After all the buildup, Game of Century decided by ... kickers
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Contrary to the rumor pulsing through the postgame interview room Saturday night, LSU coach Les Miles did not discuss a fake field goal when he huddled with kicker Drew Alleman and holder/punter Brad Wing during a timeout shortly before halftime of LSU's 9-6 overtime win against Alabama. "There was never a chance," Miles said, "that we were going to fake a thing tonight."
Alleman booted a trick-free 19-yard chip shot through the upright, and the Tigers went to the locker room tied at three. Two hours later, Alleman knocked through a 25-yarder, and the Tigers stormed the field to celebrate their affirmation that they are the undisputed No. 1 team in the nation.
After all that buildup and all that pounding, the two best defenses in the country nullified two decent offenses. In the end, a 5-foot-11, 183-pound walk-on kicker and an Australian punter decided a game contested -- for the most part -- by 300-pound men beating the stuffing out of one another. Alleman made three short kicks (19, 30 and 25 yards), while his Alabama counterparts, Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley, failed to score on four of six kicks. One was blocked, and the average distance of the three misses was 48.7 yards. Meanwhile, Wing, the former Australian rules football player best known prior to Saturday for having a trick-play touchdown against Florida called back for taunting, was LSU's most valuable player. He pinned Alabama inside its own five-yard line twice, and he crushed a 73-yarder that flipped the field in the fourth quarter at a point when the exhausted Tigers defense probably couldn't have defended a short field.
Alleman and Wing would like the world to know that they were all for a fake at the end of the first half -- which is probably why they kick and don't coach. Wing said the conversation with Miles was more motivational and less tactical. "If he'd [asked about a fake], we would have said yes," Wing said. "We would have done something stupid." Miles, in spite of his reputation for brass calls, chose the sure points.
Besides, Miles knew LSU had an X-factor from Down Under. "Brad is probably one of our most secret weapons," LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery said of Wing.
We should have realized it when Wing ripped off that touchdown run against Florida, but it became abundantly clear Saturday that Wing is no ordinary punter. The redshirt freshman, whose father, David, punted briefly for the Scottish Claymores of the World League of American Football, left Melbourne to attend Parkview Baptist in Baton Rouge (9,246 miles from home) for his senior year of high school. With Wing came an Aussie rules sensibility. How Aussie? When Wing first arrived in the States, he couldn't resist calling out the heavily protected American players. "What are these pads and helmets for?" Wing said. "Let's take them off and play." His new teammates' response? "They didn't think that was too funny," Wing said.
But they loved Wing's ability to trap opponents deep in their own territory. On 19 of his 37 kicks, he has forced the opposition to start inside the 20. He did it on four of six kicks Saturday. On the possessions that Alabama began on Wing kicks inside the 20, the Crimson Tide scored three points. Except for a hideous shank in the third quarter, Wing's accuracy was uncanny. He credits Aussie rules football for that. "You see a quarterback throwing a spiral pass," Wing said. "That's how we pass -- with the foot. I've been doing that since I was three or four years old."
Wing's finest moment game in the fourth quarter. LSU had taken over on its own one-yard line after Eric Reid outwrestled Alabama tight end Michael Williams for a ball thrown by receiver Marquis Maze, who had taken the snap in a Wildcat formation. (Noodle that for a second; Les Miles was the risk-averse one, and Nick Saban's staff dipped into the bag of tricks.) With Alabama's defense crushing everything that moved, the Tigers didn't bother trying to get the ball a long way down the field. They merely wanted to keep from standing in the end zone when the ball was snapped.
With LSU facing fourth-and-two from its own nine, Alabama attacked the kick. That was a safe, smart play. A block would have produced points from a safety, touchdown or incredibly short field, and even an excellent kick would give the Crimson Tide the ball at midfield. With a wall of beef coming at him, Wing didn't flinch. After all, he was accustomed to people trying to kill him when he kicked back home. "You see me back there sometimes holding the ball for a bit longer," Wing said. "I'm just so used to kicking the ball under pressure."
The ball exploded off Wing's foot. It carried so far that Alabama returner Marquis Maze misjudged it and let it sail over his head. By the time it stopped, the ball was on the Alabama 18. Alabama's short field had turned into an impossibly long one. "This game showed the world how important field position is," LSU's Montgomery said.
Meanwhile, Alleman waited his turn. The way the game was going, he was certain the outcome would ride on his right foot. Before he went to sleep every night this week, Alleman stared at the ceiling and ran through scenarios. Down one, four seconds on the clock. Down two, one second on the clock. He had already envisioned what was to come.
When the teams went to overtime, it seemed pretty clear the end zone was off-limits. Montgomery's third-down sack of AJ McCarron forced Foster to kick a brutal 52-yarder into the wind. The kick died short of the crossbar. "It just came down to who executed on the chances they had," Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw said. "They did."
On the Tigers' possession, LSU's offense finally moved the ball a little. Michael Ford took the Tigers to the seven-yard line on an option pitch. Everything Alleman visualized was about to come true. Miles, Mr. Play-It-Safe, called for the field goal on third down. That way, if the snap went awry, Wing could fall on it and the Tigers could try again.
Just before he called for the snap, Wing looked back at Alleman. "You ready to go?" Wing asked. "You know it," Alleman answered.
Snap. Hold. Kick. Celebration.