COLUMN: Big game adjustment

Les Miles has enjoyed a good deal of success during his LSU career coaching in big games. To beat 'Bama this Saturday, his Tigers will have to make some changes.

In advance of this Saturday's LSU-‘Bama showdown, let's talk big games.

Both teams have played in an awful lot of them recently, including several against one another.

But theirs isn't some newfound rivalry that began when Nick Saban crossed the purple-and-gold line and pledged his allegiance to the Yellowhammer State in 2007. No, the bad blood between the Tigers and Tide goes back a lot farther than that.

Farther even than Charles McClendon vs. Bear Bryant, a largely one-sided tussle that tilted heavily in favor of the man bronzed and memorialized in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Still, as long-lived as the hatred is and the vitriol has been spewed, never in the history of LSU vs. Alabama has the game meant as much as it has these past few seasons.

Part of the reason is because Saban, another one of the bronzed figures you'll find along the Walk of Champions in Tuscaloosa, has the Crimson Tide at the peak of its powers. The other part is due to the fact that Les Miles, Saban's successor in TigerTown, has LSU rolling at a pretty historical clip too.

That the division foes met in the national championship game 10 months ago is simply icing on the I-hate-you cake.

So it's utterly rhetorical to say that Nov. 3, 2012, will be the next in a line of huge games between the two.

Traditionally Miles has been pretty darn good in big games at LSU.

The Michigan man who made his way to the Bayou in 2005 from Oklahoma State, where he twice toppled Goliath in Oklahoma, has led the Tigers to wins over top-10 opponents at home, on the road and in bowl games.

Here's a list of LSU's victories over top-10 teams under Miles:

- 2005: No. 5 LSU beat No. 4 Alabama 16-13 in OT in Tuscaloosa
- 2005: No. 10 LSU beat No. 9 Miami 40-3 in Peach Bowl
- 2006: No. 13 LSU beat No. 8 Tennessee 28-24 in Knoxville
- 2006: No. 9 LSU beat No. 5 Arkansas 31-26 in Little Rock
- 2007: No. 2 LSU beat No. 9 Virginia Tech 48-7 in Baton Rouge
- 2007: No. 1 LSU beat No. 9 Florida 28-24 in Baton Rouge
- 2007: No. 2 LSU beat No. 1 Ohio State 38-24 in BCS Title Game
- 2008: No. 6 LSU beat No. 10 Auburn 26-21 in Auburn
- 2010: No. 12 LSU beat No. 5 Alabama 24-21 in Baton Rouge
- 2011: No. 4 LSU beat No. 3 Oregon 40-27 in Dallas
- 2011: No. 1 LSU beat No. 2 Alabama 9-6 in OT in Tuscaloosa
- 2011: No. 1 LSU beat No. 3 Arkansas 41-17 in Baton Rouge
- 2012: No. 9 LSU beat No. 3 South Carolina 23-21 in Baton Rouge

All-told the Bayou Bengals are 13-10 playing teams ranked in the top 10 under the direction of Miles. There are also a handful of games LSU has contested and won versus teams ranked 11th and 12th during that time which were omitted from the above list.

Hey, when you're LSU, you play in a lot of these games.

But a pattern has emerged this calendar year which flies in the face of Miles' overall track record in big games.

Big bad LSU – a team which prides itself on playing physical, opportunistic defense and running the football – hasn't been able to push around the fellow elites it's run into.

It happened first against Alabama in the Big Easy nine days after 2011 turned to 2012. It happened again in The Swamp the first weekend in October with Florida on the opposing sideline.

LSU entered those ballgames with the intention and game plan of playing Miles Ball and left out-schemed, scratching its head and, ultimately, with tallies in the loss column.

The Tigers were not able to replicate in those contests what they were able to do, seemingly with ease, against teams like Oregon, West Virginia, Florida (2011), Auburn, Arkansas and Georgia a year ago.

And, if you're being honest with yourselves, LSU fans, the game plan didn't exactly work in last season's Game of the Century in Tuscaloosa.

Yes, the Tigers escaped with a hard-fought overtime win, and, yes, Miles and his offensive staff deserve credit for making the switch from Jarrett Lee to Jordan Jefferson, attacking the perimeter with option plays. But the truth of the matter is Saban lost that game for the Tide by over-thinking things and allowing his hobbled wide receiver to throw a pass when the running game was coming to life with Trent Richardson.

But I digress.

The point of the column (and theme of this week, in my opinion) is that it's going to take some diversity and creativity in attack and scheme for LSU, a team decimated by injuries and suspensions this season, to beat Alabama, a team clearly its equal if not slightly better from a standpoint of personnel, depth and coaching.

Saturday marks another big game for Miles and LSU. There have already been plenty during the two's marriage, as documented above, and there will be plenty more.

If Miles and the offense approach this game like they did January 9 or October 6, it's almost a lock the Tigers will come up short.

But, if Miles is able to adapt and take the types of risks people across the country became accustomed to seeing from him in the earlier portion of his LSU tenure, he's got a real chance to turn 13-10 into 14-10.

That's the fun of big games. We'll all just have to tune in to see which way it goes.

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