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7 reasons LSU 9, Alabama 6 was actually awesome

One of the most unfairly maligned games in football history was brilliant for what it was.

LSU v Alabama

For the record, I wasn’t particularly excited about watching a rematch at the time. But because of everything in the aftermath of the epic LSU-Alabama game of November 5, 2011, the regular season game has garnered an undeserved reputation.

The story is as follows:

  • The regular season battle between these two teams — Les Miles top-ranked Tigers and Nick Saban’s second-ranked Crimson Tide — was maybe the most hyped regular season game of the decade.
  • The game finished 9-6 in overtime and became the shining example of stultifying, old-school, defense-first, defense-second SEC football at a time when everybody was getting sick of the SEC reminding everyone that it won the title every year.
  • People were so sick of it, in fact, that when Alabama eked ahead of one-loss Oklahoma State for the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings, creating a Bama-LSU rematch in the national title game, relatively few watched. And if they did, they didn’t for long, as LSU’s offense was blatantly hopeless. The Tigers didn’t advance past the 50 until midway through the fourth quarter, then got pushed right back across. Alabama cruised, 21-0, in a game that could have been about 38-0.
  • In some part due to low ratings and negative press, decision-makers began talking more than ever before about a playoff. Within months, the future College Football Playoff was agreed upon.

If we’re being honest, the 2011 Bama-LSU game should be remembered fondly because of that last bullet point alone. But years later, the collective reaction to any mention of the first game remains an “Ugh” from the public.

Like monosodium glutamate or Ed Norton in The Hulk, LSU vs. Bama Round 1 has been unfairly maligned.

It might have been great in a Saving Private Ryan kind of way — “I liked it, but please don’t make me watch it again” — but it was great nonetheless. To prove it, I re-watched the game this week, start to finish, and here are five reasons why you should, too. (Here’s a link.)

1. The talent. My God, the talent.

Styles make fights, and the style this game produced was of the bashing-rocks-together variety. But the sheer number of future pros was staggering, and not just on defense.

Alabama’s offense boasted two future NFL running backs (Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy), a future NFL quarterback and technically a Heisman finalist (AJ McCarron), two future first-round linemen (Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker) and a guy who won both the Outland Trophy in 2011 and the Rimington Trophy in 2012 (Barrett Jones). And even though their top two receivers (Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze) didn’t pan out in the pros, two other wideouts (Kevin Norwood and DeAndrew White) and two tight ends (Michael Williams and Brad Smelley) had at least a cup of coffee in the NFL.

LSU’s offense? It merely boasted two of probably the 10 best receivers in the NFL in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, not to mention five other pros in the skill positions (running backs Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue and receiver Russell Shepard, Rueben Randle, and James Wright). Another future pro, quarterback Zach Mettenberger, was on the third string.

In all, 18 future pros played offense in this game.

Meanwhile, 31 played on defense. THIRTY-ONE.

At one point, CBS’ Gary Danielson commented that the game featured “10 defensive backs that are gonna play in the NFL.” He was underselling it.

Including backups, there were 12.

LSU boasted one of the greatest secondaries in history, with do-everything nickel back Tyrann Mathieu, corners Morris Claiborne, Ron Brooks, and Tharold Simon, and safeties Eric Reid and Brandon Taylor.

Alabama countered with safety Mark Barron (the No. 7 pick in the 2012 draft) and corners Dee Milliner (No. 9 in 2013), Dre Kirkpatrick (No. 17 in 2012), and DeQuan Minzie (No. 146 in 2012). Young safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (No. 21 in 2014) and Vinnie Sunseri (No. 167 in 2014) couldn’t even find playing time yet.

If you rewatch and see LSU’s poor Jarrett Lee trying to throw into windows that immediately vanish, or you see McCarron holding the ball for way too long, don’t assume that was poor quarterbacking. It was more like guys being asked to perform impossible tasks.

And those were just the secondaries! Bama’s front seven featured 10 future pros — including future first-rounders Dont’a Hightower and C.J. Mosley (again, a young backup struggling to see the field). LSU’s front seven included end Barkevious Mingo (the No. 6 pick in 2013) tackle Michael Brockers (No. 14 in 2012), and seven others who would see pro action.

Mercy. Per S&P+, this game featured two of the five best defenses of the decade (along with 2016 Alabama, 2015 Alabama, and 2016 Michigan), but you probably didn’t need me to tell you that.

2. Remember Trent Richardson as he was, not as he is.

LSU v Alabama
Trent Richardson

This game featured only 534 combined yards — more than the narrative would suggest, at least — and Alabama’s Trent Richardson accounted for 169 of them by himself.

The future No. 3 pick in the 2012 draft carried 23 times for 89 yards (including a 24-yarder that featured four broken tackles) and caught five passes for 80 yards (including a 39-yarder that featured the best juke of the night).

He was never a blazing speedster, but watching this game you would never have guessed that he would become one of the great NFL busts, a top pick who would rush for 950 yards and catch 51 passes as a rookie but would more or less lazy his way out of the league.

On this Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, he was brilliant.

3. The most clutch punt you’ll ever see.

The most famous play of Brad Wing’s career was a touchdown that didn’t count. It happened about a month before the Bama game.

The Australia native and future New York Giant was still rather new to football but averaged 44.4 yards per punt as a freshman in 2011 and showed flair that made him a darling of College Football Internet. He pinned Bama inside the 5 with his first two punts of the night — important kicks because, in both cases, the Tide drove the length of the field but stalled out and had to attempt field goals — and pinned them at the 11 in the third quarter as well.

In the fourth quarter, with the game tied at 6-6, Wing trotted out with his team pinned at its 9. A decent kick would have given the Tide the ball around midfield.

Instead, he boomed a ball that went about 53 yards on the fly, then bounced another 20 yards before it was downed at the Bama 18. Bama return man Marquis Maze, limping because of an ankle injury, got wrong-footed and had to stagger out of the way instead of calling a fair catch (he later said he thought the ball hit the camera wire). It cost Bama a scoring opportunity.

I guess it was fitting that this game featured a clutch punt.

4. Witness the birth of the “Saban’s kicker troubles” meme.

Before Bama missed four field goals in 2013 against Auburn (including one particularly famous miss), two field goals in a six-point loss to Ole Miss in 2014, and three field goals in last year’s College Football Playoff, Saban’s place-kicking problems were birthed on this beautiful night in T-Town.

Because of glitches around LSU’s 30-yard line, Saban asked his kickers to attempt field goals of 34, 44, 46, 49, 50, and 52 yards that night. (And because most of them came on fourth-and-super-long, going for it or calling for a fake wasn’t really an option.) Jeremy Shelley, his short-range guy, went 1-for-2. Cade Foster, his long-distance guy, went 1-for-4, and the look on his face when he made a 46-yarder in the third showed about as much relief as you’ll ever see.

It was a cavalcade of sadness, and because of where and how certain drives ended, there was almost no choice but to send them out again.

5. Okay, fine, let’s talk about the offenses for a minute.

Maybe my favorite tidbit: in the game forever associated with anti-offense, Alabama didn’t attempt a punt until the third quarter. Against one of the most talented defenses in college football history, the Crimson Tide moved the ball at will in the first half — 43 yards on their first drive, 62 on their second, and 79 on their fourth.

No matter where they started, though, they hit a force field.

  • After Richardson gained 40 yards on the first two plays, he was stuffed by Kevin Minter for a loss of five yards that forced a 44-yard miss.
  • After Lacy rumbled for 20 yards to the LSU 23 on the second drive, Bama committed a substitution infraction. Reid stopped Lacy for a loss of six, which led to a 50-yard miss.
  • After Robert Lester picked off a Lee pass and Hanks made a diving catch to set up another scoring opportunity, Bama attempted a reverse. Maze was tripped up by either the turf or his own blocker, a loss of six that led to a 49-yard attempt. Bennie Logan blocked it.
  • Richardson’s jukey 39-yard reception to the LSU 19 finally broke the 30-yard-line force field, but on third-and-8 from the 17, McCarron didn’t see a wide open receiver on the other side of the field. Shelley at least made the ensuing 34-yarder, though.
  • Bama picked Lee off again in the third quarter, and Mark Barron returned the pick inside the LSU 10, but an illegal block pushed the Tide back to the 35, and Foster made a 46-yarder.
  • And in OT, another substitution infraction created a second-and-long, then Sam Montgomery sacked McCarron to force a 52-yard miss.

LSU didn’t have nearly as many scoring chances, but the Tigers ran efficiently, and while Jordan Jefferson attempted just 10 passes in relief of a haggard Lee, he did complete a 34-yarder to Shepard that probably would have been a touchdown had he been able to step into the pass before getting hit.

It wasn’t that the offenses were bad. It’s just that the defenses were better.

Well, that, and the force field.

6. The glory of Uncle Verne.

Watching this broadcast reminded me of what I loved so much about retired announcer Verne Lundquist. Sure, Uncle Verne was starting to miss certain pieces of a given game. And sure, he accidentally called McCarron by Lee’s name at one point.

But he made the little things so worth listening to.

And man oh man, did he throw himself into nailing a good French accent. LSU kicker Drew Alleman, the eventual hero of overtime ... no one pronounced “Ah-le-MOHH” with more flourish than Uncle Verne.

7. Screen shots! So many great screen shots!

Still not committed to putting yourself through this game again? Here are some of the things you could witness if you did:

If you’re still not convinced, I just don’t know what to tell you.