Shut down, shut out and left wondering why

Tigers' bid for a perfect season and national championship is devoured by Alabama's defensive effort in a 21-0 loss.

NEW ORLEANS – So many weeks of buildup made it seem so likely that the rematch between LSU and Alabama would be a game for the ages.

Just the continuation of what transpired on Nov. 5, right?

Well, things changed in those 65 days. For LSU, the changes didn't add up to better.

Turns out Alabama can kick field goals after all, quite a change from the first time the Crimson Tide collided with the Tigers in the first ever regular-season matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2.

What didn't change in those two months was Alabama's defense, which was as good as it has been in a dominant season Monday night in the BCS Championship Game.

Thanks to kicker Jeremy Shelley's night of redemption, the Tide's suffocating defense and the Tigers' curious offensive game plan, Alabama is back in familiar territory on top of the college football mountaintop.

Jeremy Shelley

Shelley booted five field goals to set a bowl-game record and the Tide stifled LSU to 92 total yards on 48 snaps and only five first downs in a 21-0 triumph at the Superdome – the first shutout in BCS Championship Game history.

The loss was the Tigers' first this season after they blazed to 13 straight victories in a row to win the SEC championship.

And it stung.

"I told my team that it should hurt," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We fight like hell, and we finished second. It's supposed to be painful."

Knocked off for the SEC championship by that November loss, the Tide (12-1) came out and grabbed the bigger prize Monday with a second national crown in the last three seasons and a rightful claim to the throne as college football's best program right now.

That left Miles and his team to settle for a No. 2 national ranking when the AP poll was revealed late Monday night, a season that included victories against No. 1, No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Arkansas.

Not that there was a lot of solace to be found. Not after the unexpected trip to the woodshed with a chance to carve a spot in college football history.

"I told my team I did not see it coming and that's my fault. I wish I could've done something to help them," Miles said after his team lost in the championship game for the first time after winning at the Superdome in 2003 and 2007.

"We felt like we were prepared, but obviously we were not."

Alabama's victory was sweet revenge for the 9-6 overtime loss on Nov. 5 when the Tide missed four kicks.

Shelley made amends in a major way, connecting on kicks of 23, 34, 41, 35 and a career-long 44. Trent Richardson added the exclamation point with a 34-yard touchdown run with 4:36 left.

Just like the first meeting between the country's top-ranked SEC rivals, defense ruled the night, but the Tide's was clearly the better unit on this night.

Jordan Jefferson

LSU didn't cross midfield until a Jordan Jefferson 18-yard scramble with 7:53 left in the game and that came on the Tigers' only sustained drive of the night. Even that series ended in frustration – a false start, two incompletions and a sack.

After relying on the running game so much all season, LSU had nowhere to turn Monday, finishing with 39 yards on the ground on 27 attempts. Inexplicably, the Tigers never seemed all that interested in throwing the ball downfield and fifth-year senior Jarrett Lee never took a snap as Jefferson muddled through a miserable performance in his career finale.

Afterward, Miles was grilled to start his press conference by former New Orleans Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert.

"Coach, did you ever consider bringing in Jarrett Lee, considering that you weren't taking any chances on the field?" Hebert said "Now, I know Alabama's defense is dominant. But, come on, that's ridiculous: Five first downs. I mean, so it's almost an approach, I'll tell from you the fans' standpoint, that how can you not maybe push the ball down the field and bring in Jarrett Lee? So what if you get a pick-six. It seems like the game plan that not pushing the ball down the field, considering it's like a Rueben Randle or Odell Beckham, Jr., I know the pass rush of Alabama, but there's no reason why in five first downs. You have a great defense, Alabama is a great defense, but that's ridiculous."

Miles' answer was as confusing as the LSU offensive game plan.

"I think if you watch our calls that we did throw the football down the field," he said. "We didn't necessarily get the football down the field. … We did consider Jarrett Lee, but we felt like with the pass rush that we were getting that we needed a guy that could move his feet and not sustain that pass rush.

Moments later, Miles was asked about Lee again and said he wanted to play Lee because the program owed the senior for doing "a great job for us in the beginning of the year and really throughout his career."

To be clear, inserting Lee would have little ripple effect in a game when the Alabama defense was so dominant.

The Tide's game plan and execution were simply better.

"We knew there going to come out and try to run the ball against us," said Bama linebacker Courtney Upshaw, the game's defensive MVP. "We didn't really call many blitzes. We were just hoping to contain them."

That mission was accomplished right down to LSU's last real chance on the drive that finally moved into Alabama territory. When the last-gasp chance evaporated, the Tide got the ball at midfield and Richardson scooted down the left sideline four plays later, likely capping his college career.

A.J. McCarron

By then, Alabama was well on its way, though, thanks to Shelley's right foot and quarterback A.J. McCarron's precision passing.

The Tide got all the points it needed in the first half when big plays weren't in abundance. But Alabama unearthed a few at the right time to build a 9-0 first-half lead.

A key for Alabama was not getting discouraged despite several more chances to reach the end zone that came up empty-handed.

"We certainly didn't play a perfect game," said Tide coach Nick Saban, who became the first coach to win three BCS crowns and is the only active coach to guide teams to three national championships. "We got a field goal blocked. We couldn't score a touchdown for a long time. But the guys just kept playing and never once was anybody ever discouraged about anything that ever happened in the game. And I think that attitude prevailed for us as a team. We were just going to play one play at a time, finish each play. And regardless of what the circumstance was on the play before, have a sort of an ‘I will not be denied' attitude about how to play the next play."

Marquis Maze's 49-yard punt return, Richardson's 20-yard blast and a 20-yard McCarron-to-Kevin Norwood each set up Shelley kicks.

Maze's return was a jolt to LSU, which had given up 6 punt return yards all season.

Alabama's offense was also a problem for the Tigers, with McCarron using short passes to keep the chains moving. He was 18-of-25 in the first two quarters for 156 yards, hitting tight end Brad Smelley six times for 35 yards. When LSU adjusted to that, McCarron looked deeper and found Norwood three times for 54 yards.

On five first-half possessions, the Tigers scratched out just one first down. They ran 17 plays for only 43 yards – none went for more than 8 yards.

"I don't know that the adjustments we made since Nov. 5 were the right ones," Miles said.

Alabama had no trouble moving the ball, racking up 225 yards. But until Richardson's TD – the only one scored by either team in eight quarters and an overtime this season – the Crimson Tide bogged down whenever they got close.

That wasn't a problem this time as Shelley was more reliable than in the first meeting.

Shelley connected on three of the four he tried – the last as the first half expired. He did get one blocked, but in a game when the Bama defense refused to budge much, that was just a minor blip.

McCarron finished with 234 passing yards and was named the offensive MVP, while Richardson ran for 96 on 20 carries.


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