NCF Nation: DeAngelo Peterson

BATON ROUGE, La. -- This will be Kendell Beckwith's kind of game.

LSU’s new starting middle linebacker knows LSU-Alabama is the SEC’s version of a toughman competition, and that’s exactly the style of football he likes to play.

“I know it’s going to be hard-nosed football,” said Beckwith, whose team will host Alabama on Saturday. “I know they’re going to try to come downhill on us and we’re just going to have to do a good job of stopping the run.”

Perhaps no two programs in the conference are a better match than No. 6 Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) and No. 19 LSU (7-2, 3-2), which is why their annual showdown has become one of the conference’s premier rivalries.

They recruit at similarly high levels. They turn out tons of professional talent. They’re led by stars in the coaching profession. And they’re both known for their physicality -- particularly along the line of scrimmage.

Teams that are weak up front typically don’t have much of a chance.

“I think it’ll be pretty physical and pretty loud and probably like a repeat of the Ole Miss game -- maybe a little more exciting,” said Beckwith, who was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week last week after his 10-tackle performance helped LSU beat Ole Miss 10-7 and hand the Rebels their first loss of the season.

That was easily LSU’s best win of the season following a rocky start in which the Tigers did not perform up to their expectations on the offensive and defensive lines. Mississippi State and Auburn both posted huge yardage totals against John Chavis’ defense, and LSU's trademark power running game failed to keep the Tigers in either of those losses.

They have turned things around of late, however, improving on a weekly basis on defense and averaging 254 rushing yards per game during their current three-game winning streak.

Running effectively against defenses from Florida and Ole Miss was a challenge, and the Tigers were successful. But facing Alabama’s defense is an entirely different animal, as the Crimson Tide enter as the SEC’s leading run defense -- and rank second nationally -- by allowing just 78.1 rushing yards per game.

“They’re big up front, so our O-line has just got to be able to handle those guys up front and get moving on those guys,” LSU running back Kenny Hilliard said. “If they do that, they’ll create some running lanes for our backs and we’ll be able to get in there and hit the crease and get vertical.”

When the Tigers were struggling a month ago, that seemed like a laughable proposition. Now it’s not nearly as funny. LSU was clearly the more physical team against Ole Miss -- which handed Alabama its only loss of the season on Oct. 4 -- and could have won by a wider margin if not for four turnovers and a missed 28-yard field goal.

For the first time this season, LSU looks like a team that can give Alabama a run for its money.

Nick Saban’s Tide will still enter Tiger Stadium as the favorite, just as they have been every time these teams have met after 2007, Saban’s first season at Alabama. Their visits to Baton Rouge under Saban have all been instant classics, and Alabama has won two of the three.

Saban’s return to LSU -- where he coached from 2000 to 2004 -- came in 2008, with Alabama winning 27-21 in overtime. Les Miles’ Tigers returned the favor in 2010, fooling everyone in the stadium with a fourth-down reverse to tight end DeAngelo Peterson to set up the go-ahead touchdown in a 24-21 win. In 2012, AJ McCarron and T.J. Yeldon combined to break LSU fans’ hearts on a 28-yard touchdown pass with 51 seconds to play, lifting the Tide to a 21-17 win.

LSU and Alabama's performances of late offer every reason to believe this should be another enormously physical and competitive game, which is why it’s no coincidence both teams took this past weekend off in order to rest up for Saturday’s rematch. They both know exactly what to expect Saturday: probably the most intense game they will play all season.

“It was live. It was crazy,” said LSU receiver Travin Dural, who caught his first career touchdown pass against Alabama last season in Tuscaloosa. “Their defense was flying all over and they were big and fast and physical and they didn’t make a lot of mistakes.”

LSU’s defense has played cleaner games lately as well, and its timing couldn’t be better. For the Tigers to pull off an upset Saturday, it will require their most efficient, physically imposing outing of the season.

The best of Alabama vs. LSU

November, 1, 2012
It’s only fitting for what has been college football’s best rivalry over the past five years or so that we look back at some of the best and most memorable moments.

No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 LSU will meet for the third time in 12 months on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. It’s their seventh meeting since Nick Saban returned to the SEC in 2007 as Alabama’s coach, which only spiced up the rivalry. Saban, of course, was LSU’s coach from 2000-04.

The teams have combined to win four of the past nine BCS national championships, and they're 3-3 in their past six meetings.

Here’s a look back at those six games:

[+] EnlargeEric Reid
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLSU's Eric Reid wrestled this pass away from Alabama's Michael Williams for a memorable interception last season.
Fourth-down magic: It was Saban’s first game against his old team, and Alabama nearly pulled off an improbable upset of No. 3 LSU. The Tigers survived 41-34 and would go on to win the 2007 national championship. One of the plays everybody remembers from that season was Early Doucet’s 32-yard touchdown catch and run to tie the score on a fourth-and-4 play with 2:49 to play. It was a quick-hitter that Doucet turned into a big play, and Saban lamented afterward that he knew the Tigers were going to Doucet. Saban had recruited and signed more than 30 of the players on that LSU team, and several went over to shake hands with him after the game. Saban said it was like “playing against somebody in your family.”

The blitz: While Doucet’s touchdown tied the score in 2007, freshman safety Chad Jones sealed the win for the Tigers when he burst free up the middle on a blitz and forced Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson to fumble. Curtis Taylor recovered for LSU at the Alabama 3-yard line with 1:39 to play, and Jacob Hester plowed in for the winning touchdown two plays later. The LSU players presented Les Miles with a game ball after the game in the locker room.

The hat trick: In one of the greatest individual performances in this series’ history, Alabama senior safety Rashad Johnson intercepted LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee three times in the 2008 game, and the Crimson Tide escaped 27-21 in overtime to stay unbeaten. Johnson’s first interception gave the Tide possession at the LSU 15-yard line and set up their first touchdown. He returned his second interception 54 yards for a touchdown to tie the score in the second quarter, and his third interception was in the end zone in overtime.

The interception that wasn’t: It’s a call that still boils the blood of LSU fans. Star cornerback Patrick Peterson appeared to intercept a ball on the sideline late in the game in 2009. Alabama was leading 21-15 at the time, and the official on the field ruled that Peterson was out of bounds when he intercepted Greg McElroy’s pass. The call went to the replay booth, and even though replays seemed to show that Peterson had a foot inbounds, it wasn’t overturned. Alabama was able to move into position for a clinching field goal to win 24-15 and stay unbeaten on its way to Saban's first national title at Alabama.

Cramped up: In that same 2009 game in Tuscaloosa, Peterson had done a good job of holding Alabama star receiver Julio Jones in check. But early in the fourth quarter with LSU leading 15-13, Peterson had to leave the game with cramps. The next time Alabama got the ball, the Crimson Tide took advantage of Peterson’s absence and tossed a quick screen pass out wide to Jones, and he turned on the jets for a 73-yard touchdown to put Alabama ahead for good.

The gamble: Miles went into his bag of tricks twice in 2010, and LSU pulled out a 24-21 win, much to the delight of a raucous crowd at Tiger Stadium. Punter Josh Jasper ran for 29 yards on a fake punt in the third quarter. But the key blow for the Tigers came in the fourth quarter, when the “Mad Hatter” called for a double pitch on fourth-and-1 from the Alabama 26-yard line. Running back Stevan Ridley took a toss and then pitched it to tight end Deangelo Peterson on a reverse, and Peterson sprinted 23 yards to the Alabama 3. Ridley scored on third down from the 1 to put LSU ahead to stay.

Reid’s acrobatics: Even now when you go back and watch the play, it’s still hard to believe that LSU safety Eric Reid managed to wrestle the ball away from Alabama tight end Michael Williams in mid-air and come down with possession. Alabama tried a reverse pass early in the fourth quarter, but Marquis Maze’s throw hung up a little too long. It gave Reid just enough time to get back there and make his spectacular interception at the 1-yard line. LSU went on to win 9-6 in overtime last season in what was the most hyped regular-season game in SEC history.

Crimson wall: Alabama got a second chance at LSU last season and made it count in the BCS National Championship Game. The Crimson Tide absolutely suffocated a listless LSU offense and didn’t allow the Tigers to cross midfield until the fourth quarter. LSU was held to 92 total yards on offense, and Alabama rolled 21-0 to win its second national title in the past three years.
LSU could be getting back one of its most dynamic offensive weapons for the fourth week of the season.

A source told the Associated Press that wide receiver Russell Shepard will be eligible to play at West Virginia on Sept. 24.

Shepard was suspended before LSU's opener against Oregon for breaking an NCAA rule when he discussed an ongoing investigation concerning the relationship scouting service provider Willie Lyles had with LSU and other schools.

While the Tigers dismantled Oregon without much of a passing game in Week 1, getting Shepard back is will be a major boost to the offense. For the Tigers to make it through the SEC they'll have to generate something more than what they showed through the air against the Ducks, which was 98 yards from Jarrett Lee.

Shepard is a player who can lineup at receiver and in the backfield. Last year, he caught 33 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown, while carrying the ball 32 times for 226 yards and two more scores. He might not have had eye-popping numbers, but he's a big-play threat. This spring his teammates and coaches raved about his improvements and he was very vocal about becoming one of the best receivers in the league.

This team showed it can run the ball very effectively and has a real weapon in tight end DeAngelo Peterson. If Rueben Randle can be targeted more and Shepard can play to his potential, LSU's offense actually becomes formidable.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 1

September, 1, 2011
Can you hear that?

It’s the sound of jerseys being carefully hung and neatly placed in lockers. It’s the sound of last-minute helmet shines and play card lamination.

More importantly, it’s the sound of the return to college football. Maybe, just maybe, these silly shenanigans that have taken our minds off the actually game will cease for a while.

[+] EnlargeJarrett Lee
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireLSU will turn to Jarrett Lee as the starting quarterback in the season opener against Oregon.
That sound is now transforming into the horns blaring and snares chopping. Soon, these sounds will be overwhelmed by that sticky, sweet smell of game day barbecue with a hint of fine fried snacks.

Let’s get to what you should watch for in the SEC this week before I drool on my keyboard:

1. LSU’s passing game: Jordan Jefferson's suspension for his involvement in a bar fight and Russell Shepard being ruled ineligible for discussing an NCAA inquiry with a teammate have the Tigers in a bit of an offensive bind to start the season. Veteran Jarrett Lee takes over for Jefferson, and while coach Les Miles believes Lee has what it takes to lead the Tigers against No. 3 Oregon, Lee has had a very rocky five years at LSU. Expect junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger, who has all the skill to be a special player, to get snaps as well. As far as receivers go, Rueben Randle will be the primary target and DeAngelo Peterson is a playmaking tight end. Miles said this week that freshman Odell Beckham could start, so expect the Tigers to use plenty of options.

2. McCarron vs. Sims: This is one of the most exciting quarterback battles to keep an eye on this season. AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims are young and neither has separated himself from the other. However, teammates have said they wouldn’t mind either one starting and trust both to lead the offense. But this isn’t just any offense; it’s the offense of a team that is a true national championship contender. Taking the reigns of this machine is a big deal, and the winner should be prepared for a load of pressure dumped into his lap. This is the first step toward someone pushing past the other, but this battle could bleed deeper into the season.

3. Fresh new faces: There are two new head coaches making their SEC debuts this weekend. Will Muschamp takes over at Florida, after leaving Texas as its defensive coordinator, and James Franklin is in charge at Vanderbilt after being Maryland’s offensive coordinator. Fortunately for both, their teams are favored this weekend, with Florida taking on Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt squaring off against Elon. Muschamp has the tough task of replacing two-time national champion Urban Meyer, while Franklin has brought some much-needed excitement and confidence to a slumping program. Both programs are in need of some early excitement and both should provide plenty of that this weekend.

4. Marquee QB battle: When Georgia and Boise State square off inside the Georgia Dome; they’ll do so with two highly touted quarterbacks. Boise’s veteran Kellen Moore, who has a thirst for big games, will look to keep his team in the national championship picture. Moore enters 2011 as the nation’s active career leader in passing efficiency (166.74) and wins (38). He ranks second on the active career list in completion percentage (68.17), passing yards (10,867), passing touchdowns (99) and completions (831). Last season, Murray passed for a Georgia freshman record 3,049 yards (second in SEC history by a freshman) and 24 touchdowns. His 3,216 total offensive yards ranks him first in Georgia freshman history and second in SEC history. He also tied for first in school history for touchdown responsibility in a season with 28. Watching these two compete will be a lot of fun.

5. Wild runners: The SEC brings back a stable of running back talent as five of the top 10 rushers from the 2010 season return. It would have been six, but Arkansas’ Knile Davis suffered a season-ending ankle injury before the season. The SEC is loaded at running back, with South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore and Alabama’s Trent Richardson making early Heisman Trophy lists. The scary thing is that Lattimore is only a sophomore and Richardson was a backup for two years. Auburn brings back the best rushing combo in Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb, who both have the potential to reach 1,000 yards. Ole Miss’ Brandon Bolden is very underrated and should finally eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, while Mississippi State’s Vick Ballard is one of the toughest runners around and is looking to pass his touchdown mark of 19 a season ago. Tennessee’s Tauren Poole is another unheralded rusher, but he surpassed 1,000 yards in 2010. Expect others, like LSU’s Spencer Ware and Kentucky’s Raymond Sanders, to step up as well.

6. QBs getting their first shot to be the man: The first week of football will feature a handful of new quarterbacks looking to prove they can lead their respective teams. McCarron and Sims will be battling it out against Kent State, while Barrett Trotter is taking over for Heisman winner Cam Newton at Auburn. Barry Brunetti makes his SEC debut at Ole Miss. Heck, Lee will have to prove he can be a solid short-term option for LSU, as well. There will be some growing pains and struggles around the league with these players, but they’ll all be eager to get out there and show what they can do.

7. Houston Nutt as the underdog: If history is an indicator, Houston Nutt does well when his team is counted out. Look at the 2006 Arkansas Razorbacks, who made it to the SEC championship game and in 2008, Nutt’s Ole Miss Rebels won their last six games, including the Cotton Bowl. Well, Nutt and his Rebels are being overlooked yet again and Ole Miss starts the season against a tough BYU team. Ole Miss isn’t favored and it’s fielding a slew of youngsters, including a new quarterback in Brunetti. A win would generate some valuable momentum for this team.

8. John Brantley’s confidence: The spread offense is gone in Gainesville and quarterback John Brantley couldn’t be happier. He never fit in the spread, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, but Muschamp and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis have rescued Brantley with a pro-style offense. Brantley set all sorts of records in high school -- some even held by former Florida star Tim Tebow -- but he was never able to play with much confidence in 2010. Now, Brantley has a chance to reinvent himself. Word out of Gainesville is that Brantley has more command in the pocket and has won his teammates over again. Saturday won’t be a major test for Brantley, but it is a chance for him to play with confidence and maybe even some moxie, which should benefit him the rest of the season.

9. Kentucky’s run defense: Kentucky coach Joker Phillips made it perfectly clear that stopping the run is of the utmost importance when the Wildcats face Western Kentucky. When these two got together last season, the Wildcats’ rush defense received what Phillips described as a “slap in the face” from Western Kentucky’s Bobby Rainey, who ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns. For the rest of the season, Kentucky’s rush defense struggled immensely, surrendering 177.1 yards per game and allowing a league-high 30 rushing touchdowns. For the Wildcats to develop some defensive confidence they’ll have to shut down the Hilltoppers’ running game.

10. Black bear sightings!: Those of you who live in Oxford, Miss., or are traveling there for the weekend should be on the look out for black bears in the vicinity. Whether they’re harmful or not is yet to be seen. Ole Miss is breaking in a new mascot in the “Rebel Black Bear” seven years after the university got rid of “Colonel Reb.” The new mascot has received mixed reactions and expect Colonel Reb supporters to be out in full force for the bear’s first home game. A loss to BYU could send this cuddly creature back into hibernation.

SEC position rankings: WRs/TEs

June, 16, 2011
Today we take a look at the wide receiver/tight end positions in the SEC. This one gets tricky since we’re basing rankings on two different positions.

Let’s take a look at what we came up with:

[+] EnlargeJoe Adams, Jarius Wright, and Greg Childs
AP Photo/April L. BrownJoe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs combined for 2,260 yards last season.
1. Arkansas: The Razorbacks could have the best wide receiver corps in the country. Making things even better for Arkansas is that each member of its tremendous trio is a senior. First, there’s Greg Childs, who would have taken part in the NFL draft this year had he not suffered a knee injury late in the season. Childs is Arkansas’ best receiver when he’s healthy. Joe Adams really came on strong last year, especially after Childs went down. He’s the best when he gets the ball in open space and will command the slot. Then there’s Jarius Wright, who is the fastest of the three and got even stronger this spring as well. The three have 324 combined career receptions for 5,404 yards and 41 touchdowns.

2. LSU: The Tigers might have lost Terrence Toliver, but they’ll still have weapons at receiver. Junior Rueben Randle is expected to be the go-to guy in LSU’s offense and is coming off a season where he caught 33 passes for 544 yards and three touchdowns. Russell Shepard was right behind him last season, catching the same amount of balls, but only totaled 254 yards and one touchdown. He looked sharper this spring and is looking to break out this fall. Tight end Deangelo Peterson should also get more attention this fall. He only caught 16 passes, but that number should increase.

3. South Carolina: For starters, the Gamecocks have the league’s best receiver in Alshon Jeffery. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound freak snatched just about everything that came his way last fall and registered 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s nearly impossible to stop in one-on-one situations. Senior Jason Barnes didn't make a major impact in 2010, but he does have 60 career receptions under his belt. The smaller Ace Sanders should be even better after bursting onto the scene with 25 receptions for 316 yards and two touchdowns. D.L. Moore, who caught 17 passes in 2010, should have a more expanded role as well.

[+] EnlargeTavarres King
Dale Zanine/US PresswireWith A.J. Green in the NFL, Tavarres King should become the Bulldogs' main receiving threat.
4. Georgia: The Bulldogs are still looking for a few playmakers at receiver, but there is definitely talent in Athens. Junior Tavarres King has moved into A.J. Green’s flanker spot and while he’s not Green, he proved this spring that he’s ready to be the Bulldogs' main receiving threat. Tight end Orson Charles is the best at his position and can flex out to receiver if needed. His 26 catches for 422 yards should increase this upcoming season. Marlon Brown also made strides this spring and should be the No. 2 receiver.

5. Tennessee: Neither Justin Hunter nor Da'Rick Rogers had a ton of catches last fall, but that will change with a strong passing game in 2011. Hunter caught 16 passes, but registered 415 yards and seven touchdowns in the process. He’s a solid deep threat and playmaker. Rogers also only caught 16 passes, and while he didn’t have the yardage Hunter had, he made tremendous strides this spring. Tight end Mychal Rivera caught 11 passes in 2010 and with Luke Stocker gone he takes over as the Vols’ weapon at tight end.

6. Alabama: There aren’t a lot of questions surrounding the Crimson Tide, but receiver isn’t Alabama’s best area. Seniors Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks should get the brunt of the catches. They combined for 70 catches for 1,013 yards and six touchdowns last season. There is a long list of other inexperienced players who should grab some catches as well and former Ohio State receiver Duron Carter, who just transferred in, could be a factor this fall.

7. Florida: The Gators have talent at wide receiver, and Florida should have a more pass-friendly offense, but the group is very unproven. Frankie Hammond Jr. could be Florida’s best weapon at receiver with his speed and athleticism. Omarius Hines has the size and speed to be a major mismatch for defenders in the slot and on the outside. Freshman Quinton Dunbar was Florida’s top deep threat this spring and should get ample playing time. At tight end, Jordan Reed was called Florida’s best athlete and could end up being the Gators’ top playmaker. Trey Burton should catch a few more passes as well.

[+] EnlargeChad Bumphis
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireMississippi State's Chad Bumphis caught 44 passes for 634 yards and five touchdowns last season.
8. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have a ton of depth at receiver, starting with Chad Bumphis. The junior has yet to really break out, but this could be the year he finally puts it together. Alongside him, Mississippi State has Chris Smith, Brandon Heavens and Arceto Clark, who all had solid springs. Those four combined for 115 catches last fall. The Bulldogs also have a host of young receivers who appear ready to compete.

9. Auburn: There is still some talent left on the Plains at receiver. Sure, Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery are gone, but the Tigers will look to Emory Blake and Trovon Reed to make up for their departures. Blake is the leading returning receiver, while Reed will be used all over the field by Auburn’s coaches. He can be a threat in the slot and on the outside. Philip Lutzenkirchen will be more of a staple in the offense as the Tigers’ trusted H-back.

10. Ole Miss: Athletically, the Rebels are fine. However, this group is very inexperienced and was inconsistent this spring. The incoming freshmen will have every opportunity to take a starting spot and Tobias Singleton could be the best option of Ole Miss’ youngsters. Of the returners, Melvin Harris did the most in 2010, catching 30 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Vincent Sanders will also get a chance to heavily contribute after making strong strides this spring.

11. Vanderbilt: Four of Vanderbilt’s five receiving leaders return, but the group wasn’t tremendously productive last fall. The Commodores didn’t have a receiver go over 320 yards last season and tight end Brandon Barden caught a team-high 34 passes for 425 yards. Vanderbilt's top two wideouts -- John Cole and Jonathan Krause -- are back, but the Commodores might have to turn to their youngsters for help.

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost a lot when do-everything Randall Cobb left early for the NFL and things didn’t get any better by losing No. 2 wideout Chris Matthews. Now, it’s back to the drawing board in Lexington. La'Rod King should be the top target for quarterback Morgan Newton, but he disappointed at times this spring. Matt Roark and E.J. Fields will compete for time, but both need vast improvement. The top athlete could be Brian Adams, but he spent spring playing for Kentucky’s baseball team.

Don't sleep on LSU, 'The Hat'

November, 6, 2010
BATON ROUGE, La. -- He’s been called the "Mad Hatter," and "Lucky Les," even a little loony at times.

After all, the guy eats grass.

The cameras caught LSU coach Les Miles in the fourth quarter Saturday bending over, plucking a blade of grass from the turf at Tiger Stadium and then chomping on it.

Turns out that is not uncommon.

“He says there’s a lot of protein in it,” LSU receiver Russell Shepard quipped.

Miles, as only he can, offered a much more complex explanation.

“I have a little tradition that lets me know that I’m part of the field and part of the game,” Miles said. “I’ll tell you one thing. The grass at Tiger Stadium tastes better.”

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesLes Miles and LSU effectively ended Alabama's quest for a second straight national championship.
It also tastes better when you take down Alabama and Nick Saban, effectively ending the Crimson Tide’s quest for a second straight national championship and putting the Tigers in an interesting position. Who knows what might be possible if the right teams lose in the next few weeks.

But more than anything, LSU’s 24-21 victory over Alabama punctuates yet again that maybe there’s a method to Miles’ perceived football madness.

Yes, he has mismanaged the end of a few games -- most notably the Ole Miss debacle a year ago and the near-debacle against Tennessee earlier this season -- but he’s also 59-16 at LSU, with a national championship and the kind of cold-blooded fearlessness that makes him different than any other coach in the country.

“Coach Miles has taken a lot of grief, but the players know what he’s about,” LSU senior linebacker Kelvin Sheppard said. “Look at what all he’s accomplished. Look at the way he’s held this team together. It was just a matter of time before we put it all together.”

Sheppard and several other LSU upperclassmen presented Miles with the game ball Saturday as the Tiger Stadium crowd still roared outside.

This wasn’t just a victory against No. 6 Alabama. This was Saban, the coaching icon who rebuilt the LSU program into a powerhouse, only to leave for the NFL and then resurface a few years later back in the SEC at Alabama.

“For a lot of people, this was personal,” said LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who played his most efficient game of the season. “Everybody knows around here what it means to beat Nick Saban.”

The Crimson Tide (7-2, 4-2) came into the game as the one-loss team nationally most likely to move up the BCS standings and get a shot at a second straight national championship.

And while Alabama led 7-3 at the half, it was LSU that looked like the national championship contender when it counted most.

“LSU was hungry for it,” Alabama safety Robert Lester said. “They came out and played like it. We played like we didn’t really want it, and it showed.”

The Tigers (8-1, 5-1) had been dreadful on offense for most of this season. They entered the game ranked 101st nationally in total offense.

Their first-half performance against Alabama was a carbon copy of the way it’s been all season. They managed just 95 total yards.

But something happened in the second half, as they erupted for 338 yards.

“We took risks. We opened up the playbook, especially in the second half,” said Jefferson, who was 10 of 13 for 141 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle in the third quarter that awakened the Tigers from their slumber.

“We saw their weaknesses and were just kind of grinding in the first half. But the second half is where we got it going tonight.”

Miles made sure of it.

You name it, and he called it.

The Tigers ran a fake punt. They threw long, and they went for it on fourth down.

Not only did they go for it, but they ran a two-pitch reverse to tight end Deangelo Peterson that popped wide open on a fourth-and-1 play from the Alabama 26 in the fourth quarter.

Trailing 14-13, LSU could have taken the lead with a field goal.

Miles had other ideas.

“The Hat,” chortled LSU star cornerback Patrick Peterson, shaking his head admiringly. “He pulled all the tricks out of his hat tonight.”

Deangelo Peterson’s 23-yard run set up Stevan Ridley’s 1-yard touchdown plunge, and the Tigers also converted the two-point conversion to go up 21-14 with 3:57 to play.

“As soon as I heard what the play was going to be on that fourth down, I went and sat down because I knew it was going to be a big gain,” Patrick Peterson said. “Usually coach Miles will ask the defense if it’s OK to go for it on fourth down. He didn’t even ask tonight.”

The Tigers’ lead grew to 24-14 after defensive tackle Drake Nevis forced Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy to fumble, setting up a Josh Jasper field goal. But the Crimson Tide came storming back to make it a three-point game with a little more than three minutes remaining.

Alabama, with a timeout remaining, seemed to be back in business when LSU was facing third-and-13 and backed up on its own 20.

But instead of running the ball and kicking it back to the Crimson Tide, Miles had Jarrett Lee uncork a deep ball, and Randle was wide open after racing past Alabama freshman cornerback DeMarcus Milliner.

That 47-yard gain did in Alabama for good and jump-started a party on the Bayou that will be going strong well into Sunday morning.

Miles downplayed his whole "Mad Hatter" image. Deep down, though, he almost seems to enjoy it.

“I think that’s overblown,” Miles said. “I promise you that it’s not in my hat. I don’t think I’ve done anything that 50 or 60 high school coaches in this state wouldn’t do. I think if you like football and have a feel for some stuff, you let it ride sometimes.”

Or a lot of times.

“When he calls something, there’s a good percentage that play is going to be there,” said LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, whose unit held Alabama to 325 total yards. “He knows. He studies. He’s worked it.

“I’ll be honest with you. The guy’s a brilliant guy when it comes to strategy in football games.”

Brilliant enough this season that the Tigers are hovering in the shadows of the national championship race. They will need some help, no doubt.

But as we’ve seen in the past with Miles and the Tigers, they’re at their best when you count them out.

“To think that anybody would minimize this football team in its own stadium is a mistake,” said Miles, scolding all those people who were talking only about what the Crimson Tide potentially had in front of them coming into this game.

“Oh my God. Imagine LSU being underdogs in Tiger Stadium. Come on.”