He followed his lead blocker, patiently waiting for the perfect moment to break away. An hour had passed since Alabama's Trent Richardson had rushed for a career-high 203 yards in the Iron Bowl last Saturday evening in Auburn, leading the Crimson Tide to a 42--14 win over the hated Tigers that most likely put 'Bama in the BCS title game, almost certainly against LSU. Now, as a police officer tried to clear a path through a crush of fans outside Jordan-Hare Stadium, Richardson saw an opening.
Passing the officer, Richardson jogged toward an idling team bus 50 feet away. He was almost there when a fan wearing an Alabama jersey yelled, "Go get LSU, Trent! Get the damn Tigers! They'll never beat us twice!" Hearing those words, Richardson stopped. For a few heartbeats he smiled to himself. And it was right there, as he stood in the darkness outside the bus on a cool Southern night, that the realization hit Richardson. Alabama was on the cusp of earning something exquisitely rare in sports: a second chance.
"Our game against LSU," a 9--6 overtime loss on Nov. 5, "still isn't over in my mind," Richardson had said four days before the Iron Bowl as he sat in a windowless office in Alabama's football complex in Tuscaloosa. "Give us four more quarters, and we'll see what happens. Four more quarters."
Well, Trent, it looks as if your wish will come true. To the chagrin of offense-obsessed fans around the country (especially in Stillwater, Okla.), who found LSU's win over Alabama numbingly boring, and to the horror of those suffering from SEC fatigue after watching teams from the conference win the last five national titles, it now appears that a rematch between these SEC West heavyweights is all but set for Jan. 9 at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Alabama's thorough domination of Auburn, which slogged to just 44 yards of offense in the first three quarters on Saturday, solidified the 11--1 Tide's spot at No. 2 in the BCS rankings. Top-ranked LSU also earned style points when it spanked No. 3 Arkansas on Friday in Baton Rouge 41--17, securing the SEC West crown and earning a spot in Saturday's SEC championship game against Georgia.
Even if LSU (12--0) were to lose to the Dawgs (10--2) in the Georgia Dome, in all likelihood the Tigers wouldn't fall farther than No. 2, because they've been the most impressive squad in America this season, having beaten seven Top 25 teams by an average of 20.7 points. Could Oklahoma State (10--1), ranked third in the BCS, leapfrog Alabama in the final standings if the Cowboys whip Oklahoma (9--2) on Saturday in Stillwater? Unlikely. Four of the six computers in the BCS rank the Tide above Oklahoma State, and the Cowboys trail Alabama by three spots in the two human polls: the coaches' and the Harris. Stanford (11--1), No. 4 in the BCS, and Virginia Tech (11--1), No. 5 in the standings, are miles behind in the computer rankings. So barring an unforeseen revolt by the voters, who account for two thirds of a team's BCS score, Alabama will be playing for its second national title in three years.
"I told everyone [after the loss to LSU], this ain't over, this is not over," said Tide cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. "I'm pretty sure LSU was watching us tonight. I hope they're saying, Come on, come on."
Kirkpatrick, like every 'Bama player, believes the Tide should have toppled LSU earlier this fall. In that matchup Alabama outgained the Tigers (295 yards to 239) and punted fewer times (two to six) but missed more field goals (four to none). The biggest play occurred in the third quarter when Alabama receiver Marquis Maze, out of the Wildcat formation, threw an interception deep in LSU territory. Tigers safety Eric Reid and Tide tight end Michael Williams both had their hands on the ball, but Reid wrestled it away as they fell to the ground at the one-yard line. "That was a play of inches, and that was a game of inches, literally," said Alabama center William Vlachos. "We are so closely matched with them. But we feel like we've definitely improved in the last three weeks."
Indeed, while the Alabama defense has continued to smother its opponents—the unit leads the nation in yards (191.3 per game), points (8.8), rushing yards (74.9) and passing yards (116.3) allowed—the offense has become more potent because of the development of quarterback AJ McCarron. The 6'4", 205-pound sophomore had his finest game of the season against Auburn. Throwing a mixture of short, intermediate and long balls, he completed 18 of 23 passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns.
When he gets his second chance at LSU, McCarron will need to connect on at least a few down-the-field passes—something he couldn't do in Round 1 against the Tigers. (He completed 16 of 28 passes for 199 yards and one interception.) That would help keep LSU from loading the box to stop Richardson, who was held to 89 rushing yards in November. "The running game is not all we've got," said McCarron, "but it's nice to have the best player in the country, Trent Richardson, lining up behind me."