NEW ORLEANS – The first meeting this season between LSU and Alabama can be categorized as a lot of things, but an aerial show wouldn’t have been one of them.
Senior Jarrett Lee started for the Tigers but was yanked after a third-quarter interception, finishing 3-of-7 passing for 24 yards and two interceptions.
Fellow senior Jordan Jefferson stepped in from there, helping LSU break open a ground attack – option style – with 43 yards on 11 carries. His partner in crime, running back Michael Ford, ran for 72 yards on 11 carries, including a 15 yard run down the left sideline in overtime that helped set up Drew Alleman’s game-winning kick.
Outside of Lee’s interceptions, Jefferson’s night wasn’t leaps and bounds ahead of Lee’s as he threw for 67 yards on 6-of-10 passing.
When the top-ranked Tigers (13-0) and second-ranked Alabama (11-1) square off in the BCS Championship Game at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Superdome, LSU will be looking for different fortunes in the passing game.
A side effect of the Tigers’ problems throwing the ball against the Crimson Tide in the first battle was a quiet night by junior wide receiver Rueben Randle – a rare occasion in a campaign when he snared 50 passed for 904 yards and 8 touchdowns.
“I think they did a great job of scheming against us,” Randle said. “They had a lot of linebackers and defensive ends fall underneath and safeties over the top. This time we are going to have a better game plan.
“We knew we didn’t execute and play our best game. From that point on we wanted to dominate everyone in our way.”
That didn’t go over the head of first-year offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa, who refused to duck into hiding when asked what went wrong with the LSU passing attack that night in Tuscaloosa.
When the rematch with Alabama was revealed on Dec. 4, Studrawa said in an interview with Tiger Sports Digest that the Tigers’ offense didn’t play well, plain and simple.
“The great thing is, these guys know they can do better, and so do I,” Studrawa said. “I’ll call a better game and get them in position to make better plays.”
High on the checklist for that to happen is to make sure Randle is a bigger component of the offense.
In that last game, the Tide constantly double-teamed Randle to perfection, holding him to just two catches for 19 yards. Randle was held for fewer yards only twice in 2011, once in the season opener against Oregon (one catch for 10 yards) and again in the season finale against Georgia (2 catches for 15 yards).
With three days until the rematch, Randle is confident the game plan he has seen from the coaching staff will net a much more productive evening.
“(Studrawa) went back and saw the film and seen what we needed to do, so I didn’t really have to go talk to him at all,” Randle said. “We are going to put in a much better game plan to upset the defense.
“They are very aggressive, so you have to do a great job. It’s technique and beating those guys off the ball.”
For Jefferson it’s about understanding the need for the passing attack. While the option game gave Alabama fits then, it might not be the same story this time around.
“(The option) does open up a lot, and we are doing a lot of different things to really help that option work a lot, but Alabama is really going to be keying on that,” Jefferson said. “We have to find out different ways to keep the drive going.”
That begins with striking rich on plays from Jefferson to Randle, with the idea in mind that other playmakers, like freshman Odell Beckham Jr. will need to step forward and carry some weight.
“The other receivers have to step up and make plays,” Beckham said. “You definitely have to stretch the field on them and put more pressure on the defense and test them a little more. They are a great team, with a good defense, but as an offense we have to do a better job this game.”
What if Jefferson falls into the same mental trap as Lee? Could two interceptions end his night and force Lee back into the fold for one last dance?
For now, Jefferson, in his final game in purple-and-gold, envisions a start-to-finish run – regardless of whether he mistakes a mistake or two along the way.
"I feel like I'm more prepared because what I went through before the season was a tremendous amount of adversity, more than can be compared to what will happen to me on the field as far as throwing a pick or fumbling the ball,” Jefferson said. “It's quite easy for me to overcome a situation like that being through a situation like I've been through at the beginning of the season."