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Thus did the BCS deliver a national title game between teams that had clashed a mere nine weeks earlier. In a five-field-goal game variously described as an epic defensive struggle and a snore, depending on whom you asked, neither team mustered a touchdown, LSU snatching a victory in Tuscaloosa on the strength of superior special teams.
Widespread displeasure with the rematch contributed to talk of retribution among voters in the AP poll, who, unlike the coaches, are not obligated to vote the winner of the BCS title game No. 1. The AP electorate threatened to split the national championship, keeping the Tigers in the top spot even if they lost on Monday night. LSU, after all, had beaten eight ranked teams, including Alabama. The Tigers had dominating wins over Oregon and West Virginia, winners of the Rose and the Orange Bowls, respectively.
But the rebellion failed to materialize (the Tigers received just one first-place vote to the Tide's 55), the voters possibly convinced by the logic of Barrett Jones, Alabama's All-America left tackle. Asked three days before kickoff if he'd be O.K. with a split title, Jones said, "There's a formula that decides who goes to this game. We trust the formula." Gesturing to one of the multiple BCS banners behind him, he noted, "It says right here, NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP."
So it did, and so Jones & Co. are national champions once again. Checking in well below euphoric on the emotional spectrum, Tide coach Nick Saban steadfastly refused to describe the victory as dominant. "When we watch film," he said, "we have a Good, Bad and Ugly reel. And I can always find some ugly."
Yet it must have given him some secret pleasure to snap a two-game losing streak to his nemesis and counterpart, Les Miles, who'd distributed miniature baseball bats to his players before LSU's victory in November, congratulating them for "bringing the wood" to their opponents. The Alabama players didn't get bats—they'll have to settle for rings.
Miles finished the season batting .500 against the Tide in large part because Saban, a masterly defensive strategist, had 43 days to figure out a way to better contain Jordan Jefferson, the Tigers' dual-threat quarterback whose mobility and success running the option moved the chains just enough to eke out that narrow victory in November.
True, Georgia Southern—which lives and breathes the triple option—had gashed the Tide for 302 yards on the ground in its 45--21 loss at Alabama on Nov. 19. Would the Tigers go to school on the FCS Eagles?
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart hoped LSU would double down on the option. Why? Because the Tigers aren't an option-based team, he said, "and you can't learn the option in a few weeks."
Indeed, LSU was not an option team on Monday night. In crawling to a paltry and pathetic 92 yards of total offense and just five first downs—in crossing the midfield stripe exactly once—the Tigers established no identity at all on offense. "I told my team I didn't see it coming," said a chagrined Miles after the game, his ever-present hat pulled down lower than usual. "I wish I could have done something about that."
He could have, actually. Once it became clear that Jefferson was a basket case—the senior passed for 53 yards, rushed for 15 and was a deer in the headlights all night long—Miles could have given backup Jarrett Lee a series or two. Lee was undefeated as a starter in LSU's first nine games of the season. Surely he could not have played worse than Jefferson.