How much work did you get done Friday waiting for football this weekend?
It’s ok I won’t tell if you got fired up watching Youtube clips of Les Miles pregame speeches instead if doing paperwork. We got exactly what we hoped out of LSU and expected out of the Saints.
LSU proved they were the best team in the country Saturday night while the Saints didn’t prove anything we didn’t know already. They are dominant at home but how successful 2011 will be determined how they play away from the Superdome.
Let’s start with LSU winning a battle of almost-too-good-to-believe defense. Those defenses were so good I actually was much more relaxed when LSU didn’t have the ball. Both defenses were so spectacular starting in the 2nd quarter it became clear to me the game was going to be won by the defense that made the big and small plays. There were more big plays than just the interceptions by Morris Claiborne and Eric Reid.
The Tiger defense pushed Alabama back on plays preceding the missed field goals that put Nick Saban in no win situations. Right before Alabama missed the second of four field goals LSU dropped Tide running back Eddie Lacy for a six-yard loss. Alabama had a fourth and 20 from the LSU 33. To far to go for it but too close to punt so Saban tried the 50-yard kick and it failed but what other option did he have? LSU made him play a bad hand.
After a Jarrett Lee interception, Alabama had it first and 10 at the LSU 24. The Tiger defense dropped Marquis Maze for another six-yard loss, sacked AJ McCarron, and suddenly its fourth and 17 from the LSU 31. Saban is again in no man’s land. To far to go for it but too close to punt. The LSU defense turned a chip shot field goal into another long high-pressure kick and it was blocked. It was the little plays as much as big ones that kept LSU #1 in America.
From a fan standpoint I’ve never watched such an intense defensive war with so much on the line. Make no mistake this was great defense and when LSU and Alabama return to dropping 40 points on their opponents all the people saying it was poor offense will be proven wrong. America was flipping out on Twitter because CBS forgot to tell them they would be time traveling to watch football in 1958.
Watching an offensive shootout is usually more compelling television but watching those two defenses basically sit on both offenses and wait for them to die was great theater. The game was the 2nd highest rated college game on CBS since 1987 so while America might have complained they couldn’t turn it off. Great defensive football is a lot like reality TV; people feel guilty admitting they like it. Would I want to watch a 9-6 defensive masterpiece every week? My liver couldn’t handle it but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t historic. Great is great but it isn’t always pretty.
The coaching part of the game I found most interesting was how Les Miles handled his quarterbacks. Once Jarrett Lee threw his second interception Miles knew Lee wasn’t suited to battle the Alabama defense. In defense of Lee I’m not sure if any quarterback not named Andrew Luck could play a pro style offense against Bama and move the ball consistently. So Miles rode Jordan Jefferson the rest of the way and let Jordan and Michael Ford use the option for some limited success. Can you imagine how bad Saturday would have been if Lee was LSU’s only option?
It would have been 2008 all over again for Lee but Miles simply acted like a great baseball manager and went to the bullpen. Miles is once again throwing conventional coaching on its head by using two quarterbacks extensively on the way to a National Championship. To me it was Miles' most important influence Saturday.
For the record, we haven’t seen the last of Jarrett Lee. While all the so-called experts were saying how LSU would go with primarily Jefferson for the rest of the season I expect Miles will still use both. When the Tigers get back to grinding teams down with their running game and Lee can go back to throwing against eight and nine men fronts he’ll be fine.
The Tigers have one major hurdles left in Arkansas and to get to the SEC Championship game. The Razorbacks will be the best passing attack LSU will face since West Virginia but they can’t stop the run. LSU fans will probably be on edge thinking of how Arkansas nearly derailed the Tigers title dreams but this isn’t 2007.
The only negative thing about the game was college overtime rules are stupid. I’d have said it if LSU lost so I might as well say it after they won. Football at its most basic is a timed sport about acquiring field position. In overtime the game isn’t timed and each team is given great field position. Saturday night those two teams seemed to have fought over inches and Brad Wing’s 73-yard punt was a huge play. So after the two teams fight their guts out we plop them at the 25-yard line? Crummy way to decide a game.
Rarely does a football game live up to its hype and teams play exactly like their statistics say they should. Alabama and LSU did exactly that and it was glorious.
As for the Saints I’ll make this simple because I know I’m beginning to repeat myself. They look like a champion at home and a four-win team on the road. In their last two home games they’ve run the ball like the 1970’s Oklahoma Sooners. Sunday they ran for 195 yards but just three weeks ago in Tampa they barely reached 70. Maybe with Zach Strief back and Brian De La Puente settling in at center the offensive line will finally start to be decent on the road.
The bigger question about the 2011 Saints is the defense. What exactly does the 2011 Saints defense do well? They can’t stop the run (allowed Tampa to average 5.5 yards per carry), they can’t create turnovers (lost turnover battle again Sunday) and when they blitz they don’t get to the quarterback. I’m not asking for the Saints to become a great defense but if they could just do one thing well I’d start to feel better about things. The good news for the Saints is just like LSU they control their own destiny and can take command of the NFC South next Sunday in Atlanta.
As good a regular season football weekend as I’ve ever seen.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough or download his podcast at Itunes.