SEC: Tide-Tigers-110610

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.”


Video: LSU's Jordan Jefferson

November, 6, 2010

LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson talks about the Tigers’ win over Alabama.

Video: LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard

November, 6, 2010

LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard talks about the win over Alabama.

Final: LSU 24, Alabama 21

November, 6, 2010
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU's Les Miles pulled out all the stops, and the Tigers' offense came roaring back from the dead in the second half.

Just like that, No. 6 Alabama is out of the national championship picture.

The No. 10 Tigers made one improbable play after another in the second half to send the Crimson Tide packing 24-21 on Saturday at Tiger Stadium.

After being held to 95 total yards in the first half, LSU responded with its best stretch of offense of the season in the third quarter. And in vintage Miles fashion, the defining play of the game was a 23-yard run by tight end Deangelo Peterson on a fourth-and-1 play from the Alabama 26 in the fourth quarter.

It wasn't just any run, either. The Tigers, trailing 14-13 at the time, pitched it twice with Peterson taking the second pitch on a misdirection play to the left side all the way down to the Alabama 3.

LSU punched across the touchdown and a two-point conversion pass to take the lead for good.

Earlier in the game, the Tigers also converted a fake field goal and sealed the game with a 47-yard pass from Jarrett Lee to Rueben Randle on a third-and-13 play when they were backed up on their own 20.

Alabama (7-2, 4-2) can now forget about defending its national championship. Not even a BCS bowl is a given at this point.

LSU (8-1, 5-1) stayed alive in the Western Division race, but needs Auburn to lose twice. The Tigers also kept themselves in great shape for an at-large berth in a BCS bowl.

Alabama responds with clutch drive

November, 6, 2010
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Greg McElroy is getting pretty good at these clutch drives.

Alabama, putting together perhaps a championship-saving drive, marched 74 yards in nine plays, and McElroy delivered a 9-yard touchdown strike to Julio Jones, who had Patrick Peterson draped all over him.

LSU brought pressure several times, one of those a corner blitz, but McElroy stood in there and the protection was excellent.

It's exactly the kind of drive that helped Alabama survive last season at Auburn and the score brought the Crimson Tide to within three points of the Tigers.

"Mad Hatter" strikes again

November, 6, 2010
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Just when you thought you'd seen it all from LSU coach Les Miles, he comes up with one of those plays you'd expect to see in a yard somewhere.

Say what you want about him, but the guy is fearless when it comes to taking chances and making calls a lot of coaches wouldn't.

The two-pitch double reverse to Deangleo Peterson, setting up the Tigers' go-ahead touchdown was vintage Miles.

A lot of coaches probably kick the field goal there with it fourth-and-1 at the 26. After all, LSU could have taken the lead 16-14.

But not Miles.

The Tigers went for broke, which is the way the "Mad Hatter" rolls.

Another fourth-quarter game

November, 6, 2010
BATON ROUGE, La. -- What do you know?

The Alabama-LSU game has come down to the fourth quarter again, and this one looks a lot like the last couple.

The Tigers have been able to find a few big plays on offense, pulling within 14-13 in the first few seconds of the fourth quarter.

But it's hard to get past the Crimson Tide's record under Nick Saban when they're leading at the half. They're 35-1 and have won 28 in a row when they've led at halftime.

And just like that ...

November, 6, 2010
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Looking frantically for a big play to soften up Alabama's defense, LSU ended up finding a soft spot in Alabama's zone.

It's the kind of play the Tigers have lacked most of this season.

Rueben Randle popped wide open deep down the middle. Jordan Jefferson threw one of his better passes of the season, and Randle showed off the kind of speed that made him one of the top receiving prospects in the country a couple of years ago.

His 75-yard touchdown catch woke up Tiger Stadium. This place is alive again with LSU leading 10-7.

At the half: Alabama 7, LSU 3

November, 6, 2010
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With both defenses dominating, Alabama went into halftime Saturday with a 7-3 lead over LSU at Tiger Stadium.

Here’s a quick halftime analysis:

Turning point: LSU started possessions twice inside Alabama territory in the first quarter, but could only manage a field goal. The Tigers took over at the Crimson Tide 43 and later in the quarter at the Crimson Tide 35 after Kelvin Sheppard intercepted a deflected Greg McElroy pass. But both times, LSU was unable to make a first down.

Player of the half: Alabama running back Trent Richardson scored the only touchdown of the first half on a 1-yard catch, a score that was set up by Richardson’s tackle-breaking 22-yard run.

Stat of the half: The two teams combined for just 246 total yards in the first half. LSU was held to 95.

What LSU needs to do: The Tigers have to find a way to make some big plays down the field in the passing game. Otherwise, Alabama’s defense will continue to load the line of scrimmage and keep bringing the heat. The Crimson Tide are daring the Tigers to throw the ball, and they simply haven’t been able to.

Tigers wasting field position

November, 6, 2010
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU's offense has done nothing with great field position so far, which is a bad sign for the Tigers.

LSU started drives from the Alabama 43 and the Alabama 32 in the first quarter and only has a field goal to show for it. The Tigers also got a break in the second quarter when Alabama kicked off out of bounds and started from their own 40, but couldn't take advantage.

The more you watch this LSU offense struggle, the more it feels like the Tigers' only chance is to return an interception for a touchdown or hit a big play on special teams.

Replay confirms Richardson touchdown

November, 6, 2010
BATON ROUGE, La. -- After watching a couple of different angles of the replay, it looked like Alabama's Trent Richardson did indeed lunge the ball across the goal line on third down before being dragged down by LSU's Patrick Peterson.

It was close, though, and there aren't many players in the country who could have made it that close defensively.

Peterson's strength is incredible, especially for a cornerback. And with Richardson motoring toward the goal line on the short pass with a head of steam, for Peterson to even be able to make the play close at the goal line tells you how strong he really is.

Finally a drive

November, 6, 2010
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Alabama has finally been able to get something going offensively, the first team to do so in this game.

Interestingly enough, the Crimson Tide have gone to Julio Jones on back-to-back plays with Patrick Peterson in tight coverage. The Tigers are playing mostly man coverage on the Alabama receivers, so there should be more of that available for the Tide.

Slow start for McElroy

November, 6, 2010
BATON ROUGE, La. -- It hasn't been the best start for Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy.

Not only did he throw the interception that led to LSU's field goal, but he had Julio Jones open down the field on the earlier possession and didn't hit him.

McElroy is getting time to throw, too, as LSU hasn't blitzed a whole lot to this point.

What's at stake for Alabama, LSU?

November, 6, 2010
BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's been well documented how much this game means Saturday to Alabama.

The Crimson Tide, who moved up to No. 6 in the BCS standings, have a chance to keep climbing if they can win out, and play for their second straight BCS national championship.

The Tigers, No. 10 this week in the BCS standings, are probaby too far back to climb their way into the national championship game, but they could go a long way toward positioning themselves for an at-large berth in a BCS bowl with a win against Alabama.

To win the West, LSU would need to beat Alabama and then have Auburn lose its last two games to Georgia and Alabama.

Nick Saban returns to the Bayou

November, 6, 2010
BATON ROUGE, La. – Mike the Tiger seems pretty content in his cage out on the field, as fans gather around to take his picture.

Only in Tiger Stadium.

I’ve said it over and over again. Every true sports fan has to have on his or her bucket list a trip to Tiger Stadium to see LSU play – preferably at night.

The Alabama game Saturday is not being played at night, but that hasn’t dampened the atmosphere.

The tailgating is as inviting as ever. Shirts sporting some not-so-nice things about Alabama coach Nick Saban are making the rounds, and there’s just something about this place that screams big-time football.

Of course, the funny thing about this series is that the home field hasn’t helped LSU very much.

LSU lost 15 straight games to Alabama in Tiger Stadium from 1969-1998. Since 1996, the home team has won just five times in 14 tries.

Saban, who led LSU to a national championship in 2003, hasn’t lost a game in Tiger Stadium since 2003 against Florida when he was coaching LSU. He hasn’t lost a game in this series in Tiger Stadium since 2002 when Alabama beat LSU 31-0.