We’re all familiar with the mise en scene, the setting and surroundings of the annual struggle that is LSU-Alabama.
Bryant-Denny Stadium. Under the lights. More than 100,000 fans. Primetime TV audience on CBS. Two rosters stocked with players you will see in the NFL one day.
Unfortunately for LSU, things have become a little lopsided. Alabama has taken its program to 11 in a “Spinal Tap” sort of way. The Crimson Tide has found that little extra bit to become the dominant program in an age of fat-cat coaches’ contracts and facilities so lavish the Shah Jahan would have crumpled up the plans for the Taj Mahal and told his architect “we need to go bigger.”
Bama has beaten LSU six straight times dating back to the “debacle in the Dome” in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game. Starting with that title, Alabama has averaged a national championship every other year, while LSU has averaged 3.3 losses per year, fired a coach and made a home in the land of not-bad-but-definitely-not-great.
It is into this valley LSU rides as a three-touchdown underdog, the program’s biggest point-spread disparity in 23 years. It’s likely a ranked LSU team has never been a bigger underdog.
It doesn’t mean, though, that this isn’t the biggest game on the Tigers’ schedule. It always is.
“Everywhere I go, they talk about this,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “This is the game.
“I'm not going to make it so huge to our players that they won't be ready to play. We're going to be ready to play. (But) I think this is huge for us in recruiting. I think this is huge because they have won the SEC, they have won national championships; they're on top of the world right now. This is the benchmark.”
The Advocate's writers have made their picks for LSU vs. No. 1 Alabama on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The numbers are there to see and so is Alabama, a.k.a. the Red Menace. There’s no reason to lie and there’s certainly no place to hide.
The LSU Tigers will not and should not seek to do either. What they need to do is dig a little deeper and embrace their inner underdog. They need to think of this game not as a trip to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, but to Lake Placid, New York.
Once upon a time, when the question could still be asked as to whether Nick Saban was a good college football coach, he led the LSU Tigers to “The Bluegrass Miracle” win at Kentucky in 2002.
What LSU needs this time is a Miracle on Ice.
On the off chance you don’t remember the tale, a quick refresher: In the 1980 Winter Olympics, a U.S. team of mostly college hockey players took down the Red Army team (sound familiar?) from the Soviet Union en route to the gold medal. The Soviets had won five of the previous six Olympics and crushed the U.S. and a team of NHL all-stars in the weeks leading up to the games.
Were the Americans better than the Soviets? On balance, no. In a seven-game series the USSR would have beaten the USA.
But they didn’t play seven times. They just played once. Be better on that one day. Believe, as Al Michaels immortally asked us that day, in miracles.
That’s the promise and the challenge set in front of LSU on Saturday.
The Tigers are on a winning streak, and, just as we suspected, it's because the fans have got their mojos working. There's no doubt they will …
You don’t have to go as far off the football field as hockey to find inspiration for LSU. Here are three homegrown examples of stunning upsets:
• The 1966 Cotton Bowl. Arkansas won 22 straight games and was a huge favorite over LSU. But the Tigers parlayed a pair of 1-yard Joe Labruzzo first-half touchdown jabs and some rugged second-half defense into a 14-7 shocking of the Razorbacks.
• LSU 17, Alabama 13, 1993. A 3-5 LSU team that lost 58-3 to Florida four weeks earlier went to Tuscaloosa as a 25-point underdog. Alabama was riding a 31-game unbeaten streak and ranked No. 5 nationally. The headline in the Mobile Register that day said “Tide could lose, pigs might fly.” The Tide did lose, and the Tigers didn’t need a chartered plane to fly home after arguably their biggest upset ever.
• LSU 28, Florida 21, 1997: A year earlier, the Gators crushed a 4-0 Tigers team 56-13 in Gainesville. In Tiger Stadium, the Tigers bolted to a 14-0 lead, and a Cedric Donaldson pick-six helped it hold up as LSU beat a No. 1-ranked team for the first time in nine tries.
So the Tigers need to be inspired. They need to be loose. They need to take advantage of the one thing they have that Alabama doesn’t: the freedom of not having anything to lose. They need to try to confound the Crimson Tide with lots of gadgetry from that Matt Canada playbook and plumb the depths of Dave Aranda’s defensive computer mind to figure out ways to mask deficiencies along the defensive front and confuse Jalen Hurts and Co.
Oh, and a defensive scoop-and-score or a DJ Chark punt return for six wouldn’t hurt, either.
Do you believe in miracles?
Why not? Sometimes pigs do fly.
Neil Broussard learned the truth later.