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!

Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald suffers gruesome ankle injury to spoil first half of the Egg Bowl

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Egg Bowl has returned to Thanksgiving but the game hasn’t gone quite as planned for No. 14 Mississippi State, as they trail Ole Miss 10-6 after a low-scoring first half of play thanks to a shocking injury that brought both sides of the heated rivalry to their feet in unison.

That came early in the first quarter when Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was tackled after a three-yard run, suffering a gruesome ankle injury in the process that saw his foot point in a direction it certainly wasn’t supposed to. He was put in an air cast and carted off the field to perform x-rays immediately afterward and needless to say will not return to the game.

The productive signal-caller was just 1-of-5 passing with an interception and 16 yards rushing when he went down with the injury. Fitzgerald was approaching the 2,000 yard passing and 1,000 yard rushing marks for the season heading into the game and received plenty of support from his fellow football players around the SEC and beyond after suffering such a horrific-looking injury that appears to knock him out for the rest of 2017.

Freshman Keytaon Thompson replaced Fitzgerald behind center and went 3-of-5 passing for 32 yards and an interception. He’s known for his running ability at this stage and did manage a team-high 65 yards on the ground, including a 32 yard scamper. Running back Aeris Williams was fairly limited facing a stacked box against a new quarterback and ran for 41 yards in the half as turnovers (three of them) really hampered MSU in the half.

With Ole Miss ineligible for postseason play even if they won on Thursday night, it was not at all surprising to see the Rebels play better than they have in a long time. The team needed just three plays and 39 seconds on their opening possession to find the end zone and were punching far above their weight defensively too. Wide receiver A.J. Brown was the big play threat once again for the offense, with five catches and 90 yards after just a half of play. In the process, he set a new school single-season record for receiving yards and joined kicker Greg Wunderlich (all-time school leader in FG’s) in the record books for the visitors as they look to  get a little bit of payback for last year’s 55-20 loss in Oxford.

The two programs have split the last six meetings in the hotly contested Egg Bowl rivalry and both appear locked into another close one after a half of play. It’s too bad that an injury to an all-SEC player had to spoil things early on but both the Bulldogs and the Rebels will have to put that behind them as they emerge from the locker room hoping to secure a win after years worth of bad blood.

Odell Beckham Jr. gifts LSU players recently unveiled custom shoes ahead of regular season finale

Getty Images
1 Comment

LSU has produced plenty of NFL stars in recent years but few identify with the Tigers quite like New York Giants wideout Odell Beckham Jr. does. The Baton Rouge native recently released his first “lifestyle” shoe with Nike last week and has been hitting the press circuit almost as hard as the rehab room as a result to showcase the new kicks.

Not one to forget where he went to school and blossomed into a first round pick, Beckham filmed a video for LSU’s football team this week and really gave the Tigers something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving by giving every player on the team a version of the shoe to wear when they’re suiting up in cleats.

The color isn’t quite a true match for LSU gold but it’s certainly pretty close and even comes with the longitude and latitude of Baton Rouge inscribed. You can probably bet that the team will be wearing them to Tiger Stadium prior to taking on Texas A&M on Saturday in the regular season finale for both sides.

Wisconsin breaking out the plaid in battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe against Minnesota

Getty Images
Leave a comment

No. 5 Wisconsin continues to play for an undefeated record and hold out hopes of making it into the College Football Playoff this week but the Badgers are also chasing something pretty important too when they take on Minnesota on Saturday: Paul Bunyan’s Axe. One of the best rivalry trophies in the sport has resided in Madison for the past 13 years but might carry on bigger implications given what’s at stake for the visitors when they arrive in Minneapolis, especially facing off against a Gophers team hoping to make it to a bowl game with another win.

Paul Chryst and company aren’t just treating this as any other Big Ten game however and teaming up with Under Armour to go well beyond ludicrous… and all the way to plaid. Well, “lumberjack plaid” to be precise, as the accents on their uniforms, gloves and shoes will all have a different spin on their normal colors.

While it’s a subtle difference, it is a pretty slick look for the Badgers as they take on their rivals. No word yet on what P.J. Fleck and the home team will break out in response but hopefully they rise to the occasion that the Axe commands.

No. 9 Ohio State to wear Terry Glenn helmet sticker vs. No. 24 Michigan

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The helmet sticker is a key piece of every Ohio State player’s uniform, and on Saturday every Buckeye will have one sticker more important than the rest.

Former Ohio State wide receiver Terry Glenn died Monday in a car accident in Irving, Texas, leaving behind his fiancee and six children, ranging in ages from 20 years to six months old, at just 43 years old. Glenn played for the Buckeyes from 1993-95, a former walk-on that eventually became an All-American. After catching a total of 15 passes in his first two seasons, Glenn exploded in ’95, hauling in 64 passes for 1,411 yards and 17 touchdowns, numbers that led Division I-A in touchdown grabs and yards per reception, according to College Football Reference. He won that season’s Biletnikoff Award as the top wideout in college football before leaving school to become the seventh overall pick by the New England Patriots in the 1996 NFL Draft.

On Thursday, Glenn’s son Terry Glenn, Jr., posted to his Twitter account a photo of the helmet stickers Ohio State will don on Saturday, honoring Glenn and promoting his foundation, the 83 Kids Foundation, which supports children in foster care.

The No. 9 Buckeyes head to Ann Arbor looking to extend their 5-game winning streak over No. 24 Michigan (noon ET, FOX). Ohio State has won 14 of the last 16 in the series, including a 6-2 record in Ann Arbor.

Glenn went 1-2 against Michigan, winning as a sophomore in Columbus but losing both visits to Ann Arbor; his three years as a Buckeye came amid a 12-4-1 stretch in the series for the Wolverines.