Rabalais: On this night, LSU fought hard

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIGLSU players get pumped up before the game.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIGLSU players get pumped up before the game.

By Scott Rabalais

Advocate sportswriter

In January’s national championship game against Alabama, the criticism was that LSU didn’t try enough.

After what happened Saturday night in Tiger Stadium, the knock will be that the Tigers tried too much.

During the week leading up to this epic showdown, Les Miles said you can’t rely on trickery to beat a team of Alabama’s caliber.

Apparently he didn’t believe his own words, because Miles reached deep into his cobwebbed vault of tricks somewhere in the moldy underpinnings of Death Valley maybe more than ever.

Everything backfired: The fake field goal from makeable range, the onsides kick after LSU’s first touchdown against Bama seemingly since Reconstruction and the fourth-and-1 Wildcat run with Spencer Ware.

“I wish I had a couple of my calls back,” Miles said grimly afterward, “so you know.”

In the end, if the Tigers had played No. 1-ranked Alabama straight up, it would have taken down the almighty Crimson Tide with a stunning upset.

All the numbers but the 21-17 final score seemed to favor the Tigers.

LSU outgained Bama 435-331 — and lost.

LSU got 107 yards rushing from Jeremy Hill — the Tigers were 31-2 under Miles coming in with a back rushing for 100 yards — and lost.

LSU held a stunning 39:15 to 20:45 edge in time of possession — and lost.

Zach Mettenberger, who everyone said needed to play the game of his young LSU career for the Tigers to have a chance, did exactly that. He stood his ground against Nick Saban’s multi-planed blitzes and delivered 298 yards on 24 of 35 passing, one touchdown and no interceptions — and lost.

Speaking of turnovers, Bama had two and LSU had none — and lost.

And, finally, LSU went 10 of 20 on third down to Alabama’s 1 of 9, a team forcing opponents into three-and-outs nearly 50 percent of the time — and lost.

In the end, Miles’ instincts betrayed him coming and going against Alabama. He tried to outmuscle the Tide for the BCS title and got routed 21-0. He tried to fool Bama on Saturday night and got tricked, not treated.

Miles will get skewered unmercifully after this one, and certainly deserves a measure of criticism for not recognizing that he had the team to carry the fight to Alabama and come away a winner.

But ultimately LSU had to try, players and coaches alike. When you aim high and fail you fall hard, and that’s what the Tigers did on this night.

None of us second-guessers would fair any better in similar circumstances.

For defensive end Sam Montgomery, who said he didn’t feel the Tigers gave their all in the BCS final, it was a better if bitter fate.

“I won’t get mad as long as I know we went out and gave it out all,” Montgomery said.

Whatever comes LSU’s way the rest of this season, it will ring hollow. Not because of being dominated in humiliating fashion as the Tigers were in January, but by coming so close only to have your dreams snatched away.

The latter is harder to take.

Much harder.