Rue's Rant on College Sports in Alabama

November 7, 2009 8:04 AM

Spotlight shines on coaches in Saban Bowl III

Nick Saban thumbs up.jpg

Alabama coach Nick Saban  (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and LSU head coach Les Miles were less than convincing when they said Saturday's Southeastern Conference West showdown between the No. 3 Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0) and No. 9 Tigers (7-1, 4-1) wasn't about them.

"The game is about the players," Saban said in his weekly media conference. "There are a lot of good players. These are two very good teams that have good players on both sides and there is a lot to talk about in terms of what's going to happen on the field. Les Miles has done a fantastic job in the five years he has been as LSU. They always play with toughness. They play with great effort.  They are well-coached on both sides of the ball as well as special teams." 

LSU coach Les Miles.jpgIn his media conference Miles was a little more colorful. "It's truly always been about LSU versus Alabama in my mind," Miles said. "I have a lot going on in my life. I enjoy what I do, who I work with and who I'm fortunate to represent. I have four kids who are running rampant around Baton Rouge, and even though there may well have been questions centered around that issue, it was never my view."


Yeah, right.

Then why is the game called Saban Bowl III?

It's because Saban spent five years at LSU, won a national championship in 2003 and then left to coach the Miami Dolphins. Miles succeeded him at LSU.

When Saban left the Dolphins after two seasons to take Alabama coaching job many LSU fans were livid and thus when Saban coached against his old team in 2007 it was dubbed the Saban Bowl.

So, as we get ready for Saban Bowl III, the game is about the coaches and will be as long as Saban is at Alabama and Miles is at LSU no matter what they say.

Miles won the first meeting 41-34 in 2007 in Tuscaloosa, while leading the Tigers to the national championship. Saban won the 2008 matchup 27-21 in overtime in Baton Rouge.

Their third meeting has national championship implications. Alabama can clinch the SEC West with a victory and stay on its collision course with No. 1 Florida in the SEC Championship Game, while LSU can jump into the national title picture with an upset.

"I think it's a great challenge," Miles said. "It's a compliment to your competitor that you play your best. I think your best opponents bring out the best in you, and I think our guys look forward to playing well. It's a rivalry, it's an opportunity, it's a big game, it's fun."


Although LSU has scored 73 points in its past two games, the game figures to be a defensive struggle and the play of the quarterbacks, Alabama junior Greg McElroy and LSU sophomore Jordan Jefferson, could be the deciding factor.

McElroy has not thrown a touchdown pass in the Tide's past three games and averaged only 119.7 yards passing per game in that span. Perhaps, he can get back on track following Alabama's bye week.

Jefferson had a career game against Auburn, completing 21-of-31 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns, in a 31-10 victory two weeks ago and followed that with 163-yard, two touchdown performance last week in a 42-0 rout of Tulane.

Alabama's defense has made a habit of shutting down talented quarterbacks this season, although Tennessee's Jonathan Crompton had some success against the Tide two weeks ago, throwing for 265 yards and a touchdown with one interception.

Miles understands that Jefferson has to play well for the Tigers to win.

"He has to do the things that we've asked him to do," Miles said. "He's got to make quality decisions with the ball. He has to make the checks and get the ball to the receivers, tight ends and running backs as directed, and he just has to play within the scheme of the offense. If he does that, he'll do fine. He's a very talented man."


Jefferson didn't fare too well in LSU's 13-3 loss to Florida, completing only 11-of-17 passes for 96 yards with an interception. He also was sacked five times.


Expect Alabama to apply the same kind of pressure on Jefferson and also keep LSU's ground game in check en route to a division-clinching victory. Make it ... Alabama 19, LSU 10.


Saban and Miles.jpgAlabama coach Nick Saban, left, meets with LSU coach Les Miles at midfield following the Crimson Tide's 27-21 overtime win in Baton Rouge on Nov. 8, 2008. (The Associated Press / Tony Gutierrez)

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