Squandered Opportunity
January 9, 2012

Alabama might have a great defense; it's unfortunate that LSU never made them use it.

Say what you will about the BCS National Title Game last night but the reason LSU lost was LSU.  Not Alabama. 

LSU supposedly runs an option offense led by a quarterback who can execute the run option.  But Jordan Jefferson never turned the ball up the field when Alabama over-pursued or sold out to stop the turn.  Not once.  Instead each time he flipped the ball into the coverage.  Even had he only picked up one or two yards, he would have at least given himself a chance to break a tackle for extra ground and forced Alabama to play conservatively, thus opening the edge to allow LSU's speed advantage to be incorporated.

Jefferson only threw down the field a couple of times even though Alabama was giving him vast spaces to throw to in their zone coverage.  Why have good receivers if you never throw to them?  LSU never called plays that would test the resolve of the Alabama defense. 

LSU did call numerous runs up the middle, right into the strength of the Alabama defense.  What purpose did that serve?  Other than to establish without question that the LSU game planning was concocted by infants.  Did they watch any game film?  Did they not understand that the middle was where Alabama's greatest strength as a team was, that their defense was predicated on stopping everything in the middle, and that Georgia Southern, a division II team, had run for over 300 yards against Alabama by running to the outside?  LSU committed 5 false start penalties and had several bad snaps.  One has to wonder exactly what LSU practiced for the past month because it sure doesn't look like it was football. 

Alabama threw the ball on first down 20 times.  They probably didn't do that in any four games combined before tonight's contest.  Did LSU adjust it's defense?  AJ McCarron's 234 yards passing yards suggests no, they did not.  I'll give tremendous credit to the Tide receivers, who made some spectacular catches, as well as to McCarron who made some incredible throws.  That said, if they played this game ten times, those guys make those plays in only one.  Had they been making those kinds of plays all year, Alabama would have won all their games by at least 30 points, including their home loss to LSU.

It's hard to imagine a quarterback turning in a worse performance in a national title game than the one Jordan Jefferson played.  Actually, I can think of one who comes close: Troy Smith of Ohio State, back at the beginning of this run of consecutive national titles for the SEC.  But at least he had an excuse: the Gator defenders had a speed advantage on all of his offensive weapons.  I doubt any of the Alabama defenders were faster than the skill players LSU fields.  The LSU coaches simply squandered every advantage they had and Jordan Jefferson completed the trifecta by completely failing to execute the offense.  There were calls for Les Miles to bring in Jarrett Lee to try to change the complexion of the game, but as feeble and uninspired as the LSU play-calling was, I'm not sure that would have made a significant difference. 

What was lost because of this ineptitude was the chance of a lifetime.  Had LSU won this game they would have undoubtedly been the greatest college team ever.  No team in NCAA history has defeated five top 5 teams in the same season.  No NCAA team has defeated nine top 25 teams in the same season.  No NCAA team has ever defeated 6 ranked teams on away or neutral turf. 
LSU had already defeated two conference champions (Oregon and West Virginia), both of whom posted impressive bowl wins.  And they were champion of a conference that even in a "down year" fielded three of the top five teams in the country and four of the top 10, and went 5-2 in bowl games.  Maybe the LSU coaches and players were too busy thinking about history instead of thinking about beating Alabama.  Perhaps the greatest irony in all this is that Saban himself stated when he was coach at LSU that "no team that fails to win it's conference should be allowed to play in the national title game."  Funny how times change one's perspective.

Instead, LSU will be left with the empty feeling of what might have been.  The Tigers return much of their team next season, so there's reason for some optimism.  However opportunities like this one come rarely.  One opportunity LSU coaches and players will be guaranteed in 2012 is that they'll get a chance for payback when Alabama comes to Baton Rouge on November 3.  They better mark their calendars today because a month of preparation didn't appear to be enough.