NCF Nation: Alley Broussard

TAMPA, Fla. -- How did Jeremy Hill get so good at closing out wins? Years of practice.

The junior tailback hasn't just been an effective clock-eater at the end of a victory since he arrived at LSU. He's been doing this since his days at Redemptorist High School in Baton Rouge, La.

“It's just something that I took way back in high school. Our coaches just put it in my hands and just told me to go win the football game,” Hill said after putting away Iowa in the Tigers' 21-14 victory in Wednesday's Outback Bowl. “You just have to have that mentality. Great players have that mentality. When everyone's looking for someone to make a play, just being in a tight game the whole time ... I just took it on my shoulders that I needed to make plays to win this football game, and that's exactly what happened.”

If Wednesday's performance -- 28 carries, 216 yards, two touchdowns -- was Hill's last as a college player, he made it one to remember. Hill is among a host of draft-eligible players on the Tigers' roster who could leave for the NFL. LSU coach Les Miles said afterward that “there's a chance” star receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham could declare for the draft, but Hill said while accepting bowl MVP honors that he still must weigh his decision.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesLSU's Jeremy Hill earned Outback Bowl MVP honors, rushing for 216 yards and two touchdowns.
Among the factors he said he will consider: the NFL draft advisory board's feedback on where he might be drafted, his family's input and his role within the LSU offense, should he opt to return.

“There's a lot that goes into it. It's a big decision, but like I said, I'm not thinking about it right now,” Hill said. “I'm just enjoying this win, and when we get back to Baton Rouge, we'll figure all that out.”

His role on Wednesday was as a battering ram. By becoming the first LSU back since Alley Broussard in 2004 to crack the 200-yard mark in a game, Hill finished the season with 1,401 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, totals that rank second and fourth, respectively, on LSU's single-season lists.

And it was his tackle-breaking, 37-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, putting LSU ahead 21-7, that all but sealed the victory.

“Given the opportunity to close out a game, he knows what to do,” Miles said. “He made some nice cuts, and you get him that spot, that opportunity to extend the play, he can score. And he did.”

LSU's offensive production mirrored the soggy, dreary weather in Tampa on Wednesday, with first-time starting quarterback Anthony Jennings struggling to generate much in the passing game. But Hill and a dominant defense were the sledgehammers that put away pesky Iowa, particularly on LSU's first and final full possessions.

The Tigers pounded the run early, keeping it on the ground for the first 12 plays before an incomplete pass. Jennings capped the game-opening 77-yard drive, which started with a 42-yard Hill run, with a 2-yard touchdown dive.

Hill capped a 39-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, capitalizing on a lost fumble by Iowa punt returner Kevonte Martin-Manley, with a 14-yard scoring run that put the Tigers ahead 14-0.

The Hawkeyes rallied to make it 14-7 when Mark Weisman pounded in a 2-yard touchdown after John Lowdermilk returned a Jennings interception to the LSU 1. And they nearly tied it before LSU's Craig Loston intercepted a C.J. Beathard pass at the LSU 8 with 5:04 remaining.

Hill and the Tigers made Iowa pay for its miscue. The Tigers kept it on the ground for all six plays on a touchdown drive that nearly iced the win -- including Hill runs of 28 yards, 20 yards and the scoring run of 37 yards -- with its backfield closer playing the leading role.

“They started adjusting and it just became a chess match,” Hill said. “I think we won when on that last drive we got a checkmate and we made the right calls, made the right checks and we won the game.”
Nick SabanAl Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesNick Saban changed the recruiting culture in Baton Rouge when he led the LSU Tigers.
All it took was a little screen time for Nick Saban to officially say goodbye to LSU.

With his Alabama team surrounding him inside a movie theater and the popular movie "The Blind Side" playing, Crimson Tide players hooted, hollered and laughed when Saban appeared on screen, dressed as his former LSU self.

Saban played the old him, who recruited future Ole Miss star offensive lineman Michael Oher to LSU. The problem was that Saban was a few years removed from his LSU days and was coaching Alabama.

He was so uneasy about how his new players might react to his acting debut in the wrong colors that he asked Alabama’s leadership group whether it was OK for him to do the cameo.

Without hesitation, his players allowed it, but only if they could poke a little fun at his expense.

Senior center William Vlachos said he and his teammates razzed the very matter-of-fact coach, letting him know that acting wasn’t his thing, but they also informed them this was his new team and he could put his LSU thoughts behind him.

“If that had bothered us, he wouldn’t have done it,” Vlachos said. “His heart is with us.”

And Saban makes sure people know that. He sidesteps most questions dealing with him and LSU, and it’s pretty much a nonissue in Tuscaloosa.

The Saban-LSU storyline has been beaten to death, and even with Saban now facing his former school in the national championship, few have taken much time to pick his brain about the situation he’ll be in.

But it will be hard for Saban not to take a peek at the past when his second-ranked Crimson Tide (11-1, 7-1) take on No. 1 LSU (13-0, 8-0) in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game on Monday night.

He can’t ignore the monster he helped create in Baton Rouge, La. Before Saban got his hands on LSU, the Tigers were a mere afterthought in the SEC.

LSU had suffered through two straight losing season under previous coach Gerry DiNardo and had recorded seven losing seasons in the 1990s.

Saban swooped in and conducted a complete transformation. His first objective was to instill more discipline within the program and hammer home academics. He led the way for a $15 million fundraising effort for a new academic center for LSU student-athletes and made sure he and his players were tremendously active in the community.

Facilities were upgraded; a new attitude was created; and LSU quickly became a true force in the SEC. Saban won 48 games in his five-year stint with the Tigers that included a national championship (2003), two SEC championships, three SEC Western Division championships and three bowl wins, including two Sugar Bowl victories.

To get those wins, Saban also became a bulldog in recruiting. For years, LSU had struggled to keep top Louisiana prospects in state. In the 1990s, Baton Rouge athletes Warrick Dunn and Travis Minor left to become stars at Florida State, and New Orleans high school stars Reggie Wayne and Ed Reed left and eventually became key components of Miami’s 2001 national championship squad.

But with Saban camped out in Cajun country, those kinds of players rarely stepped away from LSU’s campus.

“It didn't happen overnight, but Nick Saban turned LSU into a recruiting powerhouse by gradually winning over the state's top prospects,” ESPN recruiting analyst Corey Long said.

Saban’s 2001 SEC championship team made a real breakthrough for the program, but Long said that his 2003 recruiting class served as a major breakthrough for LSU recruiting.

Saban was able to keep most of Louisiana’s top high school prospects in state, including running backs Alley Broussard and Justin Vincent and athlete LaRon Landry. Quarterbacks JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn were a part of that class, as was Miami-area wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.

Saban controlled Louisiana, snagged recruits from other schools’ comfort zones and even developed a knack for finding underrated talent, such as running back Jacob Hester.

Now, LSU is a winning and recruiting machine. Miles has picked up beautifully from where Saban left off, but he certainly owes a little of his own success to Saban’s work. Miles hasn’t relinquished LSU’s stranglehold on the state of Louisiana and prides himself on building his team off of local talent.

“Before Saban arrived at LSU, the talent in Louisiana was a virtual grab bag for the top programs in surrounding states,” Long said. “These days, it's rare that a top player in the state goes anywhere but Baton Rouge.”

On Monday, Saban will meet the beast he created years ago. He doesn’t like to pump his LSU ties, but this one is different.

This one is for all the sugar, and once Saban sets foot on the Superdome field and stares at that purple-and-gold monster, he’ll have to take some pride in his work that helped create LSU’s masterpiece.