The tide turns Alabama’s way
Courtney Upshaw was standing on the field of the Superdome, basking in the glow of a national championship, when someone handed him the defensive MVP award.
The senior linebacker didn’t hesitate before passing it off to his teammates.
Sure, Upshaw deserved the honor, but it was everybody working together that allowed Alabama’s defense to turn in one of the most impressive performances in Bowl Championship Series history. The 21- 0 romp over LSU on Monday night was the first shutout in the history of the BCS title game.
“This defense wanted to pitch a shutout,” Upshaw said. “That’s what we did, baby, a shutout.”
The Tigers hadn’t been blanked since 2002, when Alabama beat them 31-0 in Baton Rouge.
It was also the first time the Crimson Tide pitched a shutout in a bowl game since the 1963 Orange Bowl, a 17-0 victory over Oklahoma, back when Bear Bryant was running the show in Tuscaloosa.
“I’ll tell you what, our defense controlled the tempo of this game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “It was just a great team win. Every guy here, every fan that we have.”
Ironically, it was Saban who was roaming the sideline for LSU during that game in 2002.
The defensive-minded coach was on the other side this time, drawing up a game plan for Alabama that flummoxed LSU coach Les Miles, quarterback Jordan Jefferson and just about everyone else inside the Superdome wearing purple and yellow.
The Crimson Tide didn’t allow the Tigers to convert a third down until the fourth quarter, and didn’t allow a snap in its own territory until there was 7:30 left in the game.
Of course, Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower promptly sacked Jefferson to force a fumble that was recovered by his good buddy Nick Gentry. The way things were going for the Tigers, it was a fitting way for their best offensive series of the night to end.
Trent Richardson added a touchdown run moments later to seal the victory, the only touchdown scored by either team in two meetings this season.
“We knew they were going to come out and try to run the ball against us,” Upshaw said. “It’s great to get the win. We really didn’t call many blitzes. We were just hoping to contain them.”
Contain them? How about downright dominate them, from start to finish.
Upshaw made a pair of stellar tackles at the line of scrimmage to force 3- and-out on LSU’s second possession, and Mosley and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick did so again on the Tigers’ next possession.
Miles, sticking with Jefferson at quarterback, tried all night to get to the edge against the Crimson Tide’s brutish defense. But each time, an Alabama cornerback or safety would fly to the ball, throwing his body at the running back or receiver with total abandon.
“We just wanted to come out and make a statement to the world, to everybody and to each other and LSU, that we are the best defense,” linebacker Nico Johnson said. “It was no fluke.”
Even after halftime, when the Tigers generally get things going — they outscored opponents 264- 61 after the break coming into the game — the Alabama defense was there to keep the momentum.
After LSU got its second first down of the night, Upshaw managed to wrestle Jefferson down for a sack, and two plays later LSU had to send punter Brad Wing out onto the field again.
“ The game plan was to spread them out,” Jefferson said. “I didn’t imagine it this way. I definitely didn’t see it this way, but situations like this happen. ... Some defenses will have your number and Alabama had our number.”
Just about the only bleak moment for the Crimson Tide came later in the third quarter, when Mosley intercepted an errant shovel pass deep in LSU territory. He was returning the ball when he was tugged to the ground by Jefferson, his leg twisting at a gruesome angle.
The sophomore linebacker was eventually carted from the field.
Jefferson wound up 11 of 17 for 53 yards, while the LSU offense managed just 92 yards of total offense. It was the second-fewest yards allowed in any BCS bowl game.
It was also the first shutout of LSU in a bowl game since the 1960 Sugar Bowl.
“Toward the end, I could definitely tell they didn’t want to play against us any longer,” Tide defensive end Jesse Williams said. “It was sort of like the light at the end of the tunnel.”