Published January 10, 2012
NEW ORLEANS – As required, Alabama's players whooped it up amid the confetti and fireworks, yet there was something muted about this championship celebration.
Turns out, these guys knew the ending to the sequel before they even got to the Big Easy.
For two months, the Crimson Tide stewed over its first meeting with top-ranked LSU. By the time the team touched down in New Orleans, there was little doubt in anyone's mind about the outcome. Not just win, but dominate.
Boy, did they ever.
With a smothering display of old-school football, No. 2 Alabama blew out the Tigers 21-0 in the BCS championship game Monday night, celebrated a bit and headed back to Tuscaloosa with its second national title in three years.
Straight-laced coach Nick Saban accepted the trophies Tuesday morning and confessed that he might have savored it more than the title two years ago in Pasadena, Calif.
"To be honest with you, I think I maybe did," said Saban, sporting a black sweater with patches of crimson on the shoulders and flanked by the hardware. "This team was a special team, not that the 2009 team was any different. It's certainly an honor and privilege to be with a group that made the kind of commitment that you look for from a competitive character standpoint."
The Crimson Tide also claimed the top spot in the final Associated Press poll for the eighth time, tying Notre Dame for the most of any team in college football. Alabama was an overwhelming choice with 55 of 60 first-place votes.
"We knew what we were capable of," offensive lineman Barrett Jones said. "I guess that's kind of arrogant, but it's the way we felt. We felt like we were capable of dominating, and we did that."
Credit one of the greatest defenses in college football history, a bunch of NFL-ready players such as Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower who made sure LSU (13-1) never had a chance.
When Jordan Jefferson dropped back to pass, he was swept under by a tide of crimson. When the LSU quarterback took off running, he must've felt like Alabama had a few extra players on the field. It sure seemed that way.
"It feels like a nightmare," Jefferson said. "We just didn't get it done on offense. Some defenses have your number, and Alabama had our number."
LSU beat the Crimson Tide (12-1) in overtime on Nov. 5, a so-called Game of the Century that was roundly criticized as a dud because neither team scored a touchdown.
The Rematch of the Century was next, after Alabama worked its way back up to second in the rankings to claim a spot in the BCS title game. Turns out, it was even less of a classic than the first meeting, much closer to "Speed 2" than the "Godfather II."
But the Alabama defense was a thing of beauty, putting its own spin on this postseason of high-scoring shootouts.
"They are unbelievable," said Jones, relieved that he only has to go against them in practice. "That defense is as good as any defense I've ever seen. They rush the passer, they have awesome linebackers and they're great in coverage. They really don't have any weaknesses. They have to be as good as any defense ever."
LSU didn't cross midfield until there were less than 8 minutes remaining in the game. The Tigers finished with just 92 yards and five first downs, on the wrong end of the first shutout in the BCS' 14-year history.
"This defense is built on stopping them, and that's what we did," said Upshaw, the game's defensive MVP. "We wanted to come out and show the world we beat ourselves the first game. We wanted to come out and dominate from start to finish, and that's what we did."
The Crimson Tide, piling up 384 yards and 21 first downs, spent much of the night in LSU's end of the field, setting up Jeremy Shelley to attempt a bowl-record seven field goals. He made five of them, matching a bowl record. Then, as if responding to all the critics who complained that an offensive powerhouse such as Oklahoma State or Stanford should've gotten a shot in the title game, Alabama finally made a long-overdue trip to the end zone.
With 4:36 remaining, Heisman finalist Trent Richardson broke off a 34-yard touchdown run.
It was the lone TD that either of the Southeastern Conference powerhouses managed over two games, plus that overtime period back in November.
"It felt so good to get that touchdown against LSU," lineman D.J. Fluker said. "That's all we talked about. We said we were going to get (Richardson) a touchdown, and we did it."
On LSU's one and only trip into Alabama territory, the Tigers quickly went back, back, back — the last gasp ending appropriately with the beleaguered Jefferson getting the ball jarred from his hand before he could even get off a fourth-and-forever pass.
"We didn't do a lot different," Saban said. "We did some things on offense formationally. Our offensive team did a great job. Defensively, we just played well, played the box. Our special teams did a great job."
The coach has now won a pair of BCS titles at Alabama, plus another at LSU in 2003. He's the first coach to win three BCS titles, denying LSU's Les Miles his second championship. The Tigers will have to settle for the SEC title, but that's not likely to ease the sting of this ugly performance.
"I told my team that it should hurt," Miles said. "We finished second. It's supposed to hurt."
LSU simply couldn't do anything — running or passing. Kenny Hilliard led the Tigers with 16 yards rushing, while Jefferson was 11 of 17 passing for 53 yards, usually hurrying away passes before he was sent tumbling to the Superdome turf. He was sacked four times and threw a mystifying interception when he attempted to flip away a desperation pass, only to have it picked off because his intended receiver had already turned upfield looking to block.
A.J. McCarron was the offensive MVP, completing 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards. Richardson added 96 yards on 20 carries. But an even bigger cheer went up when the defensive award was presented to Upshaw, who had seven tackles, including a sack, and spent a good part of his night in the LSU backfield.
"The whole defense is the MVP," Upshaw said. "The whole defense. Roll Tide, baby. Roll Tide!"
With the way his defense was playing, McCarron simply had to avoid mistakes and guide the offense into field-goal range. He did that to perfection.
"When you have a great offensive line like I have, and great players around you, it makes your job easy as quarterback," McCarron said. "I've got to give all the credit to them. I wish I could have the whole team up here."
While LSU was used to getting big plays from its Honey Badger, cornerback and return specialist Tyrann Mathieu, Marquis Maze dealt the first big blow for the Crimson Tide with a 49-yard punt return midway through the opening quarter. He might've gone all the way to the end zone if not for a leg injury that forced him to pull up. Punter Brad Wing was the only defender left to beat, but Maze had to hobble out of bounds.
McCarron completed a 16-yard pass to Darius Hanks at the LSU 10, setting up Shelley for a 23-yard chip shot field goal. If nothing else, Alabama had accomplished one of its goals coming into the game: to at least get close enough to the end zone for its embattled kickers to have a better chance of converting.
In the first meeting, Shelley and Cade Foster combined to miss four field goals — all of them from at least 44 yards. In the do-over, Foster handled kickoffs while Shelley also connected from 34, 41, 35 and 44 yards. Not that it was a flawless kicking performance. Shelley had another kick blocked and pushed another wide right. In addition, he clanged the extra point off the upright after Richardson's touchdown.
It didn't matter.
LSU's best weapon was Wing, who averaged nearly 46 yards on nine punts. That was about the only highlight for the purple and gold, which failed to match its BCS title game victories in 2003 and 2007, the last two times the game was played in New Orleans, about 80 miles from its Baton Rouge campus.
"We couldn't sustain any consistency," Miles said.
Miles never considered switching to backup quarterback Jarrett Lee, who started the first eight games for the Tigers — four of those while Jefferson was serving a suspension for his involvement in a bar fight.
In all likelihood, it wouldn't have mattered.
Not against an Alabama team that was determined to write a different ending.
"We fell short the first time and we didn't play well," safety Mark Barron said, "but we showed that we were the better team tonight. We shut them out."
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963