Another LSU at Alabama Showdown: The Shutout

T.G. Paschal/BamaCentral
Christopher Walsh

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There’s no doubt that when Alabama defeated LSU 21-0 in the BCS Championship Game to win the 2011 national championship, the Crimson Tide made history – especially the defense.

Not only did Alabama pull off the first shutout in Bowl Championship Series history, it was the first time since 1946 that the No. 1 team was held scoreless in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup (the famous 0-0 tie between No. 1 Army and No. 2 Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium).

“You're talking about one of the most competitive groups of guys as a group,” Coach Nick Saban said. “Sometimes I get mad at them at practice because they get a little bit hurt and they don't run to the ball like I want them to or like we want them to or whatever. But I always know, all right, when you throw the ball out, they're going to go get it. Because they are a hateful bunch and they are as competitive as you can ever imagine, and I think that's probably why they played really well in big games.”

Led by defensive game MVP Courtney Upshaw, who had seven tackles and a sack, Alabama finished with a 21-5 edge in first downs, 69-44 in plays, and 384-92 in total yards. LSU’s longest possession went just 23 yards and its biggest play was for 19. It went three-and-out six times, with an interception by linebacker C.J. Mosley on the second play of a possession, and converted just two third-down opportunities.

LSU crossed midfield only once and then promptly went backwards and fumbled away the ball. In contrast, Alabama failed to cross the 50-yard line only twice, and with the defense yielding nothing each one of the Crimson Tide’s five field goals took a little more out of the previously undefeated Tigers until Trent Richardson closed the scoring with his final collegiate touchdown.

“We knew it was going to be a physical game,” senior nose tackle Josh Chapman said. “I love a physical game.”

Consequently, the 2011 Crimson Tide forced its way into the discussion about which is the best defense in college football history.

Alabama's 2011 Starting Defense

  • DE Jesse Williams
  • NT Josh Chapman
  • DE Damion Square
  • SLB Jerrell Harris
  • MLB Dont’a Hightower
  • WLB Nico Johnson
  • JLB Courtney Upshaw
  • CB DeQuan Menzie
  • S Mark Barron
  • S Robert Lester
  • CB Dre Kirkpatrick

“It was unbelievable,” Hall of Fame coach Lou Holtz said. “It was a complete mismatch.

“I’ve coached against Coach Saban. I have the utmost respect for him as a person, as a coach. I love being around him, but he’s a greedy sucker. Some people get you first-and-ten, second-and-twelve, third-and-nine and they’re content at fourth-and-five. Not Nick. He wants it first-and-ten second-and-twelve, third-and fourteen, fourth-and-nineteen. He wants to move you back, he doesn’t want to give you a yard. You can see it the way they practice out there, they just don’t want you to make a yard. Some people don’t want you to make a first down, not Nick.”

Alabama finished the season by leading the nation in pass-efficiency defense (83.7 rating), pass defense (111.5 yards per game), rushing defense (72.2), scoring defense (8.2 points), and total defense (183.6 yards per game) – in addition to third-down defense, red-zone defense and three-and-outs.

Alabama also topped each category convincingly.

Defensive category, second-best team, statistic, difference:

  • Pass-efficiency defense: South Carolina 94.23; +10.54
  • Pass defense: South Carolina 131.69; +20.23
  • Rushing defense: Florida State 82.69; +10.54
  • Scoring defense: LSU 11.29; +3.14
  • Total defense: LSU 261.5; +77.88

Additionally, while Alabama gave up just 10.08 first downs, the next-best team was Georgia at 14.36.

Only one other time since the NCAA started keeping track in 1937 has a team finished No. 1 in all four key defensive categories, Oklahoma in 1986. The Sooners yielded 169.6 total yards, 60.7 rushing yards, 102.4 passing yards and 6.6 points per game.

Granted, there’s more passing and offense since then, but Oklahoma also failed to win the national championship, finishing third in the final Associated Press poll.

“Before the game against LSU I was comparing the defense from Alabama to the 1986 Oklahoma defense, which was considered by many to be the best defense in college football history,” said ESPN analyst and former coach Lee Corso. “After that game, they went down as the greatest defense in college football history, and I want to congratulate (Saban).”

Here’s how Alabama’s defensive numbers compared with its two previous national championship teams:

2011: Rushing: 72.2; Passing: 111.5; Pass efficiency: 83.7; Total: 183.6; Scoring: 8.2; Turnovers: 1.5; Third downs: 24.0; TFL: 7.3; 1st downs: 10.1.

2009: Rushing: 78.1; Passing: 166.0; Pass efficiency: 87.6; Total: 244.1; Scoring: 11.7; Turnovers: 2.2; Third downs: 30.0; TFL: 7.0; 1st downs: 13.4.

1992: Rushing: 55.0; Passing: 139.2; Pass efficiency: 83.9; Total: 194.16; Scoring: 9.1; Turnovers: 3.2; Third downs: 22.4; TFL: 5.4; 1st downs: 11.3.

Additionally, the 1961 Crimson Tide gave up just 25 points over 11 games and went into the Sugar Bowl with a streak of five consecutive shutouts, but of the four big categories only led the nation in two: total defense and scoring defense.

“This defense is as good as any I've ever been around,” defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. “Obviously the 2009 group was really special. This group is kind of different because we're really good on the edges, and really stout inside with [Chapman] and got some good backers and got good secondary. It's similar to the other team, the only difference is I think this one has a little more speed on it.”

Still, the debate will go on …

“The character, the attitude, the resiliency of this group, the work and the commitment and the buy-in was what made this team different,” Saban said. “I can't tell you what defense was the best. I can just tell you this was one of the most enjoyable teams to coach.”

This is the second story in a series this week on Alabama-LSU showdowns since Nick Saban took over the Crimson Tide.

Another LSU at Alabama Showdown: The Rivalry

Some information for this story stems from the book "100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die."