Last year Les Miles exorcised the Nick Saban demons with an upset win in Baton Rouge. This year he proved something that once would have seemed impossible: he’s a better coach than Nick Saban. What other conclusion can you draw from Miles’ 3-2 record against Nick Saban and Alabama? Two consecutive seasons Las Vegas and the college football experts have told us that Nick Saban’s Alabama team was superior to Les Miles’s LSU team. And two consecutive seasons Les Miles’s team has outplayed Alabama’s team down the stretch to snag victories.
Only this year there wasn’t a damn bit of luck or Milacles — Les Miles miracles — involved.
We don’t know if Les Miles ate any grass at Bryant-Denny Stadium, but we know this, his team sure kicked some ass.
The Mad Hatter coached against Nick Saban straight up, call for call, play for play, quarter by quarter, minute by minute and they were all square through sixty minutes. Then came overtime and then Miles and LSU emerged the victors on the road in front of a defense that many were calling the greatest in college football history.
Remember when LSU fans were furious at Nick Saban for leaving them for the Miami Dolphins and then taking over at Alabama two years later? Now they’re just happy as hell that Les didn’t leave for Michigan back in 2007.
Tonight, the SEC perfected college football.
Yes, the offense wasn’t perfect — or really existent at all — but that’s because these are two of the best defenses to ever take the field in the SEC. Against every other opponent this year these two teams have averaged nearly 40 points a game. Think that defense doesn’t matter? Tell that the high-flying Ohio State offense that Florida stifled in 2006. Or the juggernaut Oklahoma offenses that the SEC makes a habit of beating in the title games. Or tell it to Oregon the team that revolutionized offensive football until they went up against two consecutive SEC defenses.
The truth is that if Stanford was on this field tonight they wouldn’t have won here. And neither would Oklahoma State. Both other undefeated teams would have been exposed by this Alabama defense. They would have broken under the Tide’s anvil.
The simple truth is that no team in the country was beating Alabama tonight except for LSU.
The two best teams in the nation took the field at 7:11 central. It was deafening at Bryant-Denny Stadium. All day LSU and Bama fans had been partying themselves into a ecstatic stupor, preparing for the biggest regular season SEC game in the history of the conference. This was no happenstance contest between two lucky unbeatens, it was matter and anti-matter meeting on a green field. First Manassas brought to Alabama.
These LSU and Alabama rosters are stocked with more future NFL prospects than any game in college football history. Nearly half of the scholarship athletes on these teams will play in the NFL. Prior to today’s kickoff the greatest collection of college football talent came when USC and Texas played in the BCS title game in 2006. An amazing 66 players on those rosters went on to play in the NFL. That number was exceeded today. And much of it was on the defensive side of the ball.
Put simply, there was no space created on the field all night. All the tension, all the excitement, created a vaccum on the field. Somewhere Big 12 offensive coordinators were curled up in the fetal position whimpering.
Prior to the game even starting Alabama and LSU fans staged the most epic tailgate scene in college football history. I’ve been all over the country for football — attended some of the biggest games in the largest stadiums in the country — and I’ve never seen anything like this.
If a sports fan was in Tuscaloosa and lived above the Mason-Dixon line, he’d never go back North after today.
It was that amazing.
Everyone was here. Leonardio DiCaprio, Snoop Dogg, LeBron James, over 250 private jets, the most ever, rolled into Tuscaloosa’s tiny airport and lined up one after another. The top 1% occupied Tuscaloosa, in their jets and on the field.
Tuscaloosa police signed up for 20 hour shifts, the longest since the tornado. Expectations were that 400-500 fans would be arrested before the night ended.
Riding on a polaris at noon a police officer turned to me and said, “It’s noon and it’s already crazier than it’s ever been here.”
Everyone was in T-Town.
Including alleged tree poisoner Harvey Updyke. The two of us met for a visit in front of the stadium. We posed for a photograph in front of Nick Saban’s statue.
Updyke couldn’t stay away from this big of a game, even though he arrived without a ticket. “Maybe I’m just seeing everything through crimson colored glasses, Clay,” he said before the game, “but I think Alabama wins 28-10.”
Harvey and I walked through the swarming crowd on the quad — the city of Tuscaloosa would announce that over 60,000 fans never entered the stadium — and near Denny Chimes he turned to me, “Boy,” Harvey said, “there are some hunnies here.”
We planned to meet up again before kickoff, but every AT&T iPhone in Tuscaloosa stopped working around two.
It was a communication and sensory overload, one that made Tuscaloosa feel a bit like Mardi Gras in November or the South’s own Woodstock. Alcohol was consumed at levels without equal anywhere in the country, a massive party ensued on every square foot of Alabama’s campus, it was the perfect storm of Southern football — beautiful women, blue skies without a cloud to be found, fanatical football fans, and generations come to worship at the altar of Bryant-Denny stadium.
Before the game even kicked off LSU and Alabama girls combined to win the national title for shortest skirts combined with tallest boot heels.
(I don’t know that the hotness of the women attending this game can ever be truly explained for those who weren’t here to witness it. Per capita it was the hottest collection of women in the world. Some of you might be shaking your head right now. But I guarantee you that any man who was here tonight is in complete agreement. The scenery was that astounding.)
If you were a Crimson Tide recruit, how could you visit for today’s game and not commit to Alabama? As we walked through the quad my friend Tardio turned to me and said, “I know signing day isn’t until February, but I’d go ahead and sign my letter of intent and leave it here. This is heaven.”
That’s how perfect this day in Tuscaloosa was, it felt like heaven to any Southern man on Earth.
And that was before the game even kicked off.
Two hours before kickoff Les Miles entered the field and blew kisses to the Alabama student section as they jeered him. Later, as he led his team onto the field, Miles tumbled to the ground clutching his hat. This was the only misstep Miles made all night.
Of the fall, Miles said, “It was the start of a physical game. If a player is willing to run over his coach just to get the sideline, well, maybe that’s what we needed.”
Yes, he really did say this.
Other than two bad passes from Jarrett Lee, his team made few missteps as well.
Miles, who projected an air of confidence all week, took exception when I asked how relaxed he really was.
“I didn’t sleep all week,” he said, “Last night I slept pretty good.”
Miles took my question literally, but my intent was to draw a distinction, once more, between he and Nick Saban, the coach he bested for the second consecutive year. LSU wasn’t tight, LSU didn’t buckle when an even game went to overtime. Miles even played the clock like a violin, sprinting down the sideline to call a timeout at the end of the first half.
In overtime, Miles made a call that guaranteed victory for his team. With an opportunity to run three plays up the middle and kick something around a 40 yard field goal, Miles ran a pitch play to the short side of the field that gained 15 yards. That play won the game and gave Miles’s team the win in the Grass Bowl.
Earlier this week I said that Miles represented the perfect foil to Saban because his karmic coaching contrasted with Saban’s process-driven style.
Tonight that was proven to be the case.
Against all odds, LSU ended up with an even better coach when Nick Saban left to coach the Miami Dolphins. Yes, i said it, Les Miles is a better coach than Nick Saban.
Will we see a rematch? Miles was open to the possibility.
“We would be honored to face them again if it ends up being that kind of year,” Miles said.
If the teams play again, the superior coach, program, and team will win.
That’s LSU and Les Miles, the team and coach that makes Alabama frat boys who have outkicked their coverage, cry.
In the end, Les Miles led his team in song.
Which was appropriate, since for a night at least, LSU and Les Miles made Alabama their sweet home.