Mirror Images: Tigers, Tide set to show off ‘old-school’ football in showdown
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Pretty much anyone who enjoys college football will be watching when LSU and Alabama collide Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Somewhere in college football’s Valhalla, Charlie McClendon and Bear Bryant will look down and smile at how familiar these two teams and programs look to them.
They won’t have to figure out some funky version of the spread offense. They’ll recognize the between-the-tackles running of both teams.
They’ll respect the physicality on both lines of scrimmage and the sound tackling by both teams.
They’ll appreciate the emphasis on and execution of the special teams.
They’ll see the Tigers take the field in familiar gold pants and white jerseys and the Crimson Tide run out in familiar white pants and red jerseys and feel at home.
When they realize No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama are playing to determine who is the best team in the country and the favorite to wind up as the national champion, their smiles will broaden.
They’ll be satisfied, because they’ll know that in 2011, college football hasn’t been forever changed from the game they knew when McClendon coached the Tigers (1962-79) and Bryant coached the Tide (1958-82).
Step aside, all you gimmicky, flavor-of-the-month, flag-football wannabees, and take your Lady Gaga-like uniforms with you.
Make room for blockers and tacklers, because this game - this whole season, perhaps - is all about your grandfather’s style of football.
“Both teams have a lot of tradition,” LSU center P.J. Lonergan said. “Both teams like to stick to their tradition and play smash-mouth football. You have two great coaches, two great programs.”
And the two most dominant teams this season, with all due respect to Oklahoma State, Stanford, Boise State and the rest.
“It’s the type of game that you don’t necessarily see too often nowadays,” Tigers offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said. “It’s a little more old school. I think that will be fun to watch for the fans. It’ll be something a little different, more physical, probably a little less finesse.
“If you play defense and run the ball, you’re always going to win. That’s fundamental football. It’s a style where, if you can’t physically match up, you’re going to find it very hard to be successful. That’s what’s so special about this game is that both teams match up physically against each other very well.”
The Tide leads the nation in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense, and the Tigers are ranked third in rushing and scoring defense and fourth in total defense.
The Tide leads the Southeastern Conference in rushing offense and scoring offense, and the Tigers are ranked fourth in rushing and second in scoring.
The Tide is winning by an average of 32.5 points per game, the Tigers by 27.7.
The Tide’s smallest margin of victory is 16 points, the Tigers’ is 13.
“I see a lot of similarities, a lot of the (same) traits,” LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “It’s kind of like we’re playing against ourselves a little bit.”
There are differences, of course. LSU will utilize two quarterbacks - drop-back passer Jarrett Lee and dual-threat Jordan Jefferson - while Alabama will probably stick with drop-back passer A.J. McCarron.
LSU plays a conventional 4-3 defensive front while Alabama plays a 3-4.
The coaches are polar opposites. The Tide is coached by former LSU coach Nick Saban, a no-nonsense CEO type, and the Tigers are coached by Les Miles, a congenial, oh-it’s-more-fun-with-a-little-nonsense-sprinkled-in type.
But don’t sweat the details. When it comes to how these teams are built and coached to play football, they might as well be looking in a mirror when they look at film of each other.
“We want to be a physical team,” LSU guard Will Blackwell said. “We want to be a big team up front, and we practice and prepare for that. It’s nice to have an opponent that has the same theory on things.”
That theory has translated well into practice as both teams are 8-0 and 5-0 in the SEC West. They are vying to become the front-runner in the SEC’s quest for a sixth consecutive BCS championship. The Tide is just two years removed from its most-recent title. The Tigers are four years removed from their title under Miles and eight years removed from the one they won under Saban.
“They’re a very similar team to us in what they do,” Tide center William Vlachos said of the Tigers. “LSU isn’t a team that’s going to try to trick you. They’ve got great players. Let’s see if you can beat our guys. That puts the challenge on us, and we’re excited about it.”
Apparently everyone is excited. The sellout crowd of more than 100,000 likely will be matched if not surpassed by the number who travel to Tuscaloosa knowing they won’t be able to get tickets. Those willing to part with tickets are asking for Super Bowl-like prices.
CBS negotiated an exception to its contract with the SEC so the game could be moved to prime time and reach a broader audience.
ESPN, which had to sign on to the contract exception, has hyped the game almost as much as it would have if it were televising it, broadcasting live from both campuses for hours during the week and bringing its popular “College Gameday” crew to Bryant-Denny Stadium.
But amid all the 21st century hype and hoopla, the coaches and players have remained old-fashioned in paying homage to one another.
Saban spoke of his respect for Miles, who succeeded him when Saban left Baton Rouge for the Miami Dolphins after the 2004 season, saying he has done “a fabulous job.” Miles has talked about the Tigers trying to “honor our opponent” by playing their best and shutting down their tweets this week.
“I love the way they play defense,” LSU safety Brandon Taylor said of the Tide. “They’re aggressive, just like we are. They make a lot of big hits, make a lot of big plays.”
“We live for games like this,” Alabama nose guard Josh Chapman said. “You want to go against great teams.
It’s a great matchup and we’re ready for it.”
So are the Tigers.
“I almost wish I could watch it more than play in it because it’s going to be an old-school matchup,” Blackwell said, “who can run the ball and hold on to it longer and who can play better defense. It’s a traditional style game and we’re ready to get this show on the road.”
Charlie Mac, Bear? You guys ready for some football?