LSU vs. Alabama: Five memorable games

LSU holder Brad Wing grabs place-kicker Drew Alleman after his game-winning field goal against Alabama on Nov. 5, 2011.

Advocate file photo by BILL FEIG

Christian LaCouture remembers exactly where he was the night of Nov. 4, 2011.

A junior in high school at the time, LaCouture was heavily recruited by both LSU and Alabama, which made his visit to Tuscaloosa a perfect opportunity.

The young defensive lineman looked on in awe of the mind-boggling amount of talent both teams put on the field — 43 future NFL draft picks between them.

He remembers the energy coming off the players and the roar of the crowd as the two powerhouse rivals fought into overtime.

Almost 800 miles away, Danny Etling was returning home to Terre Haute, Indiana, after a recruiting visit to Wisconsin.

Etling and his family listened to the game though the car radio, but as it moved to extra time, they decided to pull over to the first restaurant with a TV they could find.

Neither player knew at the time they would eventually play for LSU — but in that moment, as Drew Alleman hit a 25-yard field goal to lift the Tigers to a 9-6 win, they were sure they witnessed something special.

“They called it the ‘Game of the Century,’ and it really was,” LaCouture said. “I’ve never been to a game like that — the intensity and the way LSU came in there and got the job done in a hostile environment.”

Two months later, Alabama and LSU met again in the BCS National Championship Game.

The 21-0 loss was a giant, painful stain on an otherwise incredible season for LSU. It has become infamous around Baton Rouge for the Tigers' inability to cross midfield until the second half.

It was only the beginning.

By the time LSU and Alabama kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium, it will be almost exactly six years since the Tigers last toppled the Tide — 2,191 days, to be precise.

LSU has not beaten Alabama since Nov. 4, 2011.

While players and coaches try to dismiss the streak as in the past, it hovers over the program with an ever-present haze.

Center Will Clapp said he gets peppered with questions, almost daily, about whether this will be "the year."

When linebacker Devin White went home to Springhill during the Tigers' off week, all anyone talked about was if they could beat Alabama.

“(The pressure) is not inside,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “Not inside. Not for us. We take it one game at a time. We focus in on the task at hand. But I realize that it's out there, obviously. I realize the pressure to beat Alabama as the head coach here. I realize that.

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Since the 2011 BCS game, the Tide is unquestionably the nation's dominant team.

In the past six years, Alabama won three national titles and played for another one, bridging two championship formats. In the first three years of the College Football Playoff, they’ve appeared all three times. The Tide won four Southeastern Conference titles.

That has not been the case at LSU.

The Tigers won the SEC championship in 2011 but have yet to return. They’re 43-20 the past 5½ years and never finished higher than No. 14 in The Associated Press' final polls.

Coach Les Miles — who beat Alabama five times during his tenure, but lost his final five matchups — was fired four weeks into the 2016 season. Only one player or coach still associated with that 2011 team remains: tight ends coach Steve Ensminger.

As a coach, Orgeron is a combined 1-7 against Alabama, the only win coming in the 1989 Sugar Bowl while a defensive line coach at Miami. Four of those losses, including last season at LSU, are as a head coach.

The series has been so lopsided of late, White said he no longer considers it a true rivalry. In his eyes, teams must trade wins on a consistent basis for it to qualify as such.

“It’s like having that big, older brother that you could never beat up,” White said. “I feel like we haven’t beat Alabama ... well, it’s proven we haven’t beat Alabama in six years. But when you get old enough and you get big enough, you can beat your older brother up. I feel like now is the time for us to beat them up and beat them on the field.”

Most outsiders see the shift in the series beginning with the 2011 national championship game.

In a sense, that’s true.

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The loss was demoralizing, and it transferred bragging rights to Alabama soon after.

In Tuscaloosa, the regular-season loss is near meaningless compared to the title game.

“(The 2011 regular-season game) was hyped a lot more than it should have been or ever needed to be,” said former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, now with the Cincinnati Bengals. “It was a fun game. It was one of the classics still. Not as fun of a classic as when we beat them. I thought they built that game up a little too much.”

But one loss doesn’t make a losing streak.

That came 16 months later.

Former LSU linemen T-Bob Hebert, who was the starting center in 2011 and now is a local radio personality, definitively declared the "Golden Era" of LSU football dead a few months ago.

In his eyes, the future of the rivalry forever changed at the 2013 NFL draft, when LSU lost nine players and then another seven to free agency signings — a blow from which the Tigers never recovered.

“That’s not something you recover from overnight,” Hebert said. “I think a lot of that’s because you had got to those heights and then you got smacked down so heavily, I think crated an atmosphere where a lot of guys wanted to get out."

Follow Mike Gegenheimer on Twitter, @Mike_Gegs.