NEW ORLEANS (AP) — From Florida State’s Sugar Bowl meltdown 16 years ago to New England’s stunning Super Bowl loss, history suggests that it’s tough to beat an opponent the second time around.
Top-ranked LSU is looking to write a new chapter in its Big Easy do-over with Alabama.
“The opportunity to play them again is something we’re going to embrace,” Tigers star Tyrann Mathieu insisted Friday.
Not that they have much of a choice. The Tigers (13-0) already beat the Crimson Tide once this season — on Alabama’s home field, no less. But they’ll have to do it all over again to claim the national championship, even if that seems a bit unfair.
Bobby Bowden can certainly sympathize with LSU.
Back in 1996, Bowden was coaching Florida State when the Seminoles knocked off Florida 24-21 in the regular-season finale and took over the No. 1 spot in the rankings. Then, through an unexpected turn of events in the conference championship games, the teams wound up paired again in the Sugar Bowl.
The rematch was all Florida. The Gators romped 52-20 to take their first national crown.
“I didn’t like it,” Bowden said. “The team that lost, I would think they love it. The team that won, it’s just hard to get your boys as inspired as the other team can get inspired.”
New England ran up against the same thing in the NFL four seasons ago. The Patriots finished off a perfect 16-0 regular season with a thrilling 38-35 win over the Giants in New York.
Lo and behold, the Giants still made the playoffs and stunningly won three straight postseason games on the road, earning another shot at heavily favored New England — now 18-0 — in the Super Bowl.
Well, we all know what happened in the Arizona desert. Actually emboldened by that earlier loss to the Patriots — “it did give us a sense of confidence that we could play with New England,” Giants guard Chris Snee remembered Friday — New York pulled off an epic upset, knocking off Tom Brady and the seemingly unbeatable Patriots 17-14.
“Obviously there was some stuff that year that we used in the Super Bowl that we had seen we could take advantage of in the first game,” said another Giants player, defensive lineman Dave Tollefson.
Now, the Tigers face the same predicament as Florida State and New England.
They’ve already put together a winning game plan against the second-ranked Crimson Tide (11-1), pulling out a 9-6 overtime victory in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5. Now, the onus is on the Tigers to counter all the new wrinkles they’ll surely see in the rematch, changes that will undoubtedly be embraced by a Crimson Tide team still stinging from its only defeat.
“It may give us a little edge in our minds of what’s got to happen, what we’ve got to do,” Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said.
On the other side, LSU coach Les Miles and his staff must deal with an inevitable human trait: It’s tougher to get players to recognize their mistakes — and be willing to go along with any necessary tweaks — when they’re coming off a win.
The losing coach has no such issues.
Bowden remembers Florida coach Steve Spurrier changing up his offensive plan after the Seminoles pounded Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel in their initial meeting.
“They made a big adjustment,” Bowden said. “They went to the shotgun.”
Alabama’s changes aren’t likely to be that dramatic, but there’s little doubt that losing to LSU a couple of months ago provided the Tide with a needed wake-up call. Coach Nick Saban’s team went into that game ranked No. 1, boasting a bruising runner in Trent Richardson and a defense that was being called one of the greatest in college football history.
The Tide certainly didn’t look at LSU as a pushover — heck, the Tigers had already beaten the teams that would go on to win the Rose Bowl (Oregon) and Orange Bowl (West Virginia) — but Alabama didn’t react well when faced with an opponent that was willing to go toe-to-toe in perhaps the most bruising game of the year.
Throw in an abysmal performance by the special teams (the Tide missed four field goal attempts) and a trick play gone awry (an end-around pass was picked off at the goal line), and it was the Tigers celebrating at the end.
“We learned a lot from that game,” Alabama nose guard Josh Chapman said. “That game kind of made our season. We didn’t finish in that game. We didn’t capitalize. Those guys capitalized on our mistakes. They finished stronger than we did. We learned a lot from that. The coaches showed us: When we’re doing things right, it’s hard to beat us.”
If anything, LSU may be looking to pick up a motivational edge from a common theme coming from the Alabama side, most bluntly expressed by receiver Marquis Maze: “They didn’t beat us. We beat ourselves.”
Rest assured, the Tigers are listening to every word.
“When people get in front of the cameras, they’re going to say what they want to say,” Mathieu scoffed. “When you step between those lines, no one can hear you but the team you’re playing against. We’re going to let our play do the talking and hopefully come out with the W.”
Asked if Maze’s comments would spur on the Tigers, Mathieu glared back, “Definitely.”
In the end, the rematch may be decided by which team has the best case of amnesia. While tendencies and play-calling can be charted on film, both teams must recognize this isn’t early November. There will be different situations, different moments of adversity. The team that copes best will likely be hoisting the championship trophy Monday night at the Superdome.
“Learn from the mistakes that you make the last time and know there are going to be adjustments made the second time around,” the Giants’ Snee advised. “They (Alabama) obviously are not going to sit there and get beat by the same thing they got beat by before in this game. There will be adjustments and then obviously if something works for them defensively, they are going to come back to it.”
If anything, LSU lineman T-Bob Hebert expects both teams to much looser than they were the first time — even though much more is on the line in the BCS championship game.
“It’s weird how that works out,” he said. “The two weeks leading up to the last one felt more tense than this one does. We have played before. We feel comfortable, and not only that, but not being in school, being able to relax a little more, and get off our feet.
“I expect to see more scoring,” he added. “It’s mathematics. How many games have no touchdowns scored? If you play the odds, it’s going to be higher scoring than 9-6. I don’t think it’ll be crazy, but it’ll be more than 9-6. Somebody is going to get into the end zone.”