The above statement is not a mis-print. It is not meant to be some out of the box proclamation that infuriates college football purists or bottom of the page commenters (not that I have any of those). It is not my attempt to be different or to disregard some of the other performances on the field last night. Rather it is simply a statement of the facts. LSU punter Brad Wing, in a game that featured an absolute lack of offensive play making, seemed to be the only player intent on doing just that; making plays. Indeed, his 73 yard punt may have been the play of the game.
With 11:07 left in the fourth quarter LSU was forced to punt from its own end zone after what seemed like the 50th three and out of the evening. With Alabama wide receiver Marquis Maze back to receive, Wing launched an arcing punt right at the receiver that went over 50 yards from the line of scrimmage in the air. As the ball neared the Alabama 40 yard line Maze decided not to bother with a fair catch, instead allowing the ball to roll all the way to the Alabama 18 yard line. In a game where offensive yards were at a premium the decision to not even fair catch around the 40 was a somewhat inexplicable move.
Two things led to that play. The first was a huge (if not slightly lucky) interception off of a throw by the receiver Maze out of a wildcat formation. It looked as if another Alabama receiver had made a beautiful leaping grab before the LSU defender stripped the ball out coming down. The second was Alabama’s return formation all night against LSU’s punt game. Alabama left its defense in the game on punts, protecting against potential fakes that Les Miles has been known for throughout his career. Indeed Brad Wing had scored on a long fake punt run earlier in the season (the Australia native is actually pretty athletic) that was called back on a taunting penalty. By leaving the defense on the field there was relatively little protection for the returner Maze. I should also add that Maze spent most of the second half hurt, affecting his lateral quickness visibly on subsequent offensive drives for the Tide. It also seemed to affect his mentality on the return. Still, not fair catching a ball he could’ve easily run up to is a pretty big lack of awareness.
That was kind of the name of the day for Alabama though. Throughout the game the Tide ran a number of formations with three receivers bunched close in (a “trips” formation) on one side and a receiver (usually Maze) isolated on the other. With about four minutes left in the second quarter and the Tide on the LSU 17 Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron had trips left and an isolated receiver (this time Darius Hanks) on the right. With a wide open receiver in the left flat McCarron rushed the throw on a fade right into the end zone and an incompletion. One look at a furious Nick Saban on the sideline and you knew where the freshman McCarron’s eyes should have been. Bama finally got its first points of the game on a field goal, but after missing three kicks prior to that it was clear that three points was more of a win for the Tigers than the Tide.
The special teams in general were a huge disadvantage for Alabama all day. They went two for six on field goals (something I’d personally never seen before), including one block in the first quarter and a huge miss on their overtime possession. Meanwhile LSU’s kickers seemed completely loose and collected the whole time. On all three field goals their place kickers were completely in control, while Wing made people actually pay attention to a punter. I said last week that having a loose coach, loose team and loose mentality might come into play in one of the most pressure filled and hyped up regular season games in history. I said that LSU would have an advantage in that case playing for Les “The Mad Hatter” Miles. It was no more apparent than in the team’s respective kicking games, where Alabama looked incredibly nervous playing for one of the most methodical coaches in football. While Les looked natural being fired up on the sideline, Saban looked completely out of character. It translated to the players and subsequently to the outcome of the game.
All in all Armageddon was a weird contest, and somewhat of a letdown. While it was exhilarating to watch a ton of future professionals on both defenses it was thought that the offenses would flash at least some of their characteristic athleticism. Aside from a couple of phenomenal Trent Richardson plays (yards after contact should count double statistically) the offenses on both sides looked completely out of sorts throughout the evening. On a day and night where there was a number of exciting college football contests (including a Kansas State – Oklahoma State shoot out that was running parallel to The Duo of the Deep South) Armageddon had less excitement than a bad Bruce Willis movie. Oh well.
Still, after seeing the AP and coaches polls today, where Bama is ranked fourth in both, there’s a very real possibility for a re-match in the national championship game. If that happens then maybe, just maybe, we’ll see a touchdown…on defense. That would be truly apocalyptic.
That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “No, I did not forget that there were over 50 other games played on Saturday, I promise. On a day and night when Texas won by 32, A&M became completely mediocre, Cincinnati cleared up the Big East picture, Oklahoma State nearly broke their fans hearts again and Stanford and Oregon set up a poor man’s Armageddon game, there was a whole mess of things to talk about. Week 10 break down is on its way.”