Win over Alabama keeps LSU hopes for New Year’s Day bowl alive

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 14, 2004

BATON ROUGE &045; LSU coach Nick Saban wanted to make it clear that his team still has plenty to play for.

The Tigers aren’t in the mix for a national championship of Southeastern Conference championship this year, but Saturday’s 26-10 win over Alabama was an important step toward another goal &045; a good bowl game.

With representatives from four bowl games in attendance Saturday night, both teams needed to show their best in preparation for the postseason.

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LSU still has a chance at a New Year’s Day Bowl, likely the Cotton Bowl. With the win, that’s still in the cards, though the Tigers have hinted they would prefer to play in a Florida bowl, like the Outback or Capital One, this year.

With the loss, Alabama will be waiting for a call from a third-tier bowl game, perhaps the Music City Bowl or Houston Bowl. But for Alabama, this season is a step up from last year’s 4-9 campaign and something to build on next year.

But something more important was on the line Saturday as well: pride.

&uot;Everybody always asks what you’ve got to play for,&uot; Saban said. &uot;You play for your pride. It means something. You beat Alabama, it means something.&uot;

Beating Alabama should be a particular source of pride for the Tigers given their record against the Crimson Tide. Alabama leads the all-time series 43-20-5 and is 23-7-2 in Tiger Stadium. Admittedly, this year’s Crimson Tide isn’t the same one of old and LSU has now won four of the last five matchups, but beating Alabama is still a feat.

The key to that win was the impressive play of LSU’s defense. The Tigers repeatedly stepped up, bailing out a floundering offense and keeping LSU in the game for the first three quarters. An early 48-yard completion to Alabama’s Matt Caddell was the only big play Alabama had in the game and set up their only touchdown.

But in the third quarter, the LSU defense had two great stands to prevent possible Alabama touchdowns in what proved to be the turning point in the game.

&uot;When you go into a game like that and you get the lead at halftime and you talk about finishing with 30 minutes to go,&uot; Alabama head coach Mike Shula said. &uot;You come out and you have two great starting drives in the third quarter and you come up with no points. Then you get a turnover and you get backed up. The worst things that could possibly happen happened to us there.&uot;

LSU’s Marcus Spears, a senior defensive end who will likely be a high NFL draft pick in the spring, had a stellar effort. He had eight tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble (which was returned for a Tiger touchdown) in the contest.

&uot;(The defense) did a pretty good job, especially coming out after the half,&uot; LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell said. &uot;Like they say, defense wins games. Our defense came out and put us in a great position to score touchdowns.&uot;