LSU needs to turn back the clock against Alabama
Don’t forget to set your clocks back Saturday night.
No. I’m not talking to you about the impending arrival of Daylights Savings Time.
I’m talking to the LSU football team, which needs to turn the clock back some seven years to the last time it beat Alabama.
It was Nov. 5, 2011, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama. Game of the Century.
Two heavyweights, both clearly a cut above everyone else in the country, slugged it out for 60 minutes. No one reached the end zone. Went to overtime tied at 6.
Drew Alleman kicked a field goal and the Tigers ran off with the signature victory in one of the greatest regular seasons in college football history.
But it’s been all Crimson Tide ever since.
The teams met in a rematch in the BCS Championship game in the Superdome after that season and Alabama dominated, 21-0. That started a Tide winning streak that has now reached seven games.
But this one could be different. Could be another Game of the Century. No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 LSU.
The Tide is a two-touchdown favorite, but this one is in Tiger Stadium.
The losing streak has nearly ended in the three previous meetings there since the streak began.
In 2012, LSU led into the final minute before Alabama scored the game-winning touchdown with 51 seconds left. In 2014 they went overtime again and Alabama prevailed again. In 2016, Ed Orgeron’s had his first crack at the Tide since being named interim head coach and it was scoreless entering the fourth quarter before Bama won 10-0.
The oddsmakers think the Tigers will be hard-pressed to make this one that competitive. After all the Tide has won every game by at least 22 points and has an average victory margin of more than 38 points.
LSU has its limitations. Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire aren’t Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice and even Fournette and Guice couldn’t beat Alabama.
Joe Burrow is a smart, gutsy quarterback but so was Danny Etling and he didn’t beat Alabama.
The Tigers defense is really good but there have been other really good defenses that have come up short against Alabama during this streak.
In the seven years since LSU last beat Alabama, the Crimson Tide has been the best program in the country. It still is and will remain so regardless of what happens Saturday night.
But Saturday’s game will give us a good idea of how big the gap is between the two programs.
LSU is one of the few teams in the country – along with Clemson and Georgia and perhaps no one else – that can compete with the Tide’s starters. The Tigers can’t match the depth and won’t be able to until Orgeron gets a couple more top-notch recruiting classes on board.
But do the Tigers have enough in their two-deep to beat Bama if they play their best and Alabama doesn’t play its best?
LSU will have to win the turnover battle, which might mean the defense that leads the country in interceptions might have to get the first interception off of Tua Tagovailoa this season.
The Tigers will have to maximize the advantage they have on special teams.
They’ll have to run the ball well enough, as they did in beating then-No. 2 Georgia three weeks ago, to give Joe Burrow a fighting chance and Burrow will have to make some plays in the passing game. The return of Garrett Brumfield at left guard should help.
Dave Aranda will have to scheme a way for Patrick Queen and Micah Baskerville to mitigate Devin White’s absence in the first half and in the second half White and his teammates will have to channel the adrenaline rush of his return in a positive way and not over-pursue or commit harmful penalties.
“I know the energy in the state of Louisiana and the energy in the stadium is going to be something that we haven’t seen for a long time in Louisiana,” Orgeron said. “We know this as a football team: we have to be hungry, we have to play our best to play with anybody, and when we do play our best we can play with anybody.
“I think this team is mature enough to understand that all they got to do is play their best to beat Alabama. If we play our best, we’re capable of doing that.”
LSU needs to get off to a good start and fight for 60 minutes so the crowd stays raucous throughout. It needs a superlative effort on defense and special teams, an efficient and nearly mistake-free performance on offense. It needs to be emotional and physical.
It needs to play like it’s 2011.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…