TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There were people hitting the turf before the ball was ever kicked off Saturday, namely LSU coach Les Miles.
As his team came stampeding out of the locker room, Miles took a tumble when he didn’t quite get out of the way. The alleged culprit was 280-pound fullback J.C. Copeland.
“That’s OK. It set the tone for what was a game of hard knocks,” Miles said in vintage fashion.
For sure, there were a lot more hard knocks than touchdowns in this No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown at Bryant-Denny Stadium. And when it counted, LSU’s defense was the one delivering those knocks in a 9-6 overtime victory against Alabama that was old-school football at its finest.
“This is the way football is supposed to be played,” LSU sophomore defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “This is the way our ancestors meant for this game to be played, not running up all these high scores and people getting blown out.
“This was a close football game with two great football teams clashing in a great atmosphere.”
The Tigers (9-0, 6-0) certainly didn’t feel the need to apologize after the so-called “Game of the Century” failed to produce a touchdown.
Never mind that the three quarterbacks on the two teams combined for four interceptions, and never mind that Alabama missed four field goals.
This was a game that was going to come down to defense -- bone-crunching, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners defense.
And it just so happens that two of the finest defenses in the land were on the field.
Sure, the offenses looked pedestrian. OK, saying they looked pedestrian is probably being kind.
But here’s the catch: The two defenses that stole this show were littered with future NFL talent.
“I’d say we’ll all see a lot of each other again in the [NFL],” LSU sophomore safety Eric Reid said.
There’s a reason nobody found the end zone.
“By the third quarter, I was saying, ‘Whoever scores first is going to win the game,’” Montgomery said. “Then in overtime, I said to myself, ‘Whoever gives up or cracks first is going to lose the game.’
“Alabama had a slight 5-yard penalty that gave us the edge, and we ran with it. And then after that sack, it was over.”
Montgomery was the one registering that sack, getting to Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron on third-and-15 and pushing the Tide back to the 35.
Cade Foster’s 52-yard field goal attempt was short, Alabama’s fourth and most costly miss of the night.
LSU answered on its possession with Drew Alleman’s game-winning 25-yard field goal, which was set up by Michael Ford’s 15-yard run on an option pitch.
“Not necessarily a pretty game, but it had a nice ending,” Miles said.
But then, they say beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.
And in the eyes of LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, this one was a classic.
Miles presented Chavis with a game ball in the locker room after the game, and it was obvious how much that gesture meant to the man they call “Chief.”
His defense wasn’t perfect, yielded some yards in chunks and didn’t always tackle Alabama running back Trent Richardson. Of course, who does?
But in what’s been this LSU defense’s calling card, the Tigers made one key play after another any time the Crimson Tide got close.
“Even though it wasn’t as pretty as we’d all like it to be, they were not going to be denied,” said Chavis, whose defense hasn’t given up more than 11 points in its past five games. “Our kids have made plays all year long.”
None was any bigger than Reid’s interception at the 1-yard line when it looked like Alabama tight end Michael Williams was behind him for an apparent touchdown early in the fourth quarter. But Marquis Maze, who was lined up in the Wildcat formation, underthrew the pass, and Reid raced back into position and wrestled the ball away from Williams.
“I was able to get two hands on it as we were coming down,” Reid said. “We knew Maze might throw it if he lined up back there.”
A possession earlier, McCarron sailed one into the hands of LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, who raced 33 yards to the 15. The Alabama defense held, and Alleman came on to drill a 30-yard field goal and tie the game at 6-6.
“Any time you can win in the SEC and keep a team from scoring a touchdown, that’s special, big-time special,” said Chavis, whose defenses at Tennessee were the backbone of some of the Vols’ best teams in the 1990s.
“We got done what we needed to get done.”
Chavis has yet to pick out a spot for his latest game ball. It’s the second one he’s received this season. He also got one after his return to Tennessee back in October.
For the record, he said this one was bigger.
“It will mean a lot once it gets everybody’s name on it, everybody that was out there on the battlefield,” said Chavis, who plans to have the entire team sign it.
In other words, there’s still a lot of unfinished business out there for these Tigers.
They’re certainly in Position A in terms of getting to the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.
But this game won’t mean a whole lot if the Tigers aren’t in New Orleans playing for college football’s crystal trophy come January.
“People have been doubting us since the beginning of the year,” Montgomery said. “We’re always going to play with a chip on our shoulder, and that’s not going to stop.”