SPORTS WATCH
When Special Teams Lose National Championship Bids
by Gus Jarvis
Nov 10, 2011 | 626 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It was dubbed The National Championship, The Game of the Century, and even some, like myself, said the game was as big, if not bigger, than the Super Bowl. The matchup between No. 1 Louisiana State University and No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide more than lived up to its hype last weekend, despite the fact that neither team could put the ball in the end zone in what was a defensive heavyweight fight that left LSU standing in victory by a score of 9-6 in overtime.

Now there are some crazy people out there, including a whole host of professional sports analysts, who believe this game, because of its low point total and a few miscues, didn’t live up to its monstrous hype. I can’t figure this out at all. This game is touted as one of the biggest defensive matchups of all time, and when the game ends by a score of 9-6 in overtime, we are surprised by the lack of offense? This game happened exactly as we thought it would. The hype was spot-on. I hope these two teams play again later this year in the BCS Championship game.

Of course we all know the old adage, “defense wins championships.” And while that notion may have initially been at the heart of Saturday night’s game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the notion that poor special teams can blow a national championship may have been more relevant. It was so surprising to see a team as powerful and dominant as Alabama that didn’t have a reliable place kicker. In a game that features two big-time defenses, a reliable kicker is damn important. Alabama learned that the hard way. I figured Head Coach Nick Saban already knew that, but I guess he didn’t.

Saban gave the go-ahead to his kicker Cade Foster in the first quarter to attempt two long field goals; he missed both. Then Saban gave the go-ahead to kicker Jeremy Shelly to kick a field goal and he had it blocked. Shelly was finally able to put one through the uprights before half, leaving both teams knotted at 3.

Two interceptions set up two field goals for both teams in the second half, once again tying the game. Going into overtime, Alabama got the ball first, and once again it was Foster attempting a long field goal that he once again missed. LSU didn’t make the mistake in overtime and won by making a field goal.

In a game that tight and that brutal, failing to put up 12 points because of missed field goals is just a losing combination. Those missed points weren’t everything, though. It’s almost an anomaly in college football, where field position is really, really important, and in this game, field position certainly was important. After Foster missed his first long field goal and gave good field position to LSU, I wondered why Saban decided to send him out there again to attempt another. In the first half, Alabama looked to be the better team. Their offense was moving the ball more and defense was giving up less than LSU. Saban, in 20-20 hindsight, should have punted the ball and pinned LSU back to the goal line. Instead, it was Alabama who was constantly pinned back at their goal line in the first half. I honestly think if he had done that once in the first half instead of attempting a field goal, we’d be looking at a different outcome. Field position was huge in this game, which brings up another crucial special teams miscue played by Alabama.

After the Alabama defense stopped LSU from getting a first down near their own goal line, it looked like the LSU punt would finally give Alabama some good field position. Instead of catching the punt on his own 40-yard line, Tide receiver Marquis Maze let the ball bounce and it rolled all the way to the 19-yard line. While that may not have been crucial in any other game, in this matchup, it was undoubtedly a crucial mistake.

Now this game wasn’t for those who want to see a quarterback shootout. (If that’s your flavor, stick to the defenseless Mid-American Conference, where, last week, NIU beat Toledo 63-60.) This was a game for those who like big boy football. This game was played the way football is supposed to be played. Both teams were led by great defenses. Mistakes were a factor, and when it came down to it, LSU found Alabama’s weakness: Special Teams. Call it cheap. I call it good football and would love to see an Alabama-LSU rematch for the national championship.

What about the other undefeated teams, like Stanford, Oklahoma State and Boise State? Honestly the only team I see going undefeated with LSU is Boise State. Stanford may lose this weekend to Oregon (who gave LSU a game the first week of the season). Oklahoma State still has to take on its in-state rivals Oklahoma. Boise State has a cake walk schedule. If Boise State is the only undefeated team besides LSU, do we really want to see a Boise State-LSU national championship? Hell, no.

I know it’s not fair to Boise State and its quarterback Kellen Moore, but that game will be a waste of time. Nobody wants to see it. Me, I would prefer a rematch. Let’s hash this LSU-Alabama rivalry out one more time. Let’s watch these defenses go toe to toe again. And this time, let’s really make it the National Championship game. Remember, college football isn’t about what’s fair. It’s about what makes money and an Alabama-LSU national championship will make a hell of a lot more money than an LSU-Boise State national championship. Rematch it is.
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