Baton Rouge, La. It’s an exciting venue filled with culinary and musical festivities. Very few can resist its exotic charms, and one coach has given the place a distinct name.
Alabama football has a special hatred for Auburn and Tennessee. For Tennessee, the hate stems from respect of former coaches Paul Bryant, Robert Neyland and Johnny Majors.
Auburn, on other hand, is hated out of spite. A rivalry that started in steel mills of Birmingham, Ala., quickly became one of the best show downs in the history of college football.
Alabama considers LSU a hated rival, however, its roots run deeper in recruiting than any other aspect. Since 2009, Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban has made it a priority to snatch players from Louisiana. LSU’s head coach Les Miles tabbed Tiger Stadium as the place where opponents’ dreams come to die. His oddball antics generated a national title for LSU in 2007, but it has only one victory against Alabama in Baton Rouge, a 24-21 win in the 2010 season.
LSU’s offense was one-dimensional last season. It had a stable of running backs led by true freshman Leonard Fournette, yet its passing game was inconsistent. Alabama carried its No.4 ranking into Baton Rouge on Nov. 8, 2014 for a matchup with No.14-ranked LSU.
Senior quarterback Blake Sims completed 44.4 percent of his passes (20 of 45), but managed to take care of the football. He hooked up with wide receiver Amari Cooper for a 23-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. A made 39-yard field goal from kicker Adam Griffith gave the Crimson Tide a 10-7 lead at halftime. Points came at a premium in the second half, as both defense stood firm. Two made field goals from LSU’s kicker Colby Delahoussaye in the third and fourth quarter gave the Tigers a 13-10 lead with 50 seconds left in regulation.
Backup kicker Trent Domingue had one job, keep the ball away from Alabama’s Christion Jones, but also position the ball in the field of play. It could have been nerves, or LSU’s respect for Jones, but Domingue kicked the ball out-of-bounds. A 15-yard illegal procedure foul caused coach Miles to lose it. His gum fell to the ground, and Alabama was ready to cause heartbreak.
Sims had engineered a game-saving drive against Tennessee in the previous week. LSU was a different monster, but Sims wasn’t afraid of the situation. He calmly rallied the team around him, and put together a solid drive that took nine plays and ate up 55 yards. Sims completed two passes to tight end O.J. Howard, and a 22-yard completion to Christion Jones.
His 16-yard completion to wide receiver DeAndrew White, set up a 27-yard field goal for Adam Griffith with three seconds remaining. He nailed the kick, and tied the game at 13. Alabama seized momentum after Griffith’s field goal, and linebacker Reuben Foster made sure of it.
His special teams play on Fournette ignited a fire on Alabama’s sideline.
LSU chose to defend, after winning the coin toss in overtime. Alabama’s offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin saved his bag of tricks for a special moment. He dialed up a pass to tight end Brandon Green, which caught the Tigers’ defense off guard. It gained 24 yards, and helped set up Sims’s game-winning, 6-yard touchdown pass to DeAndrew White.
Four incomplete passes from LSU’s quarterback Anthony Jennings silenced 102,321 fans inside Tiger Stadium. The final incompletion was caused by solid coverage from Cyrus Jones and Jabriel Washington on true freshman wide receiver Malachi Dupre. Alabama secured a 20-13 victory, and talks of Sims as a dark horse Heisman candidate started to surface.
Close losses eat away at teams for a long time. LSU’s 2012 loss against Alabama was unbearable. AJ McCarron, like Sims, led a final drive in the fourth quarter that resulted in tears for Tiger fans. Three completions to wide receiver Kevin Norwood and a 28-yard screen pass to T.J. Yeldon for a touchdown made all the difference for the Crimson Tide in its 21-17 win.
Coach Miles calls it a safe haven, but Tiger Stadium lost its bite against Alabama in 2008, 2012 and 2014. It’s the place where opposition dies for most teams, but for coach Saban and company, Baton Rouge has become a second home in the last couple of seasons.
Stephen M. Smith is a staff writer and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine, Pick Six Previews and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.