Another LSU at Alabama Showdown: Looking Back on the 2011 Season
If the disappointment of not returning to a BCS bowl wasn’t enough motivation for the Alabama football team, it got an overdose of tragedy during the months building up to the 2011 season.
Mere days after the annual A-Day scrimmage, and unveiling of Nick Saban’s statue for winning the 2009 national title, a series of horrific tornados struck the state on April 27, killing 53 people in Tuscaloosa alone including long-snapper Carson Tinker’s girlfriend Ashley Harrison. He barely survived with a concussion, broken wrist and an ankle injury.
In May, reserve offensive lineman Aaron Douglas was found dead on a balcony the morning after attending a party in Jacksonville.
Despite all that, and a 9-6 overtime loss to No. 1 LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium in the "Game of the Century," Alabama managed to reach the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans, where it dominated the rematch with a 21-0 victory against the Southeastern Conference-rival Tigers.
“I've never coached a team that was more determined, more dedicated to overcoming adversity than this group of guys,” Saban said. “I've never seen a more dominant performance than what they did in the national championship game against LSU.”
Although running back Trent Richardson was a Heisman Trophy finalist who set the Alabama single-season rushing record, and after moving from right guard to left tackle Barrett Jones became the third Crimson Tide player to win the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman), the defense put itself on the short list for best-ever consideration.
Alabama finished the season by leading the nation in pass-efficiency defense (83.69 rating), pass defense (111.46 yards per game), rushing defense (72.15), scoring defense (8.15 points), and total defense (183.62 yards per game) – in addition to third-down defense, red-zone defense, first downs allowed and three-and-outs – and all by a wide margin.
It pulled off the first shutout in BCS history, never mind the title game, and the Tigers crossed the 50-yard line only once.
Meanwhile, with A.J. McCarron passing a lot on first down he became the first sophomore quarterback to lead his team to victory in the BCS title game and was named the offensive MVP.
“We knew coming into the game somebody else had to step up, and coach just gave me an opportunity,” said McCarron, who completed 23 of 34 attempts and 234 yards and had no turnovers. “I don't think I did anything special.”
If so, he was the only one.
“Tonight, he was on a whole other level, he actually blew me away,” center William Vlachos said. “He talked to us at halftime, he talked to us pregame, he’s on the stage getting offensive MVP. The guy is unbelievable.”
Finally, with 4:36 remaining, Alabama scored the one-and-only touchdown between the two teams in eight quarters and one overtime, when Richardson recorded his 21st rushing touchdown of the season by bouncing outside on a 34-yard run.
“That was probably the most fun touchdown I’ve ever scored,” Jones said. “Two games of frustration of not finding the end zone, just to seal the deal, that was a great feeling.”
In addition to winning its second crystal football in three years, Richardson won the program’s first Doak Walker Award (best running back), Jones collected the ACA Sportsmanship Award and Wuerffel Trophy, and Alabama was also presented with the Disney Spirit Award that annually goes to college football's most inspirational player, team or figure. Tinker accepted on behalf of the Crimson Tide roughly a month before the championship.
“It’s awesome,” Tinker said between hugs and falling pieces of crimson and white confetti at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. “There are no words that can describe this. Just a lot of work paid off. Everyone here faced some kind of adversity, and just to see how they all came out of that is a great thing.”
But that didn’t keep the Crimson Tide from relishing the finality of the moment and all it had accomplished. For example, after playing in his final game for the Crimson Tide, Vlachos refused to let go of the game ball, even in the locker room, while offensive coordinator Jim McElwain walked arm-in-arm with his family off the field and subsequently stepped into his new job as the head coach at Colorado State.
Everyone else headed back to Tuscaloosa where the rebuilding continued but another crown jewel would be prominently displayed, and a championship like none other celebrated.
“It means a lot, we went through a lot this season, last year,” Richardson said. “The tornado, we lost a teammate, it was big for our team. We needed this here and we’re glad to bring it back to Tuscaloosa, and try and bring hope and faith back to our town.
“That accomplishment is big. You dream of stuff like that, some dreams don’t even be that big, but when stuff like that happens it’s incredible. That tells you about the program we have here and the kind of program we built here, and we’re still building. We’re not done yet.”
The 2011 Crimson Tide: 12-1, National Champions
Coach: Nick Saban
Assistant coaches: Burton Burns, Mike Groh, Jim McElwain, Jeremy Pruitt, Chris Rumph, Kirby Smart, Jeff Stoutland, Sal Sunseri, Bobby Williams. Strength and conditioning coach: Scott Cochran
Captains: Mark Barron, Dont’a Hightower, Trent Richardson
Date, opponent, location, W/L, score
- Sept. 3: Kent State, at Tuscaloosa, W 48-7
- Sept. 10: at No. 23 Penn State, at State College, Pa., W 27-11
- Sept. 17: North Texas, at Tuscaloosa, W 41-0
- Sept. 24: No. 14 Arkansas, at Tuscaloosa, W 38-14
- Oct. 1: at No. 12 Florida, at Gainesville, Fla., W 38-10
- Oct. 8: Vanderbilt, at Tuscaloosa, W 34-0
- Oct. 15: at Ole Miss, Oxford, Miss, W 52-7
- Oct. 22: Tennessee, at Tuscaloosa, W 37-6
- Nov. 5: No. 1 LSU, at Tuscaloosa, L 9-6 OT
- Nov. 12: at Mississippi State, at Starkville, W 24-7
- Nov. 19: Georgia Southern, at Tuscaloosa, W 45-21
- Nov. 26: at Auburn, at Auburn, W 42-14
- Jan. 9: No. 1 LSU, at BCS Championship, at New Orleans, W 21-0
Record 12-1; Total points: 453-106
Ranking (AP): Preseason No. 2; Postseason No. 1. Leaders: Rushing _ Trent Richardson (1,679 yards, 283 carries); Passing _ A.J. McCarron (219 of 328, 2,634 yards); Receiving _ Marquis Maze (56 catches, 627 yards).
Lineup _ Offense: Barrett Jones, left tackle; Chance Warmack, left guard; William Vlachos, center; Anthony Steen/Alfred McCullough, right guard; D.J. Fluker, right tackle; Michael Williams, tight end; Marquis Maze, wide receiver; Darius Hanks, wide receiver; A.J. McCarron, quarterback; Brad Smelley, H-back; Trent Richardson, running back. Defense: Jesse Williams, defensive end; Josh Chapman, nose tackle; Damion Square, defensive end; Jerrell Harris, linebacker; Dont’a Hightower, middle linebacker; Nico Johnson/C.J. Mosley, linebacker; Courtney Upshaw, linebacker; Dre Kirkpatrick, cornerback; Mark Barron, safety; Robert Lester, safety; DeQuan Menzie, cornerback; Dee Milliner, nickel back. Specialists Cade Foster/Jeremy Shelley, kicker; Cody Mandell, punter; Marquis Maze, punt/kick returns; Carson Tinker, long-snapper.
Honors _ Major Awards: Trent Richardson; Doak Walker Award; Barrett Jones: Outland Trophy, Wuerffel Trophy. All-American: First team _ Mark Barron, safety; Dont’a Hightower, linebacker; Barrett Jones, offensive lineman; Dre Kirkpatrick, cornerback; DeQuan Menzie, cornerback; Trent Richardson, running back; Courtney Upshaw, linebacker. Second team _ William Vlachos, center. Academic All-American _ Barrett Jones. All-SEC (first team): Mark Barron, safety; Dont’a Hightower, linebacker; Barrett Jones, offensive lineman; Dre Kirkpatrick, cornerback; DeQuan Menzie, cornerback; Trent Richardson, running back; Courtney Upshaw, linebacker; center William Vlachos. SEC Offensive Player of the Year: Trent Richardson. Jacobs Award: Barrett Jones.
National champions: Alabama: BCS, USA Today, Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America, National Football Foundation, Harris poll.
AP Top 25 (Rank, Team Record, Points): 1. Alabama (55) 12-1 1495; 2. LSU (1) 13-1 1425; 3. Oklahoma State (4) 12-1 1399; 4. Oregon 12-2 1250; 5. Arkansas 11-2 1198; 6. Southern California 10-2 1181; 7. Stanford 11-2 1167; 8. Boise State 12-1 1127; 9. South Carolina 11-2 1013; 10. Wisconsin 11-3 905; 11. Michigan State 11-3 873; 12. Michigan 11-2 839; 13. Baylor 10-3 780; 14. TCU 11-2 653; 15. Kansas State 10-3 621; 16. Oklahoma 10-3 572; 17. West Virginia 10-3 547; 18. Houston 13-1 518; 19. Georgia 10-4 439; 20. Southern Miss 12-2 411; 21. Virginia Tech 11-3 329; 22. Clemson 10-4 188; 23. Florida State 9-4 154; 24. Nebraska 9-4 143; 25. Cincinnati 10-3 103.
USA Today coaches’ poll: 1. Alabama (59) 12-1 1475; 2. LSU 13-1 1404; 3. Oklahoma State 12-1 1367; 4. Oregon 12-2 1290; 5. Arkansas 11-2 1188; 6. Boise State 12-1 1162; 7. Stanford 11-2 1106; 8. South Carolina 11-2 1084; 9. Michigan 11-2 925; 10. Michigan State 11-3 912; 11. Wisconsin 11-3 911; 12. Baylor 10-3 775; 13. TCU 11-2 710; 14. Houston 13-1 673; 15. Oklahoma 10-3 610; 16. Kansas State 10-3 602; 17. Virginia Tech 11-3 574; 18. West Virginia 10-3 554; 19. Southern Miss 12-2 429; 20. Georgia 10-4 345; 21. Cincinnati 10-3 248; 22. Clemson 10-4 237; 23. Florida State 9-4 205; 24. Nebraska 9-4 144; 25. Brigham Young 10-3 79.
Heisman Trophy voting: 1. Robert Griffin III, Baylor, QB 1,687; 2. Andrew Luck, Stanford, QB 1,407; 2. Trent Richardson, Alabama, RB 978; 4. Montee Ball, Wisconsin, RB 348; 5. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU, DB 327.
All-American team (consensus) _ Offense: QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor; RB Trent Richardson, Alabama; Montee Ball, Wisconsin; WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State; WR Robert Woods, Southern California/Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma; TE Dwayne Allen, Clemson; T Barrett Jones, Alabama; T Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State/Nate Potter, Boise State; G Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin; G David DeCastro, Stanford; C David Molk, Michigan. Defense: DL Whitney Mercilus, Illinois; DL Melvin Ingram, South Carolina; DL Devon Still, Penn State; DL Jerel Worthy, Michigan State; LB Dont’a Hightower, Alabama; LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia; LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College; DB Morris Claiborne, LSU; DB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU; DB Mark Barron, Alabama; Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama/David Amerson, North Carolina State/Bacarri Rambo, Georgia. Special teams: K Randy Bullock, Texas A&M; P Shawn Powell, Florida State; RS Joe Adams, Arkansas; RS Tyrler Lockett, Kansas State.
Eastern Division Conference Overall
School ......W-L-T Pct. Pts. Opp. W-L-T Pct. Pts. Opp.
Georgia ...... 7-1 234 145 10-4 448 288
South Carolina ... 6-2 206 135 11-2 391 239
Florida ....... 3-5 166 191 7-6 331 264
Vanderbilt ... 2-6 169 187 6-7 347 281
Kentucky .... 2-6 94 242 5-7 190 296
Tennessee ... 1-7 92 222 5-7 244 271
Western Division Conference Overall
School ...... W-L-T Pct. Pts. Opp. W-L-T Pct. Pts. Opp.
LSU .......... 8-0 280 67 13-1 500 158
Alabama ..... 7-1 271 67 12-1 453 106
Arkansas .... 6-2 266 197 11-2 478 289
Auburn ...... 4-4 160 246 8-5 334 376
Mississippi State .... 2-6 145 185 7-6 329 256
Ole Miss ...... 0-8 93 292 2-10 193 385
SEC Championship Game: LSU 42, Georgia 10.
Bowls: Music City (Mississippi State 23, Wake Forest 17); Liberty (Cincinnati 31, Vanderbilt 24); Chick-fil-A (Auburn 43, Virginia 24); Capital One (South Carolina 30, Nebraska 13); Outback (Michigan State 33, Georgia 30, 3 OT); Gator (Florida 24, Ohio State 17); Cotton (Arkansas 29, Kansas State 16); BCS Championship (Alabama 21, LSU 0).
All-SEC team _ Offense: TE Orson Charles, Georgia; OL Barrett Jones, Alabama; OL Will Blackwell, LSU; OL Cordy Glenn, Georgia; OL Alex Hurst, LSU; C William Vlachos, Alabama; WR Jarius Wright, Arkansas; WR Rueben Randle, LSU; QB Tyler Wilson, Arkansas; RB Trent Richardson, Alabama; RB Michael Dyer, Auburn; AP Joe Adams, Arkansas/Chris Rainey, Florida Defense: DL Melvin Ingram, South Carolina; DL Sam Montgomery, LSU; DL Corey Lemonier, Auburn; Jake Bequette, Arkansas; LB Dont'a Hightower, Alabama; LB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama; LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia; DB Mark Barron, Alabama; Tyrann Mathieu, LSU; Morris Claiborne, LSU; Bacarri Rambo, Georgia. Special teams: K - Caleb Sturgis, Florida; P Steven Clark, Auburn; RS Joe Adams, Arkansas
This is the forth story in a series this week on Alabama-LSU showdowns since Nick Saban took over the Crimson Tide.
Some information for this story stems from the book "100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die"