T-Bob Hebert rushed to leave LSU’s locker room. Other players did the same.
“It was bad,” Hebert said.
No one wanted to be in that locker room, tucked in the bowels of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, after a 21-0 loss to Alabama in the BCS title game — a bitter end for a 2011 squad that many called the best in program history.
Bad turned to worse in the years following that defeat. Alabama won in 2012. Alabama won in 2013. Alabama won in 2014.
Amid the glory days of LSU football, the Tigers have lost four straight to Alabama. How has this happened? Some point to that 2011 debacle of a loss in the Superdome.
“I think it had a hangover effect on that program,” said Hebert, a former LSU offensive lineman who’s now a sports radio host in New Orleans. “You’re talking about a game where you didn’t cross the 50-yard line.”
That’s just one possible answer behind the mystery surrounding a streak few could have seen coming. After all, the Tigers had won nine of the last 12 against the Tide before that national title game.
No. 4 LSU (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern) travels to play No. 7 Alabama (7-1, 4-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday with just two members of its team having beaten the Tide: defensive tackle Quentin Thomas and walk-on linebacker Grant Leger, both on the 2011 team that won 9-6 in the regular season.
“It’s crazy to think,” said receiver Travin Dural, a redshirt junior who’s 0-3 against the Tide. “It’s been four or five years since the last time we beat them. That’s kind of something we say as a team: ‘We want to end that streak.’ ”
It won’t be easy, of course. Running back Leonard Fournette calls it a “clash of the titans.” LSU brings in a top-five rushing offense to match Bama’s top-five rushing defense.
The on-field storyline: How will the Heisman Trophy frontrunner perform in his biggest test yet?
The off-field theme: the streak.
LSU hasn’t lost five straight to any SEC opponent since dropping nine in a row to Florida from 1988-96. The Tigers haven’t lost five in a row against Bama since dropping 11 straight, a skid that ended in 1981 and one that helped chase coach Charlie McClendon into retirement.
LSU’s program at that time hadn’t reached its current level of success: four SEC championships, two national titles and 143 wins since 2001. How does that kind of program lose four straight to any other team?
The 23 redshirt sophomores and juniors leaving early for the NFL draft didn’t help. Hebert thinks that exodus can be attributed to — you guessed it — the 2011 title game.
“It seems there might be an element of ‘I’ve come that close to that goal and fall like that ...’ If you don’t think your team can get back there, why not go to the NFL and make money?” Hebert said. “I’m putting words in the mouth of guys who were at LSU when I was gone. That’s me giving a hypothesis. I just know we were really good, and I felt like during my college career it was four years of improving. Felt like we had reached that pinnacle and to finally trip up like that ... it has a very negative effect.”
Dural’s freshman season began in 2012, a few months after the loss in the BCS title game.
“I kind of felt it. I used to come around guys that were talking about it, but I really saw it here, practicing over the summer,” he said. “That was a big thing everyone was talking about.”
LSU “needed some fresh blood” to end the hangover, Hebert said. The No. 2-ranked 2014 signing class provided that. Fournette, receiver Malachi Dupre, quarterback Brandon Harris, safety Jamal Adams and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux — all highly touted members of that class — are thriving as key pieces to this team.
Stopping the streak is almost a must for LSU to claim the SEC title. Alabama already has one loss, but a win over LSU would give the Tide a tiebreaker over the Tigers with just two SEC games remaining for Alabama: at Mississippi State and against Auburn.
“LSU hasn’t seen a championship in a minute,” Fournette said. “Why not be the first one to (bring) it back? Who says it couldn’t be us?”
One ex-LSU player said he felt like this could be the school’s best chance to end the skid.
“We’ve always had the athletes,” former fullback Connor Neighbors said. “The leadership here has gone in and they have the right tools to beat Alabama.”
Neighbors, an Alabama native, graduated from LSU after last season following a four-year run that saw him go from walk-on linebacker to reserve fullback to scholarship fullback. The bruiser signed with the Tennessee Titans before breaking his arm in the preseason.
He’s rehabbing and working out at the LSU facility. He’s around the team every day, watching practice on the sideline.
“They’re getting better each week. In previous years, we’d beat Oregon and Wisconsin to start the year, but we (didn’t) get better week by week,” he said. “I’ve been around this team. I can just tell ... they just have this, you can feel the energy they have.”
Are the Tigers using the streak as motivation? Of course.
“That’s always the case,” Neighbors said. “I know guys that are seniors who have never beat Alabama. They’re going to use that to their advantage. Extra fuel, extra focus. That’s going to play a factor.”
Neighbors is one not to blame one specific game — like 2011 — on the streak. After all, LSU led until the final few seconds in two of the past three losses to Alabama. The programs are still close, and the games prove it.
The Tide used a 28-yard screen pass from quarterback AJ McCarron to running back T.J. Yeldon with 51 seconds left to win in 2012. Last season, Alabama drove 55 yards on nine plays in 47 seconds to tie the score on a field goal before Nick Saban and the Tide won in overtime.
“That hurt, man. I was a freshman, and that hurt bad,” safety Jamal Adams said. “I can only imagine how the older guys felt. We haven’t beaten Bama since 2011.”
This will be the sixth straight season in which LSU has a week off before Alabama. The Tide has been off in the week before the game against LSU in five of the past six seasons.
It’s not by coincidence. Each team gets a chance to rest, heal and relax before a physically exhausting showdown. Each gets to study more film on the other, too.
Neighbors said preparation for Bama would normally begin Monday of the off week. Some players would begin studying film on their own on Sunday.
The two weeks preceding Bama are full of meetings, film studies and the normal practices — usually, like this year, three practices during the off week. The schedule and regimen of practice remains the same.
That’s about the only thing.
“There is no denying that there is an extra sense of urgency or excitement,” Hebert said. “You can feel the energy building for that game.”
Especially this week, right? With that streak and all.
“It’s a game,” Dural said, “we’ve been looking forward to all year.”
LSU hasn’t beaten Alabama since the regular season clash in 2011, but the Tigers have been close twice.
Game changing play(s)
Superdome (BCS championship)
Bama kicked a 44-yard FG with 22 seconds left in the third quarter to go up 15-0
T.J. Yeldon scored on a 28-yard screen pass from AJ McCarron with 51 seconds left
Bryant Denny Stadium
Bama executed a faked punt on fourth-and-2, scoring on that drive to break a 24-17 tie in the third quarter
Alabama 20-13 (OT)
Bama and QB Blake Sims amassed a nine-play, 55-yard drive in 47 seconds to tie the game on a field goal before winning in overtime
On The Field
LSU and Alabama’s performance over the last three seasons since the Tigers last beat the Crimson Tide.
Final AP rankings
*does not include this season
On The Recruiting Trail
LSU and Alabama’s national composite team rankings since the Tigers last beat the Crimson Tide.