Don't Believe All You Hear About LSU Game
"This game is not about Nick Saban and Les Miles," said Les Miles, who is the coach at LSU. "It's about the players." Alabama Coach Nick Saban basically said the same thing. All we have to do is swap quotation marks and we arrive back to square one: The game is not about the coaches, but the players.
I believe it boils down to both. Certainly it takes players making plays. But in a game of this magnitude, coaching may be the main ingredient, as it is in any successful football team. Coaching decisions in the game will likely be the reason a team wins or loses.
Miles has lived on the edge this year with the most talented team in the land and has come under fire for several questionable decisions in some very heated moments. See Florida, Kentucky and Auburn. Winning football comes down to one thing: Execution. Miles has sent a message that he believes in his team and the Tigers have responded.
But still the questions hang over the head of Miles and you wonder when the bubble could indeed burst.
The biggest criticism of Miles is his performance in the big game particularly on the road. Of his five losses at LSU, only one of those has come at home, that when Tennessee stormed back from 21 down to beat LSU in Miles' debut as the Tigers coach. By year's end in 2006 LSU was as good as anyone in college football but because of a loss at Auburn and a loss to Florida, LSU was out of the SEC Championship Game.
That is where Miles is suffering the most unfavorable comparisons to Nick Saban.
LSU's Loss to Kentucky is still a little fuzzy. Mississippi State went to Lexington and hammered the Wildcats, 31-14, in a game that wasn't that close. That was a week after the Tigers had been beaten in Lexington. Yes, it was in overtime where anything can happen, but what was LSU doing letting the game get to overtime?
The point is, if you want to beat LSU it takes some home cooking to do it. Alabama has better athletes than Kentucky and better coaching. And in the words of Verne Lundquist of CBS Sports, "This ain't Lexington, Kentucky, folks," referring to Bryant-Denny Stadium when the Gators called in 2005. The environment that LSU will see on Saturday in Tuscaloosa may very well be the most electric atmosphere that any of us have seen for a college football game.
Miles is fighting to get out of the shadow that is Nick Saban. It hangs like an albatross around his neck. For that matter, the entire LSU Nation seems entrapped. This LSU team is supposed to win the SEC and get to Atlanta and then move on to New Orleans and the BCS championship game. Anything short of that will be considered not good enough. Or to put it another way, not up to Saban's standards. The pressure firmly sits on the shoulders of mighty LSU.
Alabama will be prepared on Saturday to perform to its ability. It can play loose and let it all hang out. It has good enough players. Good enough coaching. And a fan base that is absolutely starved for a championship and Nick Saban has brought Bama to the brink of an SEC West Crown in just eight games.
So. In a game where coaching and execution are paramount and playing at home can make the difference, it boils down to this. Is this game about Les Miles and Nick Saban or is it about the players? Who would you rather have coaching your team on Saturday, Nick Saban or Les Miles? We have pretty good story lines. Saturday should be incredibly memorable.
Editor's Note: Scott Moore is a nationally known sports radio analyst and host of "Inside The Crimson Tide" radio from noon-2 p.m. central time each Tuesday.
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