What’s the best rivalry in college football?
There’s a case to be made for plenty of them: Michigan vs. Ohio State. Alabama vs. Auburn. Army vs. Navy. Oklahoma vs. Texas. Notre Dame vs. USC.
But the most impactful (and star-studded) rivalry in college football over the past decade? It’s hard to make a case for anything other than Alabama vs. LSU.
The two SEC heavyweights clash once again amid huge stakes on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. This will be the seventh AP top-10 matchup and fifth top-five matchup between the teams since Nick Saban was hired at Alabama in 2007. In all 13 matchups between the teams since Saban took over at Alabama, both teams have been ranked in the AP top 20, and one of the teams has been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in nine of the 13 matchups.
And, yes, the fact that Saban was LSU’s head coach and resurrected the Tigers’ program before dipping his foot in the NFL has only spiced up things on the Bayou.
That and the fact that Alabama has now beaten LSU seven straight times.
What are the seven most memorable moments in this rivalry (matching Alabama’s win streak) since Saban changed sides? Let’s take a look.
Game of the Century
The date: Nov. 5, 2011
The result: LSU, 9-6 (OT)
The lowdown: This game marked the first time in history that two SEC teams entered a regular-season game unbeaten and ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls. Granted, there weren’t many memorable offensive moments in No. 1 LSU’s 9-6 overtime win against No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. That’s thanks in large part to 28 defensive players who played in the game — 14 on each side — who went on to be selected in the NFL draft, including 10 first-rounders.
One of those eventual first-rounders, sophomore safety Eric Reid, saved the game for LSU with a spectacular fourth-quarter interception at the 1-yard line when it looked like Alabama tight end Michael Williams had both hands on the ball and was about to tumble backward into the end zone. Somehow, Reid was able to wrestle the ball away from the 6-foot-6, 269-pound Williams in midair, although Alabama fans still contend that Reid yanked it away after they were already on the ground, which would have been simultaneous possession, with the offensive player being awarded the catch.
But the ruling on the field was an interception, and a review by the replay official upheld that call. Controversy or not, Reid’s play was one for the ages. He actually peeled off his man in coverage to drift back and get to Williams just in time. The pass was thrown by Alabama receiver Marquis Maze, who took a direct snap and had Williams open down the middle of the field — but not open enough.
The date: Jan. 9, 2012, BCS National Championship Game
The result: Alabama, 21-0
The lowdown: A little more than two months after their first meeting during the 2011 season, Alabama and LSU squared off again in the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans. It was a rematch that left the rest of the college football world feeling SEC overload. But it was nothing like the frustration that spilled over afterward during LSU coach Les Miles’ postgame news conference. Alabama’s defense suffocated LSU in a 21-0 win, and the Tigers managed just 92 total yards and five first downs. They didn’t even cross midfield until only eight minutes remained in the game. Miles went with Jordan Jefferson at quarterback the entire way, and the Tigers never came up with any answers despite having future NFL receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle on the field.
Afterward, New Orleans radio personality and former NFL quarterback Bobby Hebert (also the father of LSU offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert) unloaded on Miles for not giving backup quarterback Jarrett Lee a shot to try to strike downfield against the Crimson Tide. “Come on, that’s ridiculous. Five first downs,” fumed Bobby Hebert, when handed the microphone. “… How could you not maybe push the ball down the field and bring in Jarrett Lee?” To this day, T-Bob Hebert, who hosts a radio show in Louisiana and who didn’t play in the game after playing all season in the offensive line rotation, still gets quizzed about what was a bitter end to a fabulous season on the Bayou.
The Tigers beat eight nationally ranked teams that season, including five on the road, before going belly-up in the Superdome. “The craziest thing is that whole thing created a conspiracy theory that there was some fight before the game and some of the players demanded to the coaches that Jarrett play over Jordan,” T-Bob Hebert said. “None of that happened, and I still get asked about it all the time. It was just a tough way for such a great season to end.”
The date: Nov. 3, 2012
The result: Alabama, 21-17
The lowdown: By his own admission, AJ McCarron hadn’t been able to do much of anything with LSU’s defense. But when it mattered, he was surgical in No. 1 Alabama’s 21-17 win over No. 5 LSU in Baton Rouge. With LSU leading 17-14 and Tiger Stadium about to burst at the seams, McCarron engineered a five-play, 72-yard touchdown drive in the final minute and a half to keep Alabama unbeaten. The game winner was a 28-yard screen pass to running back T.J. Yeldon with 51 seconds to play. LSU defensive back Jalen Mills blitzed off the edge, and Yeldon popped wide open. Before that final drive, McCarron was just 1-for-7 for 0 yards in the second half, and Alabama’s 12-game winning streak going back to the overtime loss to LSU a year earlier in the regular season appeared to be in real danger. But that’s when McCarron caught fire. He was 4-of-5 for 72 yards in the winning drive. “I just love moments like that,” McCarron said afterward. “I like having the ball in pressure situations.”
Case of the Cramps
The date: Nov. 7, 2009
The result: Alabama, 24-15
The lowdown: Julio Jones and Patrick Peterson are easily two of the best in the NFL at their respective positions, and they had some memorable battles in college, too. But it’s the play that Peterson wasn’t on the field for in No. 3 Alabama’s 24-15 win over No. 9 LSU on Nov. 7, 2009, in Tuscaloosa that resonates to this day on both sides. LSU was leading 15-13 in the fourth quarter when Jones took a short pass from Greg McElroy and raced 73 yards for a touchdown. All Peterson could do was watch from the sideline. He’d kept Jones under wraps for much of the game, but cramps forced him to the sideline for that fateful play. And matched up with a safety instead of Peterson, Jones broke a tackle, hit the sideline and was gone. “[Peterson] was always pressing up when he was in the game,” McElroy recalled. “So if he’s in there, we probably don’t get that look. But the defensive back was playing off. You don’t think that play’s going to be a touchdown, but that’s Julio.”
Peterson was able to return to the game and appeared to intercept a pass on the sideline later in the game with LSU trailing 21-15. But the officials ruled he didn’t have possession before going out of bounds, and even with the CBS cameras appearing to confirm that he got a foot down, the replay official did not overturn the call. Peterson said afterward he thought he got two feet in bounds, but was certain he got at least one in bounds.
The Safety Blitz
The date: Nov. 3, 2007
The result: LSU, 41-34
The lowdown: Saban’s return to the Alabama-LSU rivalry wearing crimson naturally created quite a stir, but it was a safety blitz by freshman Chad Jones that punctuated a frenzied comeback by No. 3 LSU in a 41-34 win over No. 17 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. With the game tied at 34 and Alabama facing third-and-12 from its own 29 with just under two minutes remaining, Jones burst free up the middle to sack Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson, who was spun to the ground and lost the football. It squirted all the way back to the Alabama 3, where Curtis Taylor recovered for the Tigers. Two plays later, Jacob Hester vaulted into the end zone from the 1, and LSU managed to survive on its way to an improbable run to the 2007 national championship.
The Tigers scored twice in the final three minutes in what was a season of narrow escapes. The first touchdown came on a short toss from Matt Flynn to Early Doucet on a fourth-and-4 play. Doucet caught the ball over the middle, broke one tackle, juked another defender and raced 32 yards for the touchdown.
Rashad Johnson’s Hat Trick
The date: Nov. 8, 2008
The result: Alabama, 27-21 (OT)
The lowdown: In Saban’s much-anticipated first trip back to Tiger Stadium, it was Rashad Johnson who stole the show as No. 1 Alabama remained unbeaten with a 27-21 victory against No. 16 LSU in overtime. The Crimson Tide intercepted four passes, and Johnson tied a school record with three of those. His final pick came in overtime after LSU got the ball first in the extra period, which led to a 24-yard catch-and-run from Julio Jones and a 1-yard run from QB John Parker Wilson to win it. Johnson, who’s now a member of Alabama’s coaching staff, was a former walk-on who blossomed into a star that night. He returned one of his three interceptions 54 yards for a touchdown, and his first interception set up a short Wilson touchdown run. The win clinched the SEC West title for Alabama, but doing so in Tiger Stadium wasn’t any sweeter for Saban. “My emotions for this place are positive, not negative. I didn’t leave LSU to go to Alabama. I left LSU to go to [the] Miami [Dolphins],” Saban said afterward.
The Mad Hatter Strikes
The date: Nov. 6, 2010
The result: LSU, 24-21
The lowdown: Known for his love of trick plays and chewing on a little grass, Miles got to enjoy both in No. 10 LSU’s 24-21 win over No. 6 Alabama on Nov. 6, 2010. It remains LSU’s most recent victory over Alabama at Tiger Stadium, and the game swung on Miles’ decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Alabama 26 with LSU trailing 14-13 in the fourth quarter. Miles didn’t just go for it, either. He called for a reverse to tight end DeAngelo Peterson, who took a pitch from running back Stevan Ridley and rambled 23 yards down to the 3, leading to the go-ahead touchdown. Hebert said LSU had been practicing the play for two years. “Coach Miles was just waiting for the right time to bust it out, and it worked perfectly,” Hebert said. “Everything just snowballed in our direction after that play.” The CBS cameras caught Miles munching on grass before the pivotal play. “It lets me know I’m part of the field and part of the game,” Miles explained.
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