Tide’s defensive game plan a reality check for offensive-minded bowl season

16 Comments

How ironic that a bowl season noted for some record-breaking offensive performances ends with perhaps one of the best defensive efforts in recent memory.

The Alamo Bowl, a 67-56  defense-non-existent race between Baylor and Washington, was more theatre — a comedy at that — than a football game. Color analyst and tackling aficionado Chris Spielman is still purging, I’m sure.

If Russell Wilson hadn’t been so captivated by Oregon’s shiny helmets made from 100 percent stainless steel, perhaps he would have been able to spike the ball in time to give Wisconsin a shot to tie the Rose Bowl at 45 points in regulation. Instead, time expired and a measly 83 points had to suffice.

The Orange Bowl jokes are still going strong. It’s been five days since West Virginia hung up 70 on Clemson, and the Mountaineers just scored another touchdown.

It’s cool, man, we get it. Offense equals eyeballs. People need to be entertained.

It’s just that Nick Saban is the one holding up the crystal ball from the Coaches’ Trophy after beating top-ranked LSU 21-0 to win his second BCS championship with Alabama in three seasons — his third BCS championship overall. He’s holding it up because No. 2 Alabama’s top-ranked defense held LSU to 92 total yards, forced two turnovers and didn’t allow the Tigers past midfield until 7:29 left in the fourth quarter.

But before people start harping on LSU’s lifeless offense as the primary reason Bama’s defense looked so dominant — although it was lifeless, let’s not kid ourselves — let’s remember that this was the same LSU offense that scored 34 points against Rose Bowl champs Oregon, 40 against Orange Bowl champs WVU, 34 against Cotton Bowl champs Arkansas and 41 against Gator Bowl champs Florida, which despite its struggles, played relatively well defensively this year.

LSU’s 2011 identity revolved around big plays on defense and special teams; get a spark there and the Tigers could get on a roll before the opposing teams knew what hit them. Even LSU’s 9-6 win over Alabama on Nov. 5 featured momentum swings from the other two-thirds of the football game not involving offense.

Alabama took away that identity tonight and LSU never got the spark they needed during a game when they needed it most.   Coincidentally, the Tide did it by refusing to waiver on their game plan.

We didn’t do a lot different [from the last game],” Saban said. “We did some things on offense formationally. Our offensive team did a great job. Defensively, we just played well, played the box.”

It showed. LSU had no running game, no vertical passing game, no clue. Jordan Jefferson looked lost and Jarrett Lee was lost, as in he was no where to be found other than on the sidelines.

It was one of the more questionable decisions of the night.

But there’s no questioning this Alabama defense’s place as one of the best in recent history.

“We wanted to come out and show the world we beat ourselves the first game,” said linebacker Courtney Upshaw. “We wanted to come out and dominate from start to finish, and that’s what we did.”

Indeed. There’s no way you can blame Saban for relying on kicker Jeremy Shelley to win the game with five field goals. Even before Trent Richardson sealed the victory with a 34-yard touchdown run, 15-0 seemed insurmountable with the way the Tide’s D was flying to the ball.

Kick the field goals. Build the lead. Nick Saban don’t care. Right, Honey Badger?

After all, Saban’s the one holding up the crystal ball. And I can guarantee you he doesn’t give a damn if you were entertained.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Alabama QB Jalen Hurts uses photo of Clemson celebrating title win as motivational phone background

Getty Images
1 Comment

Nick Saban said last week that the loss to Clemson in the the national championship game earlier this year is one that he’ll never get over, although he didn’t go so far as to compare it to a death in the family. One playing member of Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide team is taking to steps to ensure that he never forgets, either.

Jalen Hurts was the Tide’s talented true freshman starting quarterback who helped lead ‘Bama into the title game and, with a 30-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes left, gave his team a 31-28 lead. That lead was short-lived, however, as Deshaun Watson led his Tigers on an epic 88-yard drive that was capped by his two-yard touchdown pass with just one tick left on the clock for the 35-31 win.

The stunning last-second loss is something that Hurts makes a conscious effort to remind himself of daily as the rising sophomore, as the background on his smartphone, has a picture of Clemson players celebrating their win.

“We’re obviously all on our phones all the time,” Hurts said according to al.com after this past weekend’s spring game. “Every time I unlock it, it’s kind of a reminder. It kind of humbles me and keeps me motivated. …

“It’s not a grudge at all. It’s just something that keeps it on the back of your shoulder like, yeah, it’s still there. Remember why you’re doing it because at the end of the day, the goal for this team is to win the national championship.

Father of former Florida State WR Travis Rudolph killed in accidental shooting

Getty Images
1 Comment

The father of Florida State wide receiver Travis Rudolph was killed Friday in an accidental shooting, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Monday.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Darryl Rudolph was working on repairs inside a West Palm Beach, Fla., when a gun accidentally fired in an adjacent room, hitting him in the back/neck area. He was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 55 years old.

The younger Rudolph was Florida State’s leading receiver over the past two seasons before becoming an early-entrant into this week’s NFL Draft. He gained viral notoriety after a photo snapped of him sitting at lunch with an autistic elementary school student hit Facebook.

“When I used to coach and help other kids with football, basketball and sports, Travis was small but he used to pay attention to what I was doing,” the elder Rudolph said in an interview with ESPN last year. “I told them get your education. You can be the best athlete in the world, but without an education, you’re not going very far. That’s what Travis followed through on.”

LSU QB Danny Etling undergoes back surgery

Getty Images
1 Comment

LSU quarterback Danny Etling has undergone surgery to relieve back pain, the program announced Monday.

“Danny had a minor back procedure this morning and everything went alright,” head coach Ed Orgeron said in a statement (and not in an Arrested Development way).

Etling has played through back pain for months, according to Ross Dellenger from The Advocate, and this procedure should remove that pain.

In a possibly related story, Etling went 4-of-11 for 53 yards in LSU’s spring game.

A transfer from Purdue, Etling appeared in 11 games for the Tigers last season, completing 160-of-269 passes (59.5 percent) for 2,123 yards (7.9 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdowns against five interceptions.

Etling’s recovery from Monday’s procedure is expected to be a short one.

Willie Taggart defends Oregon’s offseason workouts in interview

Photo by Cliff McBride/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Things got off to a rocky start for new Oregon head coach Willie Taggart. Among the issues Taggart was forced to deal with soon after accepting the job of head coach at Oregon was players falling ill during and after offseason workouts.

Three Ducks were hospitalized in January to treat symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, a product of overworking leading to soft tissue and possible kidney damage. Oregon suspended strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde following the hospital treatments to players, and questions about his certification were thrust under a microscope. Despite the unfortunate situation in Eugene, Taggart has defended his program’s workout routine in an interview with Stewart Mandel of FOXSports.com.

“We know we didn’t do anything to try to hurt our kids. We’d done [the same program] everywhere we’ve been and never had a problem,” Taggart explained in the interview. “I think our guys just overworked themselves and didn’t hydrate. … They were trying to impress the new coaches.”

It seems Taggart has been trying to raise the bar at Oregon and find a way to make his new players tougher overall. That is a common strategy for a new coach in a new program, so Taggart’s mission is not unique in that sense.

Maybe it was just a tough physical transition in the approach to workouts after years of Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich running the show. Will this all pay off in the end? Taggart sure hopes so.