Stakes remain high as No. 1 Tide, No. 5 Tigers meet yet again
Regardless of where we’re ranked, (Alabama knows) this is a game. You’re not going to roll over LSU regardless of the rankings.” KEVIN MINTER, LSU linebacker
LSU and Alabama meet for the third time in 12 months on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
Just like the other two meetings, when the Tigers were ranked No. 1, and the Crimson Tide was ranked No. 2, both teams are in the top five and the stakes are extremely high.
When they met in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last Nov. 5, control of the Southeastern Conference West division and the accompanying favorite’s role for the overall league title as well as a potentially clear path to the BCS Championship game were all on the line.
Two months later, they met again with the BCS Championship on the line in the Superdome.
LSU won the first game and a subsequent SEC championship. Alabama won the second and arrives in Death Valley as the reigning national champion.
The Tide is ranked No. 1 as it meets the fifth-ranked Tigers with control of the SEC West again on the line.
It’s pretty much déjà vu all over again, or as LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery put it, “It’s just a different place, and we have a different ranking.”
So, it’s the Tigers (7-1, 3-1 SEC) who are trying to catch the Tide (8-0, 5-0) after the Tide pursued the Tigers last season, narrowly failing to catch them in November before lapping them in January.
“It’s different than last year, but I like the spot we’re sitting in right now,” LSU center P.J. Lonergan said. “If we get this win, it sets us up to have the season we want to have.”
But even if the Tigers win, they’ll likely need help to get back to the championship game, just as Bama got help after losing last season, because three undefeated teams — Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame — are ranked ahead of LSU. Still, after beating teams ranked No. 3 (South Carolina) and No. 20 (Texas A&M), LSU would boost its BCS résumé by beating No. 1.
“Of course, they have a target on their back being number one, but we’re still LSU,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “Everybody knows we’re still one of the prestigious programs in this country. Regardless of where we’re ranked, they know this is a game.
“You’re not going to roll over LSU regardless of the rankings. We just prepare like we still have that target on our back. We still have that chip on our shoulder.”
The Tigers clearly want to redeem themselves for saving their worst for last in January.
Defensive end Barkevious Mingo said they “have a debt to pay” after the national championship game.
“When you play against the best, you play your best, and that’s what I like about these games,” he said. “It’s just two SEC West opponents going at it, two top defenses. It just sets the stage for a great game.”
The nation has been following this rivalry closely since the buildup to last year’s first meeting, the first-ever regular-season matchup between SEC teams ranked 1-2.
The game in Tuscaloosa was one of the most eagerly anticipated regular-season games in college football history. CBS asked to move the kickoff from the afternoon to the evening to maximize the audience. LSU agreed — as long as the network agreed to also show this game at night from Tiger Stadium.
Tide senior defensive end Damion Square, who’s making his third trip to Tiger Stadium, has given some of his younger teammates tips on what to expect in a place where LSU has won a school-record 22 consecutive games.
“Anybody that’s been through it before, we kind of let the younger guys know that as soon as you come out of the locker room, to your left will be a live tiger,” Square said with a smile. “Be ready for that.”
The closeness of the first meeting last season — LSU won 9-6 in overtime — left some uncertainty whether one game was sufficient to determine the better team between these two. Then, the dominoes fell into place for a rematch in the title game.
“I don’t think there’s any question about the fact that these games we’ve played over the last three or four years have all had some significance, not only on a conference level but also on a national level,” Tide coach Nick Saban said.
“I think people become more and more interested in those kind of games regardless of the league they’re in.”
An added element to this rivalry is the fact that these programs — perhaps more so than any others in the country — play a traditional style of football in an era when most teams seem to design their playbooks after a software program.
“This game, if you watched us playing over time, is standard quality football,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
“We block them, throw it, catch it, defend it, tackle, tackle crisply, kick it, cover it. You beat quality teams not by stuff and things. You beat them by quality play and physical game plan. It’s not tricks, it’s execution.”
And both teams seem to have an appreciation for the way the other plays.
“We really respect the way they play football,” Alabama center Barrett Jones said. “They’re going to line up and play their defense, and we’re going to line up and play our offense. That’s why we like playing them, and that’s why they like playing us.
“We both respect each other, and both really are kind of founded on toughness.”
May the tougher team win.
Here we go again.