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LSU football seeks payback vs. Alabama in game with far-reaching implications

3-9-07 Staff mug shot Herb Gould. phoby Jean Lachat/Sun-Times

3-9-07 Staff mug shot of Herb Gould. photo by Jean Lachat/Sun-Times

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Updated: December 3, 2012 6:18AM



It’s not the titanic tussle of last year, when No. 1 LSU met
No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5. Their defenses were considered so good that nobody seemed to mind when no touchdowns were scored.

LSU won the five-field-goal ‘‘Game of the Century’’ 9-6 in overtime, and CBS enjoyed its highest ratings for a college football game since Notre Dame-Miami in 1989.

The Crimson Tide had the last laugh, thumping LSU 21-0 in their unprecedented rematch for the national championship Jan.  9 to win its second national title in three years. Again, nobody seemed to mind that these old-school rivals managed one meaningless touchdown with 4:36 left.

Even if the game Saturday isn’t an epic struggle, the next chapter in a great rivalry remains a big deal around the nation as well as in the SEC.

With Oregon widely expected to rise to No. 2 in the BCS standings if the nation’s top four unbeaten teams run the table, fans of Notre Dame and Kansas State will be chanting, ‘‘Geaux Tigers!’’

‘‘There are a lot of scars from that national championship game,’’ LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. ‘‘You’ll see it on the field. We had set [a goal of] winning the national championship. Bama took that from us. We want to show the world that we have bounced back from that loss.’’

At No. 5, LSU still could sneak back into the national championship hunt despite its 14-6 loss at Florida on Oct. 6. No one is anticipating that, but if USC, for example, takes down Oregon and Notre Dame, a one-loss LSU would be very much in the discussion.

The trouble is, Alabama is very deserving of its ranking as the nation’s best team. The Crimson Tide is first in the nation in points allowed (8.1) and total defense (203.1 yards) and 11th in scoring (40.6). LSU is ninth in points allowed (14.6) and third in total defense (243.4 yards) but 51st in scoring (31).

When the Crimson Tide has the ball, the focus will be on how LSU’s defensive line deals with Alabama’s offensive line, which is regarded as the nation’s best.

For LSU to move the ball, running is likely to be problematic. That means quarterback Zach Mettenberger — who ranks 12th in the SEC in pass efficiency and has thrown seven touchdown passes and four interceptions — will have to over-achieve.

‘‘I have to make a lot of plays for us to win,’’ Mettenberger said. ‘‘We’re going to have to be very efficient in the passing game. Hopefully we’ll go out there and execute better than we have in the past.’’

Even though he’s 3-3 against Nick Saban, LSU coach Les Miles doesn’t get nearly the respect of Saban, the coaching gold standard in college football.

But the Tigers have the horses, which they proved when they slipped past South Carolina 23-21 on Oct. 13 to avoid a second consecutive loss.

‘‘We needed to have a victory,’’ Miles said. ‘‘I don’t know that fear was necessarily the piece. I think there’s a piece in every man that says, ‘I just don’t want this to end on the wrong side of the score.’ ’’

LSU will have the crowd spurring it on. Alabama will have Saban’s thorough preparation.

‘‘If there was anything I would say about last year’s game, I think there’s such a thing as being too ramped-up for a game,’’ Saban said. ‘‘This is a great team and a great program we are playing. The most important thing for us to do is focus on preparing to play our best football.’’



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