Offense accomplished mission

When a group of players become as close as this year's Crimson Tide, the concept of "team" can express itself in many ways. A good example was last Saturday in Baton Rouge, when Bama's offensive athletes had more on their minds than simply winning the game.

Sophomore tackle Evan Mathis explained. "Knowing that LSU was the No. 1 defense in the nation is something that we thought about the whole time."

Obviously Mathis and his offensive teammates knew they had to bring their "A game" versus the then top-ranked defense in the nation. But they had another, slightly more personal, goal in mind. Before the game the Bengal Tigers were rated No. 1 in the country in terms of Total Defense, with the Tide third.

Mathis sets up to pass block.

After Bama's offense rolled LSU for 477 yards of offense, the positions were reversed.

This week Alabama leads the nation in Total Defense, while LSU has dropped to fourth. "We thought about the rankings," Mathis said. "We like to accept challenges. We would only use something like that for motivation. We wouldn't let their ranking intimidate us. It's something you had to respect.

"It can help you play harder, which is good, because they were so highly rated."

Even if the Tide were to lose this weekend, last Saturday's win was big in that it guaranteed Alabama will finish the season on top of the SEC West. But Mathis and his teammates aren't about to overlook Auburn.

"It's obvious across the board how bit the Alabama/Auburn game is," he explained.

Mathis, of course, is the nephew of former Tide and Dolphin great Bob Baumhower. "(My Uncle) didn't have to say anything about the Auburn game," Mathis recalled. "Growing up I could see how big it was. He would share stories. Even back then it was always a big game.

"As big as any game in the country."

Listed at 246 pounds in this picture dated 1974, Bob Baumhower was a dominant defensive tackle for the Tide.

Having graduated from Alabama in 1976, Baumhower may or may not take offense to Mathis' "even back then" comment. But there's little doubt the Tide's current starting strong tackle came by his Crimson ties naturally.

Mathis explained, "Because of my uncle, Alabama football was instilled in me from when I was a young kid. I grew up partially a Dolphin fan, because he played for Miami. Whenever I was in pre-school, elementary school, high school, I grew up an Alabama fan. Coming to The University was a dream of mine. At first it seemed far-fetched, as it would for anybody. But as the years went on it seemed more in reach."

Despite winning the state heavyweight wrestling championship as a senior in high school, Mathis was hardly the most highly recruited athlete that year. But Uncle Bob told everyone that would listen, "Just watch. Evan is a player."

"Seeing what my Uncle did was definitely motivation for me," Mathis related. "It's been a lot of fun for him and me--my playing here and sharing the same tradition of the Tide."

Of course during Baumhower's tenure at The Capstone, Alabama never lost to LSU--which made last Saturday's domination of the Bengal Tigers that much sweeter. "I don't think we were surprised by the game," Mathis said. "We prepared as well as we could. The coaches had us in the perfect position. We knew what we had to do.

"Things went our way, because we did what we were supposed to do."

An extremely powerful athlete, Mathis is one of three sophomores starting on the Alabama offensive line.

For the first quarter or so, neither squad had much success against the other's defense. Recognizing Bama's past success, the LSU defenders were well prepared for the option. But Mathis says that running wide was important in setting the stage for what the Tide would do later.

"They were playing the option really well," Mathis said. "They were well coached to play the option. But then again that does open up things like the sprint draw."

Having spread the Bengal Tigers out, Bama busted them back inside with between-the-tackle runs. And by the time the game was finished, Mathis and the Tide offensive line had paved the way for 300 yards on the ground.

"I don't know if our early calls so much were setting them up--or just the fact that we were being diverse in play calling," Mathis said. "But if a defense is going to concentrate on playing the option, then they're going to be susceptible to other plays.

"Whether it was planned or a coaching change during the game, it worked, whatever it was."

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