Capitals

Alabama-LSU: Another showdown in epic rivalry

201211011441528902786-p2.jpeg

Alabama-LSU: Another showdown in epic rivalry

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) After a dismal night in the Big Easy, LSU circled this date on the calendar.

Finally, the Tigers have a chance to get back at Alabama.

``They took something from us,'' LSU running back Michael Ford said. ``We should have won the national championship. We got it taken away. It should have been a magical season for us.''

Nearly 10 months later, the sting of the BCS championship game is still felt in the Bayou. The Tigers were unbeaten and ranked No. 1 when they took on the Crimson Tide at the New Orleans Superdome. But the night turned out to be an embarrassment, Alabama romping to a 21-0 victory while limiting LSU to 92 yards and five first downs.

On Saturday night, the No. 5 Tigers will try to take down the top-ranked Crimson Tide, who have their sights on a second straight title, their third in four years.

Get ready for another epic showdown in what has undoubtedly become college football's greatest rivalry.

``The way we ended last year was definitely a hard pill to swallow,'' LSU safety Eric Reid said. ``I'd be lying if I didn't say that was our motivation over summer. It definitely was. We felt like we were almost there. We just couldn't get it done. It just fueled us and set the tone for this season. We have another opportunity, a fresh start.''

These teams have long been Southeastern Conference rivals, but it was a largely overlooked series on the national stage. That all changed in 2007, when former LSU coach Nick Saban, after a brief stint in the NFL, returned to the college game - at Alabama, of all places.

Suddenly, this series took on a whole new level of nastiness and vitriol.

``It'll definitely be the most physical game we play all year, without a doubt,'' Alabama center Barrett Jones said. ``The most physical games I've played in my life have been against them. We really respect the way they play football.''

When these powerhouses met last year in Tuscaloosa, the buildup was so intense that everyone broke out the ``Game of the Century'' moniker. Alabama was the favorite but LSU pulled out a 9-6 victory in overtime, winning a battle of the field goals.

This game doesn't have quite the same luster, since LSU (7-1, 3-1 SEC) already has a loss on its record.

``To be honest with you, I'm not sure any game will be like that game was last year,'' Tigers linebacker Kevin Minter said, shaking his head as he remembered the hype. ``That was a once-in-a-lifetime type of game.''

Turns out, it wasn't a once-in-a-season type of game.

Even though Alabama was runner-up in the SEC West, the Crimson Tide climbed back to No. 2 in the BCS standings, earning a much-debated rematch with the conference champion Tigers in the national title game.

That one was no contest.

LSU has been stewing about it ever since.

Ever since Saban took over at Alabama (8-0, 5-0), the teams have met with one or the other - or both - ranked in the top five. They have split their previous six meetings, four of which were decided by a touchdown or less, including two that went to overtime. It's not always pretty, but it's sure intense.

``They're not really going to try to trick us,'' Jones said. ``That's why we like playing them and that's why they like playing us. We both respect each other and both really are kind of founded on toughness.''

Especially on the defensive side.

Despite losing six players from one of the greatest defenses in college football history to the NFL (including three first-round picks), the Crimson Tide has picked up where it left off in the Superdome.

Alabama is ranked No. 1 in all four major defensive categories.

``Coming into the season, we were always talking about what was going to be our identity,'' linebacker C.J. Mosley said. ``Great players left last year, but we had players that could fill their roles. So far, we're getting the job done. It's all about communication because we've got the athletes and we've got the players that can play with anybody in the nation.''

LSU isn't too shabby, either. Even with some major losses of their own - most notably, Heisman finalist Tyrann ``Honey Badger'' Mathieu - the Tigers rank among the top 10 in points allowed, yards allowed, pass defense and run defense.

``Both teams pride themselves on defense,'' Reid said. ``Yeah, both teams lost guys to the NFL, and we're very happy for those guys, but when young guys come in, we tell them when they get here, `We expect you to play big. We know you're freshmen, but you can't play like that.' When they get on campus, we work them hard in the summer trying to get them to learn the playbook as soon as possible, then we throw them out there and see what they've got.''

While both defenses are stout, Alabama would appear to have a clear edge on offense. That's why the Crimson Tide is a rather surprising nine-point favorite going into a Saturday night in Death Valley, one of the most imposing environments for a road team.

Quarterback A.J. McCarron has been about as close to perfection as one can expect, completing nearly 69 percent of his throws for 1,684 yards and 18 touchdowns - and not one interception. He has put together a stretch of 262 passes without a pick, the longest in school history.

``You have to have the ability to make plays,'' Saban said. ``We've certainly been able to make a few with our quarterback this year, and I think it's going to be important that we continue to be able to do that as well.''

LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger hasn't been nearly as effective, raising familiar concerns for a team that has flailed around for several years trying to settle on a starter and didn't reach the end zone in two games against the Crimson Tide a season ago.

Mettenberger, a transfer from Georgia, has completed about 57 percent for 1,419 yards, with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. Essentially, his role is to make sure he doesn't do anything that gets the Tigers beat.

``Not making mistakes will be huge,'' he said. ``We can't turn it over for sure.''

But it's hard to envision the Tigers just running the ball down Alabama's throat, even with an extremely deep stable of backs that has grown even deeper with the emergence of freshman Jeremy Hill, who rushed for more than 100 yards in LSU's last two games.

Mettenberger must step up for his team to have any chance.

``I'm very confident in our ability as an offense to move the ball and get things done,'' he said. ``I hope we can go out there and show everyone our potential. The opportunity will be there for us to make big plays. We have to take advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves.''

Saban has learned a thing or two from last year's game in Tuscaloosa.

Yes, it's a big game.

Just don't let it affect the way you prepare.

``I think there is such a thing as being too ramped-up for a game,'' Saban said. ``Everyone would say that it is really critical that you play your best in a game like this. The formula and the recipe for that doesn't really change. Even though you would like to change it and put some more sugar in the cake to make it taste better, it usually makes it taste worse.''

---

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Quick Links

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What does the future hold?

caps-faceoff-101.png
USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What does the future hold?

In this week's mailbag podcast, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir answer several questions about the Caps' prospects and Hershey.

How does the future look on the farm? Plus, they talk about potential weaknesses, their biggest surprises and more!

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

MORE CAPS NEWS:

Quick Links

Need to Know: The best quarterbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

rodgers-usat.png
USA Today Sports Images

Need to Know: The best quarterbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 16, 10 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The five best quarterbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

This week we’ll be looking at the best of what the Redskins will face during the 2018 season. Today the quarterbacks are up. They are roughly ranked by Football Outsiders’ DVOA, although I did some juggling based on offseason moves and other factors. 

Aaron Rodgers, Packers—An injury-plagued 2017 season actually pushed Rodgers near the middle of the pack in DVOA. But we know better than that. We have every expectation that he will be back throwing for around 4,000 yards, 35 touchdowns, and a half-dozen or so miracle comebacks. The Redskins had better hope they have a big lead late in their Week 3 game. 

Drew Brees, Saints—The last time Brees failed to pass for over 4,000 yards in a season we were in the first year of the second term of George W. Bush and Joe Gibbs was in the second year of his comeback stint with the Redskins. Brees gives the Saints a chance in every game and nearly every situation (as the Redskins found out in New Orleans last season. 

Matt Ryan, Falcons—The first $30 million man in NFL history is everything you want in a quarterback. He’s productive, with at least 4,000 passing yards every season since 2011. Ryan also is durable; he hasn’t missed a game this decade. The only thing he is missing is a ring but he didn’t call passes when the Falcons were set up for a clinching field goal and he wasn’t on the field when Tom Brady shredded the Falcons defense in the fourth quarter. 

Carson Wentz, Eagles—The Redskins experienced their share of frustration in trying to deal with Wentz last year. They weren’t the only ones as Wentz was a prime MVP candidate before he missed the last three games and the playoffs with a torn ACL. I am not buying into the notion that there will be any quarterback controversy in Philly. When Wentz is healthy, Nick Foles will step aside. 

Deshaun Watson, Texans—Perhaps the hype train was getting a little bit out of hand for the rookie last year. After all, the Texans were 3-3 in his six starts and he was on pace to throw 21 interceptions. Still, he should be a good one. His mobility is a huge asset and we have seen the problems that the Redskins have had dealing with quarterbacks who can scramble in the pocket and take off and run. 

Best of the rest: Cam Newton, Panthers; Jameis Winston, Bucs; Marcus Mariota, Titans; Dak Prescott, Cowboys; Andrew Luck, Colts (if healthy)

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

Tandler on Twitter

Timeline 

Former Redskins kicker Chip Lohmiller, who outscored the entire Baltimore Colts team in the 1991 season, was born on this date in 1966.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 10
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 24
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 47

The Redskins last played a game 197 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 55 days. 

In case you missed it