November 11, 2006

Tigers too good for Alabama

Under Joe Kines, Alabama's defense has been sound both in its schemes and fundamentals.

But Kines would be the first to tell you that neither of those things mean much when the other side holds a decisive advantage in the talent department.

That was the case Saturday night as LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell and company ripped through Kines' unit with alarming ease in the first half of the Tigers' 28-14 win.

Being the wily veteran that he is, Kines shuffled between his 3-3-5 and 4-3 defenses, while also switching up personnel on almost a snap-by-snap basis.

None of it mattered.

Often times, Alabama defenders were in position to make plays, but the Tigers specialize in one-on-one matchups. And time and time again, they made the Tide pay.

It took all of one minute and 26 seconds to notice the difference in speed and athleticism between LSU's skill players and Alabama's linebackers and defensive backs.

That's how long it took Russell, his receivers and freshman tailback Keiland Williams to cover 73 yards before reaching the end zone.

And if the disparity didn't strike you on the Tigers' opening drive of the game, perhaps the next two LSU possessions, both of which also went for touchdowns, did the trick.

LSU's first three drives totaled 20 plays for 221 yards, an average of 11 yards per play.

And before you whip out the "uninspired play" card, this wasn't about a down in the mouth defense feeling sorry for itself in the wake of last week's loss to Mississippi State. It just looked that way.

This was the varsity making quick work of the JV.

This was the Steelers going to town on the Steeldogs.

In going against the likes of Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee, middle linebacker Prince Hall thought he had seen it all in his first 10 games.

What Hall hadn't seen was a 6-foot-6, 260-pound quarterback who can break defenses down with both his right arm and his legs. Just when things were starting to slow down for the redshirt freshman, he caught his first true glimpse of mach speed on the Division I-A.

But Hall, one of 37 sophomores and freshmen who made up UA's travel roster this week, wasn't alone in his struggles.

Senior linebackers were a step behind when trying to tackle LSU's bevy of talented backs. Senior defensive backs were juked in the open field and beaten on touchdown passes. And senior defensive linemen were pushed around by an offensive line that is considered to be the Tigers' weakest link.

If you think the 21-point outburst went a long way in silencing Les Miles' critics, you're wrong.

An underachieving team, a grumbling legion of fans and an under-credentialed coach who at times appears to be in over his head.

No, I'm not talking about Alabama football under Mike Shula.

This is LSU football post-Nick Saban.

When the Miami Dolphins gave Saban 22.5 million reasons to bolt Baton Rouge for South Beach, Tiger fans envisioned a big-name replacement.

And why not? This was a program one year removed from a BCS title. A program that gets first, second and third dibs on the recruiting trail in a state that ranks among the nation's top producers of college prospects.

Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio was contacted. So was Cal coach Jeff Tedford.

Del Rio said, "Thanks, but neaux thanks." Tedford evidently prefers the left coast to the Gulf Coast.

In the end, the Tigers landed the guy from Oklahoma State.

As for Shula's critics, they're likely here to stay, despite the uncharacteristic aggression that was on display in his latest loss.

A second-quarter onside kick and a fake punt all in the same game? Did Shula have a Hurricane or six prior to kickoff? Whatever the reason, Shula's gambles gave his team a reason to continue to play hard.

Even more surprising was the manner in which the Alabama offense moved the chains against the nation's top-rated defense.

In spreading the ball around to eight different receivers, John Parker Wilson threw for 291 yards and two touchdowns. DJ Hall posted his seventh 100-yard receiving game of the season. Will Oakley caught four balls for a career-high 54 yards. Nikita Stover recorded his first touchdown reception. Andre Smith drove Chase Pittman into the ground and made him like it. Heck, even Kenneth Darby got into the end zone.

Like Hall, Wilson learned some tough lessons in committing two turnovers deep in LSU territory. But he, too, will benefit from the pace at which the Tigers' defense plays at.

These are some of the positives Shula will lean on as he prepares the Tide for an Auburn team that has now dropped two home games by a combined score of 64-25.

Fortunately for Shula, from a talent standpoint, those Tigers won't resemble these Tigers.

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