contest at halftime Monday night.) After the BCS title game, we wonder if Shelley took it personally.

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Shelley wasn't perfect--he had another 42-yarder blocked early on, missed a 41-yarder in the third quarter that could have helped clinch the title earlier, and even honked the only extra point attempted in eight quarters between the two teams. But he also connected five times on field goal attempts, tying an all-time bowl record, and made sure that the drives that were wasted in the Prematch weren't wasted this time. He hit from 23, 34, 35, and even from 41 and 44 for his first successes from that distance of the year. For all the potential inherent in LSU's brilliant punting pair of Brad Wing on the kicking end and Tyrann Mathieu on the returning end, the special teams player who made the most impact Monday -- for either side was Shelley.

Given the overall narrative of the night, that's how things had to be. If the first meeting was about the Tide's mistakes, the second one was about redemption for those mistakes--and even if those placekicking mistakes weren't Shelley's to begin with, he was the Crimson Tide player on who that area of redemption rested. And like everyone of his teammates, he came through with the highest-flying of colors.

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Posted on: January 9, 2012 4:25 pm
 

RapidReport Roundup: LSU vs. Alabama

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Rounding up all the latest from CBSSports.com Alabama and LSU Rapid Reporters Jim Dunn and Glenn Guilbeau ... and what it might mean for the big game.

  
  

Don't expect a blowout. “Every game I think we played against LSU in the last five games comes right down to the wire, some kind of way," Nick Saban said Sunday, and he's not exaggerating. Those five games -- all since Saban took over in Tuscaloosa, transforming what had been your average SEC blood feud into something even more intense between his former and current teams -- and have been decided by a total of 28 points, with two games going into overtime and none featuring a margin greater than 2009's nine. Whether or not the rematch lives up to the hype of the first meeting from an aesthetics standpoint (and there are those, of course, who will argue the first meeting already did), there's little doubt the final minutes will be as dramatic as ever.

Optioning away from the option? One of the key factors in LSU's win in the Prematch was their success with an option play featuring Jordan Jefferson and Michael Ford, a look which -- thanks to Jefferson's reduced role as Jarrett Lee started -- the Tigers had barely shown entering the game. The usually uber-prepared Tide defense seemed to be caught off guard, but Ford isn't expecting that to be the case the second time around.  "Alabama will be better against it this time," Ford said. "So we've just got to trick 'em -- act like we're going to run the option and run something different. When me, (tailback/fullback) Kenny Hilliard and Jordan Jefferson are in there, it's scary. It opens everything up. We can run between the tackles with Kenny. We can go option with me. Or we can throw it. You don't know what's coming at you."

That's not wrong, and both Jefferson's ascension and Hilliard's late-season charge are two reasons that the Tigers can hope for more offensive success than they saw on Nov. 5. But with the Tide knowing that LSU knows they might have to move away from the option, we might encourage the Tigers to stick with it--big plays against the Tide defense are precious, and proper execution might give them one against a defense that's looking for the change-up away from it.

First opponent: the layoff. Saban has never lacked for confidence in his coaching approach (and why would he, given the results), so it was somewhat surprising to hear him admit Sunday -- even after taking his Tide to the BCS national championship game in 2009-10 -- he isn't entirely sure how to handle the lengthy span between the end of the regular season and the title game. “When you have this much time between games, obviously you're always wondering as a coach. 'Are we practicing enough? Are we practicing too much?'" Saban said.

One could argue that uncertainty has played itself out in Saban's bowl record--his 6-3 mark is well above-average, but it's included a couple of clunkers, like the 2008 Tide's inexplicable blowout loss to Utah. (Miles, meanwhile, is 5-1 at LSU.) That's probably too small a sample size to make any firm conclusions, and it's not like the Tide haven't had several impressive bowl wins under Saban, too--last year's utter demolition of Michigan State being Exhibit A. But if we had to pick a team that might come out a little less certain than the other, especially in New Orleans, we'd lean towards Alabama.

Other tidbits. Miles says his team is ready. "They're a team that loves to play. The lights come on, and they want it. This will be a game that will be very representative of that" ... Saban said win or lose, there's one change coming Monday. “Every time we play LSU, I've got to change my phone number because people blow up my phone,” he joked ... Judging from the reaction to games like the Alamo Bowl and Rose Bowl, we're not sure fans are really clamoring for another field goal-decided slugfest. But Ford disagrees. "I don't think that's a game," he said of the pinball bowl games. "I think people get tired of seeing all those points on the board. They want to see a hard-fought game" ... LSU isn't a bigger rival for Alabama than Auburn, but Mark Barron says the gap is shrinking. “This is a rivalry that's grown over the years here recently due to the level of competition. I wouldn't say it's bigger than the Auburn rivalry, but it's growing slowly." After two No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups in the space of three months, here's wondering if by the end of the night, it's moved far past growing "slowly."

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