LSU’s annual matchup with Alabama in early November has served as the turning point of its football fortunes. This has positively or negatively done so for several decades. The outcome usually matters in determing who will win the SEC Western Division. They have faced each other annually starting in 1964. This year’s edition is just one of the important match-ups in the history of the series.
Just Another Trip To Alabama For LSU Football?
The meeting in 1971 began a new era. It featured LSU as defending SEC champions. The Tigers had won the two previous match-ups. Alabama’s victory in Baton Rouge was the first of eleven straight for the Tide. The coach with the most wins in the history of LSU’s football program, Charles McClendon, suffered through nine of those. After that, he was forced into retirement. During this span, Bear Bryant won nine SEC titles, two AP national titles and two coaches’ national championships during that span. Meanwhile, LSU finished frequently with winning seasons but languished as a also-ran in the SEC.
In 1982, the third year of four-year roller coaster ride that was Jerry Stovall’s head coaching tenure, the Tigers ended that streak of eleven losses. That victory began a period of eight years of parity with LSU holding an advantage of 4-3-1 to close out the 1980s. That streak included four consecutive wins in Alabama as LSU grabbed two SEC titles while Bama had just one.
LSU appeared ready in 1996 to rise above perennial second or third place status in the SEC West. Going to the conference championship game for the first time required defeating undefeated Alabama. LSU had one early drive that resulted in a missed field goal. Starting quarterback for the Tigers, Herb Tyler, was injured in the first half and missed the rest of the game. LSU never threatened to score again as the Tide rolled to a 26-0 victory. LSU could manage only two victories against Bama in the last decade of the millennium.
Hope sprung among everyone associated with LSU’s football program in November of 2000. They believed that losing to Alabama in Tiger Stadium would finally stop. A new coach, Nick Saban, inherited the task of ending the streak that had endured for three decades. The Tigers gutted out a 30-28 decision that started the program’s most successful decade against the Tide, winning seven of the ten match-ups.
In 2011, LSU appeared as one of the most dominant teams in college football history. The Tigers dominated eventual Pacific Twelve champion Oregon in opening the season inside Jerry World. At the end of September, they bullied West Virginia, future champion of the Big East, in Morgantown. They outscored Auburn, Florida and Arkansas, all of whom were ranked in the top 25 going into the games, by 35, 30 and 24 points respectively. The “Game of the Century “ later that season in Tuscaloosa had to be settled in overtime with LSU escaping with a 3-point win.
At the end of that same season, LSU seemed set to secure the national championship for the third during this century less than a hundred miles from its campus. After some notable upsets, the BCS formula determined a rematch. Les Miles and his coaches recycled their previous defensive game plan to stuff Trent Richardson while giving Jordan Jefferson the exclusive keys to the offense. Meanwhile, Nick Saban and his crew diversified their offense to include more passes to the tight end. LSU’s football program has never completely recovered from Alabama’s mulligan in the Superdome.
Is the outcome of this season’s match-up all or nothing for LSU’s current team and football program in general? It is obviously not. Despite a loss in Tuscaloosa, scenarios exist for the Fighting Tigers to advance to the College Football Playoff by finishing 11-1. Even with a victory over Alabama, LSU must follow it with wins over Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M to secure the SEC West title. Otherwise, they will have to hope that the divisional tiebreakers swing their way.
Is it possible to invest too much physically and emotionally in this game? LSU did that under Les Miles during his last four meetings with Nick Saban’s squad. After losing to the Tide, the Tigers dropped games to Arkansas in 2014 and 2015 plus to Ole Miss in 2015. They also played uninspired in losing their bowl games, losing at the end of the 2012 and 2014 seasons.
What is the mentality among LSU’s coaches and players? Will Ed Orgeron resist his instinct to coach conservatively if the Tigers have the lead going into halftime? Will Dave Amanda order passive schemes to curtail Tua Tagovailoa as he did against Florida in the first half order or aggressive tactics as in the second half? What is the morale of the defense in light of Michael Divinity’s departure? Will Joe Burrow remain as daring as he has performed all year? Are the offensive linemen and Clyde Edwards-Helaire ready to provide balance with a formidable rushing attack? These cannot be answered until after kickoff.
Even by emerging victorious from the match-up in Tuscaloosa, LSU would still have much work to do to exorcise the nightmare of the BCS title game on January 2012. The Tigers have not won the SEC championship since 2011 nor even advanced to the game since then. LSU has yet to advance to the College Football Playoff while Alabama has done so every season since its inception.
The possibility of returning to the scene of that infamous rout in New Orleans and producing a successful outcome this time lies within LSU’s grasp. That defeat has haunted the program for seven years. They have a chance to return to glory of the 2000s. However, it starts by vanquishing the opponent who bedeviled them for several years.