Tigers Trying to Avoid Repeating History
By Scott Dean
Special to LSUsports.net
The year was 1996. LSU, ranked 11th in the nation, owned a 4-1 Southeastern Conference record as it prepared for the biggest game since 1988, a home battle with Alabama.
The Crimson Tide entered the game with an identical 4-1 conference mark and an almost identical national ranking, No. 10.
Each team had two games following the Nov. 8 match-up, but they were viewed as just formalities. The winner of this game was going to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta as the SEC Western Division Champion.
Alabama had been the previous four years, including winning the game in 1992. LSU, which had never won the West, was just two years removed from its sixth-straight losing season and looking to make a national statement with a win.
Lucky for the Tigers, the game was in Death Valley, a place where they hadn’t lost in their past eight tries. Lucky too for Alabama. The Crimson Tide hadn’t lost in Tiger Stadium since 1969, a span of 13 games.
Alabama won the toss and deferred to the second half, undoubtedly expecting its stout defense make a stop and begin to methodically take the crowd of the game. After all, the Crimson Tide had one of the best run defenses in the nation and LSU was at times inept in the passing game.
Yet, just two minutes into the game the Tigers were on the Alabama 4-yard line behind 58 yards passing from sophomore quarterback Herb Tyler compared to just eight yards rushing. Then, Tyler sent 80,290 Tiger fans into a frenzy with a touchdown strike to David LaFleur.
Later the box score would simply read, “PENALTY LSU illegal participation 15 yards to the ALA10, NO PLAY.” From there, LSU would back up four more yards and miss a 41-yard field goal.
Alabama would go on to rush for 351 yards including a school-record 291 by Shaun Alexander, who pumped in four touchdowns for a 26-0 Tide victory.
LSU’s championship hopes were dashed.
Fast forward six years and the situation is eerily similar. No. 12 LSU, 4-1 in the SEC, hosts No. 10 Alabama, 5-1 in the conference. The Tigers recently have turned Tiger Stadium back to Death Valley by winning eight straight.
The Crimson Tide enters with the SEC’s top run defense and the nation’s third best defense overall. LSU boasts a solid running game that has topped 200 yards seven times, but the passing game has at times been suspect, ranking near the bottom of the SEC.
Though Alabama is ineligible to make it to the SEC title game due to NCAA probation, an LSU loss could drop the Tigers into a first-place tie with Auburn, which holds the tiebreaker thanks to a 31-7 win.
However, there is one critical difference between 1996 and 2002 that could tilt a game of this magnitude towards the Tigers. Forty players on LSU’s roster were integral parts of last year’s 2001 SEC Championship team. Alabama has just 11 players left from their 1999 SEC title year and they were all freshmen who saw limited action.
LSU is the defending SEC champions and it’s players won’t forget what it means to play like a champions. The Tigers will their defend that championship to the very last second.
Just ask Kentucky.