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October 23, 2011

HURT: LSU hype begins

TENNESSEE GAME: Videos | Photos

It has been building for weeks now, gathering momentum like an avalanche - or, more precisely, dueling avalanches, hurtling down towering Alps, crushing anything standing in the way. Maximum speed has been reached. No obstacles remain. The collision - the cataclysm - that will be Alabama vs. LSU is upon us.

You can now ask Nick Saban himself about the game, and get a suggestion, not a snarl. So what is Saban's suggestion, with the countdown clock to the latest Greatest Game Ever ticking down?

"Chill out."

That's it, at least for now. "Chill out."
"There is going to be a lot of hype about this game, but I think everybody needs to chill out, mentally and physically," Saban said.

That won't happen in this state. It won't happen in Louisiana. It won't happen at almost any point in the college football universe - but Saban does want it to happen with his own team.

There is a reason. It is easy to think of a team as a force of nature. Alabama has bulldozed eight straight opponents, none by less than 16 points. It hasn't had to make a really critical fourth-quarter play all season long. But it is still a team made up of young flesh and young bones, and after eight straight weeks of football, it needs a break. It was obvious standing on the Alabama sideline as the game ended. Running back Eddie Lacy walked gingerly past the media members. Offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio did the same. It was a team that flexed its collective muscle when it had to against Tennessee, but that collective muscle needs to rest and relax, at least for a few days.

"The No. 1 thing I told them in the locker room was that we don't have a game for two weeks, that we get to rest up and heal up," Saban said. "We will take some days off. I am not big on prepping too long. That's when guys get bored."

There are a couple of things to examine in that statement. First, while Saban was effusive in his praise of Tennessee and his protege, Derrick Dooley, it says something about the state of the Alabama-Tennessee series - and about which game matters - that Saban's No. 1 message wasn't about beating the Vols (again) by 31 points (again). It was about preparation for LSU.

Tennessee did do a credible job against Alabama, even as UA played what Saban described as a "lackluster" first half. The Vols did take away Alabama's running game to some extent, holding Trent Richardson to 77 yards. But when AJ McCarron started taking full advantage of what UT's defense was giving, the Volunteers couldn't keep up. Dooley decided he had to gamble, going for it on fourth-and-inches from the UT 39. Quarterback Matt Simms didn't make it, Dooley challenged and the words from the replay booth were as good as an epitaph for the Vols. One play later, McCarron hit Kenny Bell for a touchdown and the game was over. And, at least in Tuscaloosa, soon to be forgotten.

The chants of "LSU! LSU!" didn't start in Bryant-Denny Stadium until late in the game, and they never matched the fervor of the "We Want Bama!" chants that have been emanating from Baton Rouge for the last three weeks. Maybe the slow start by Alabama dampened the celebratory mood. Maybe the Crimson Tide fan base is all about business. Maybe, with the moment upon us all, nothing more needs to be said.

Alabama's players answered a few questions about LSU, but seemed to follow Saban's lead. There was no trash talk, no bulletin-board material. There should be no need.

For a football team, a few days to chill out are essential. For a fan base, they might be required for sanity. For one thing is certain - the chill will be gone soon, and The Collision will be upon us all.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil.hurt@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0223.


Alabama beats Tennessee - Images by TideSports Photo


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