LSU's good, but don't crown it champion yet - NBC Sports

LSU's good, but don't crown it champion yet
Beating No. 2 Alabama is a big win, but nation's top team has holes to fill
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LSU's Tyrann Mathieu celebrates with teammates after a stop against Alabama on Saturday night.
November 6, 2011, 9:11 am

In the words of Dennis Green, if you want to crown them, then go ahead and crown them. But realistically, it might be a little too soon to hand the national championship to the top-ranked LSU Tigers, even after they went into Alabama's house Saturday night and beat the No. 2 Crimson Tide 9-6 in overtime.

There was a tremendous amount of hype leading up to this game, including the concept that the winner basically should go ahead and be declared the national champion. Alabama and LSU are clearly better than the rest of the college football world, the thinking went, so Saturday's game would determine the champ, regardless of what polls and computers and the schedule said.

Granted, the game was close and exciting, and the defenses certainly were hard-hitting. LSU guard Will Blackwell said going up against Alabama's defensive front was "like running into a wall on every play." And the Tigers definitely should be given plenty of credit for going on the road and prevailing against a team that has been drawing comparisons to some of the best in the Crimson Tide's illustrious history.

But the fact is, this was not the "Game of the Century". It might not even have been the best game of the evening. If you like PlayStation shootouts instead of slug-it-out defensive struggles, then No. 3 Oklahoma State's 52-45 victory over No. 17 Kansas State was the better show. And there is no way LSU's victory over the Tide was more exciting than Michigan State's Hail Mary win over Wisconsin, Stanford's triple-overtime triumph over USC or the frenetic final minutes of Michigan vs. Notre Dame.

Even LSU coach Les Miles said that it "was not a pretty game." Both teams threw two interceptions. Alabama missed four field-goal attempts. The teams combined for 13 penalties totaling 129 yards, several coming at crucial times. Yes, there were big plays and plenty of fourth-quarter tension. But a thing of beauty this was not.

In fact, it could be argued that the most valuable player was LSU punter Brad Wing, who placed four kicks inside the Alabama 20-yard line and boomed a crucial 72-yarder - the longest this season in the Southeastern Conference - in the fourth quarter to get LSU out of a deep hole. Dominant teams don't win games because of their punter.

That is why it might be too soon to crown the Tigers champs. For as good and as fast as their defense is, there were also plenty of flaws. Alabama still rolled up nearly 300 yards in total offense, aided by a few plays in which LSU's defense was completely out of position.

The most blatant example occurred late in the second quarter, when Trent Richardson came out of the backfield unguarded, caught a short pass in the left flat and sprinted 39 yards to the LSU 19, setting up a field goal that gave Alabama a 3-0 lead. It is well known that Richardson is Alabama's best and most explosive player. How does a "great" defense ever allow a player of Richardson's stature to be so wide open?

The LSU players obviously reveled in their victory in the moments after the game, and deservedly so. There is no doubt that this was a huge victory for the program and especially for Miles, who finally is emerging from the shadow left behind by Nick Saban. Yet there also was an acknowledgement that a victory in early November does not make a championship.

"This was a very, very big game, but really all it does is give us the lead in the (SEC) West (Division). That's all we have," Miles said. "We hope if we do things that we're capable of doing that we might at some point in time get to play for a championship."

Or as LSU safety Brandon Taylor said, "We just have to have a clear mind and stay focused, because it can be taken away from us as fast as we got it."

Yes it can. There are still two potential potholes on the Tigers' road to the championship. First up is No. 8 Arkansas, which LSU plays the day after Thanksgiving. The Razorbacks have not been a dominant-looking team this season, but following Saturday's 44-28 victory over No. 10 South Carolina, they are 8-1. It would not be a stretch for them to go into Baton Rouge and pull off the upset.

And although LSU has by far the best defense of any of that group, the reality is that 21st-century football is often all about the offense. The game is no longer 3 yards and a cloud of dust. It's 33 yards and eat my dust. Games are high-octane shootouts where 14-10 isn't a final score, it's a first-quarter score.

The Tigers have displayed moments of offensive firepower, but do they have enough to hang with a quarterback who gets a hot hand? If Richardson can come out of the backfield undefended and make a 39-yard catch-and-run, then Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Andrew Luck certainly is capable of putting up big numbers on LSU.

The giddy Tigers departed Bryant-Denny Stadium on top of the football world. They are the No. 1 team in the nation and the unquestioned favorite to win the national championship. But should we go ahead and crown them? Probably not. LSU is a good team bordering on great. But there definitely are a few issues that can be exploited.

"I'm sure when we look at tape (of the Alabama game) we'll see a lot of busted plays," Taylor said. "It's all about correcting mistakes. This season ain't over. It's just beginning now."

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