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October 28, 2012
HURT: LSU game will answer several questions
Finally, after two solid months of college football, the week has arrived. Don't ask which week. If you follow college football, you know this one, the one everyone knew would have a huge impact on the race for the BCS championship, whether they liked it or not.
Alabama hasn't had a close game yet. Much of the nation remains torn between two possibilities: On the one hand, the hypothesis is that no one on Alabama's schedule has been good enough to push the Crimson Tide, and, on the other, is the theory that no one in college football, on the UA schedule or not, is good enough to do so. This week, the two ideas will be reconciled.
LSU is good enough to win. Make no mistake about that. The Tigers are not perfect, due to an offense that is something of a mess. But their defense and special teams and the atmosphere in Tiger Stadium are enough to give them a very good chance against any team - Oregon, Kansas State, Notre Dame or Alabama. That is a fact, and all the revisionism that will accompany an Alabama win, should it happen, doesn't alter that.
There was more than a sneaking suspicion, from Tuscaloosa all the way to Las Vegas, that Mississippi State, unbeaten or not, was not going to be that much of a test.
The Bulldogs hadn't lost, but they hadn't been dominant on defense against a motley lot of opponents either. Alabama exploited that, then mercilessly took away MSU's best weapons on offense.
LaDarius Perkins, the SEC's leading rusher, gained 38 yards on 15 carries. Chad Bumphis, State's big-play receiver, had one catch for 7 yards. The Bulldog defense, fourth in the nation in takeaways, got none. State came in with confidence, and moved the ball on a couple of drives, but simply couldn't sustain the effort it is going to take from someone to upset this Crimson Tide team.
LSU, however, is an entirely different matter. The Tigers have players of Alabama quality, in Alabama numbers. Again, I am not trying to make the LSU offensive unit into something it is not. Zach Mettenberger hasn't been consistent at quarterback any more than Jordan Jefferson was. However, the defense has been consistently good, even in LSU's loss at Florida. In a close game, it only takes a few mistakes to make the difference, as Alabama learned in the first of last year's two LSU games.
We will see, once and for all, if the Crimson Tide has such a decisive edge at quarterback, given AJ McCarron's steady improvement, that LSU can't keep up. It is hard to imagine the early knockout punch that the Crimson Tide has delivered in every other SEC game - Ole Miss being the only arguable exception - landing in Baton Rouge. Everyone knew that Mississippi State was done when it missed an early scoring chance - they are rare - and fell behind 14-0. LSU probably would be as well - but 14 points will be harder to come by.
Psychologically, it is hard to imagine a team with any more motivation than LSU. Every one of the Tigers' returning players was on the verge of a once-in-a-lifetime season in January, only to see it taken away in crushing fashion. The stickiest praline in New Orleans could not be sweeter to the LSU players than doing the same thing to an Alabama team that is ranked No. 1 and spoken of with reverence in every national media outlet. It would not redeem last year - LSU might not be able to get back to the BCS title game, even with a win, now that at least three other teams are poised to finish the year unbeaten. But knocking off the Crimson Tide might be enough.
They won't play twice this year. But this week's meeting might settle just as much.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.