LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger. (Associated Press)
Alabama head coach Nick Saban, left, and LSU head coach Les Miles. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Sunday, November 04, 2012 1:48 AM
BATON ROUGE — Now, that’s what the Game of the Century is supposed to look like.
And LSU let Alabama off the hook.
That’s not really a criticism.
Yeah, Les Miles probably got too cute for his own good a few times.
That’s all in retrospect, easy to second guess now that we know how it turned out — a 21-17 Alabama victory that will go down in the Tide’s long storied history.
For LSU, you’d have to go back to a famous 1979 game against another No. 1-ranked team, Southern Cal, to find a bigger heartbreak in Tiger Stadium.
The Tide are good, but Bama wasn’t what we thought they were.
Or else LSU is a lot better.
But Miles apparently was playing, coaching and being the Mad Hat gambler with the notion that he needed everything up his sleeve to beat a Crimson Tide team that was beginning to take on mythical powers.
He probably didn’t.
Maybe LSU should have just lined up and slugged it out, taken its chances kicking the Tide all over the field like it did most of the second half.
And by all means, turn Zach Mettenberger loose. It’s perfectly safe now for LSU to drop back and fly skies.
Most of it backfired Saturday night, but that’s Miles, and he has a championship trophy based solely on taking wild chances with quirky unpredictability.
It didn’t work out.
But I’m here to tell you the Tigers can’t play any harder than they played Saturday night, and they probably can’t play any better — or haven’t, anyway — than they did in totally dominating all but the final minute of the second half.
Go ahead, cuss the semi-prevent defense the Tigers used after stuffing the Tide for almost the entire second half.
Bama couldn’t move at all in the second half, but when LSU’s defense got softer after Drew Alleman, the hero who beat the Tide in overtime last year, missed a 45-yard field goal with 1:34 to play, the Tide made it look too easy.
It was zip-zip-zip, 18 yards, 15 yards, 11 more and then an incompletion before a busted coverage let T.J. Yeldon loose for a 28-yard touchdown with 43 seconds remaining for the winning touchdown.
It’s the kind of drive that championships are made of.
There wasn’t much fancy about it, and there surely was no trickery.
When the Crimson Tide go ahead and win their second consecutive national championship — and Bama will — it will be the Baton Rouge trip and the Houdini act out of Tiger Stadium alive that will be the season’s defining moment.
LSU is left to nitpick, figure out how many points got lost on the way to the scoreboard, this drive, this gamble, this decision.
It was a straight-up game, there for the taking, and Miles kept having 2007 flashbacks, thinking he had to sneak up on Nick Saban with a joy buzzer.
He didn’t need any of that.
LSU, despite looking ready for the toe tag at halftime, eventually had more than 100 yards more offense than the Tide.
Somehow over the last two weeks with an open date, Miles came up with a team that probably could’ve beaten the Tide straight up.
Alabama came in thinking it could take down LSU.
The Tigers were playing like they were trying to steal something.
Last year, Nick Saban was roundly criticized after LSU’s overtime victory in Tuscaloosa for coaching against his grain, taking needless chances, ordering hope-and-prayer field goal attempts.
This year, it was Miles’ turn to kick himself, perhaps, for outcoaching himself.
Hard to argue with any of it — that’s his riverboat style, even if we haven’t seen much of it this year — although a punter-to-placekicker fake-field goal pass on fourth-and-12 is stretching it even by Miles’ usual nine-lives way of living.
That one introduced Alleman to the Alabama team portrait.
Last year, the game turned on Alabama’s kicking woes. It was about the only thing LSU couldn’t get on the right side of Saturday. They lined up for four of them, missed two and out-tricked themselves on another.
Do the math.
“I wish I had a couple of my calls back, just so you know,” Miles said. “The good news is we’ve got a good football team.”
The really best news is that LSU has a quarterback.
LSU had more total offensive yards (435) against this man-eating Alabama defense than the Tigers did against Towson.
This is what the LSU offense looks like with a quarterback.
Maybe Mettenberger really should have played in the BCS title game last year.
Maybe he was just waiting on Alabama for the light bulb to go off.
He directed the Tigers to more yards against Alabama Saturday night than two LSU quarterbacks combined for in two games last year.
This was what the hype was about all summer.
Maybe if Miles had known this was the coming-out party, he could have left some of the tomfoolery in the play chest.
Mettenberger threw for 298 yards, he completed 24 of 35 for a touchdown with no picks, and — most astoundingly — in the second half, he was 7-for-7 on third-down throws, all of them converting first downs of 5 yards or more.
That kind of night is supposed to end in confetti.
Instead, he slumped into the Tiger Stadium tunnel, the first one off the field after the upset of the year got away.
He’ll have better days ahead.
LSU with a quarterback who can carve up Alabama’s defense could be scary.
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Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org