National championship loss motivates LSU
By MARK CLEMENTS
Special to The Advocate
November 04, 2012
The winner of Saturday’s showdown between LSU and Alabama won’t get a ring after the game. Confetti won’t cover the field as time expires, and trophies won’t be awarded to either team.
The direct rewards from a win Saturday night may not match the incentives of the Jan. 9 national championship clash, but that doesn’t mean the Tigers are taking this week’s game any lighter than their last meeting with the Tide.
“The stakes are just as high,” senior offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk said. “I know it’s not for the championship, but it’s huge for us, especially for the (Southeastern Conference) West and the division and what you want to accomplish as a team every single year. We have the same goals. For us, we have all those things in front of us, so to have another opportunity at that is huge.”
With the amount of hype building in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s Top 5 matchup, it’d be hard to guess this game isn’t essentially the midseason national title. The winner of the game controls its own destiny going forward with both conference and national titles for the taking.
The excitement surrounding the game is nothing new to either team. They were in the same situation last season as LSU prepared to go into Tuscaloosa, Ala., in a bout touted as the “Game of the Century.”
As if the rivalry weren’t heated enough as it was, the craziness only amplified when the two met again for the national title in a game that will certainly have lingering impressions come Saturday.
“Everybody remembers it,” junior safety Eric Reid said. “We’ve been saying all year, we still have scars from last year. We use it as motivation. We were right there, and we didn’t get it. But we know if we want to get back there, we’ve got to win this one.”
It would be hard to top the five-week tension and hype that developed before the 21-0 trouncing in January, but as much publicity as possible is being crammed into this two-week session.
The Tigers and the Tide are about as familiar to the buildup as they are to each other.
That familiarity may seem advantageous in theory, but considering the last time these two met, when LSU gave up 384 yards while managing just 92 total yards and five first downs, the Tigers will hope Alabama doesn’t put forth a repeat performance.
“If I was them, I think I would use the same game plan,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “It certainly worked once, I wouldn’t imagine they would change it much.”
LSU, on the other hand, will likely make several changes.
Alabama has lost some pieces here and there, but has refueled and reformed a model of last year’s squad that topped the nation. Miles has grown well acquainted with Alabama coach Nick Saban and his squad through the years, and uses the two teams’ recent history as a guideline for preparation.
“We take into account a long view of how we played against this team for years, including the national championship game,” Miles said. “You find that there are changes in the defense, but really, they’re very small. They know us and we know them, and that’s probably understandable for two teams that are as ambitious as we are playing in the conference and playing in the division. How it turns out will just be throwing them into the stadium and figuring it out.”
Both teams had more than a month to develop strategy for the national championship game, but now Alabama has less than a week to pack in all the preparations. Luckily for LSU, the open week again fell before Alabama, giving the Tigers an extra week to squeeze in their game plan.
“We had the luxury of having a bye week, so we got a lot more time to watch film, Chief has a lot more time to get a game plan together,” Reid said. “It is an advantage, and we need to take advantage of that.”
Several players said the team took extra reps, both physically and mentally, in the off-week to get extra ready for Saturday. Others said the time off allowed their bodies to return to full strength after a brutal weekend of SEC football.
But Miles downplayed the significance of the bonus time the Tigers get to plan and has been keen on not over-hyping the game.
“I don’t know that it’s helped us any differently,” Miles said. “Our game plan has fallen together like it would normally. I think that maybe knowing the opponent as well as we know them and they know us, I don’t know that the extra week is worth it. I don’t think you necessarily need a full week to game plan.”
Whether the extra week helped or not, the Tigers are treating this game like any other, but with a definite hint of a little extra juice.
“A lot of guys will be showing a lot of emotion, show their scars and the hurt that we felt in the national championship,” junior defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. “You’ll definitely see it on the field.
“We really want to dominate this game.”