ENGSTER: Time for LSU to turn the page from January 2012

By JIM ENGSTER | President, Tiger Rag Magazine

It was six years ago tonight as this column is presented that Alabama beat LSU 21-0 to win the BCS title in the Superdome. Counting that fateful evening in New Orleans, LSU is 0-7 against Alabama and 55-16 against everybody else since 1-9-12. Before the debacle at the Dome, LSU had won two national championships in nine seasons with a trio of SEC crowns. Since then, LSU has not won the SEC West, much less more celebrated honors.

With Monday night’s monumental 26-23 Alabama win over Georgia in overtime in Atlanta, Nick Saban has captured six college football championships in his last 13 years of coaching at the collegiate level. Since his 7-6 debut at Tuscaloosa in 2007, Saban is 125-14 with five titles in nine seasons.

Alabama does not get lathered up when one of its coordinators leaves for another job. It’s because Saban is the coach, and all others on his staff are appendages to the great one. The 5-foot-6 leader of the Crimson Tide has emerged as a giant among his peers. Not bad for a man who, 20 years ago when he was 47, led Michigan State to a 6-6 record in his fourth year at East Lansing, a Spartan team that not only lost its opener at home to Colorado State but was also blown out by Oregon 41-14 in game two and finished the year with a 51-28 defeat to Penn State.

Twenty years ago, Saban was on the brink of eviction from Michigan State. Today he is regarded as the greatest coach in the history of the game. The Crimson Tide machine is rolling with the trend leaning to more success for the 66-year-old coach, who burst on the national scene in 2003 with his first title at LSU. Saban was an overnight sensation at 52 when he hoisted the crystal trophy at the Dome as LSU whipped Oklahoma 21-14.

If he had not departed Baton Rouge for Miami 23 months later, Saban would likely have won a few more rings at LSU and would be tormenting Alabama from Baton Rouge. But the tide turned on January 9, 2012 when Saban entered the evening at a familiar haunt with two championship rings. Les Miles had one and had already defeated the Red Elephants in the Game of the Century two months earlier at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It was time to even the score, until Alabama took control early.

Miles and LSU were trailing Alabama 9-0 at halftime and made few offensive adjustments, resulting in a three-touchdown rout by Bama. LSU was limited to five first downs in a listless performance from quarterback Jordan Jefferson. Miles never switched to Jarrett Lee or Zach Mettenberger when it was apparent that it was destined to be an off night for Jefferson.

Monday night, Alabama was behind Georgia 13-0 at the half. Saban responded by yanking superstar quarterback Jalen Hurts and inserting freshman Tua Tagovailoa to lead the charge in Atlanta. A stirring comeback returned Alabama to the winner’s circle as Georgia fought gallantly to thwart a determined Tide rally.

The winning score came from a missile from a 19-year-old freshman from Honolulu to a 19-year-old freshman from Amite, La.  DeVonta Smith was a five star recruit, who de-committed from Georgia to hook up with Saban and Co. Ed Orgeron tried mightily to lure Smith to TigerTown, but the speedster from Tangipahoa Parish opted for a trip to title town.

It is telling that the most prolific pass in Alabama history traveled from the arm of a lad from Hawaii to the hands of a kid from Louisiana. Saban has assembled a national cast of players at Tuscaloosa, a significant accomplishment at a place that is not a vacation destination for most American youth.

LSU has some memorable pass plays in its vaunted history with these five perhaps the most revered by Tiger fans.

  1. Bert Jones to Brad Davis for a 17-16 win over Ole Miss on Nov. 4, 1972.
  2. Tom Hodson to Eddie Fuller for a 7-6 win over Auburn on Oct. 8, 1988.
  3. Marcus Randall to Devery Henderson for a 33-30 win over Kentucky on Nov. 9, 2002.
  4. Billy Cannon to Mickey Mangham for a 7-0 win over Clemson on Jan. 1, 1959.
  5. Matt Flynn to Demetrius Byrd for a 30-24 win over Auburn on Oct. 20, 2007

These are the hometowns of the passers and receivers in those LSU great passing moments.

  1. Ruston and Hammond
  2. Mathews and Leesville
  3. Baton Rouge and Opelousas
  4. Baton Rouge and Lafayette
  5. Tyler, Texas and Miami, Fla.

With the exception of No. 5, LSU has prospered by featuring spectacular homegrown recruits. The formula has enabled LSU to boast more current NFL players than anyone else, including Alabama.

But it is stunning that Alabama won a national title with the heroics of two true freshmen, one from Hawaii and the other from Louisiana.

If LSU is to make up enough ground to catch up with the league pacesetters, Coach O and staff must stock the roster with four- and five-star recruits from Louisiana and many other locations.

Alabama has 4.9 million residents while Louisiana has 4.7 million people living in the Bayou State. Unlike the state of Alabama, which boasts two of the top programs in college football with the Tide and the War Eagles of Auburn, LSU is the lone college football powerhouse to inhabit its borders.

On the surface, LSU has inherent advantages not enjoyed by Alabama and Auburn. Yet LSU has not won ten games in a season since 2013 and has a 35-16 record over the last four seasons. Alabama is 53-5 in the last four seasons.

As horridly bad as the home schedule for LSU was in 2017, the 2018 slate at Tiger Stadium features both Georgia and Alabama. This is a year of reckoning for Orgeron, who must show he is better than his predecessor and can someday soon rival Saban for SEC and national supremacy.

After two seasons, Saban was 18-7 at LSU. He inherited a program that had endured eight losing campaigns in its last eleven and had posted a 7-15 mark in the two years prior to Nick’s dashing arrival from MSU in his black turtleneck shirt, gold jacket and Italian loafers.

Miles took over a program that had gone 22-4 in the final two years of Saban, and LSU was 22-4 in the first two seasons of Les.

Orgeron is 15-6 after nearly two seasons, gaining control of a team that had posted a 19-10 record in the final two years and four games under Miles.

LSU fans are an impatient bunch. Orgeron is paid nicely to dominate the opposition, not post respectable defeats. Victory will be expected by the Tiger faithful against Georgia and Alabama, this year.

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Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

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