Death Valley: Where Alabama goes to blow up LSU’s dreams

Although the last three games at Tiger Stadium have all been close, the Crimson Tide hasn't lost there since 2010

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — He didn’t play in the game, but Ross Pierschbacher was there in 2014, and it made a big impression on him.

No. 4 Alabama was on the ropes late in the fourth quarter at Tiger Stadium, with announcements already being made asking fans to please not rush the field. But then the Crimson Tide defense held on a goal-line stand, quarterback Blake Sims drove Alabama 55 yards in the final 50 seconds of regulation for a tying field goal, and threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to DeAndrew White in overtime for a 20-13 victory.

You could almost feel the crowd deflate, as if collectively saying, “not again.”

Alabama hasn’t just won the last three times it visited LSU, it’s basically ripped the hearts out of Tigers fans. Granted, that’s sort of happened every time the Crimson Tide has won since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, and especially in the 2011 national championship game in nearby New Orleans.

But in 2012, 2014 and 2016 the Bayou-based fans got a taste of victory only to fend up with another emotional kick to the gut.

“There’s so much on the line when this game comes around as far as implications of the whole season,” Pierschbacher said. “Sometimes, you have some doubts during the game. I remember during that ’14 and ’16 too, you’re like, ‘Well, if we lose this game, where do we go from here?’ ‘Are we going to miss the playoffs?’ And this and that.

“I just expect it’s going to be a rollercoaster of emotions going down to Death Valley.”

It’s been 15 years since LSU won the national championship under Saban, who brought the Tigers to national prominence and has since become its biggest impediment.

LSU captured the crown during his first season guiding the Crimson Tide in 2007, but since then has finished atop the SEC West just once. Not only do Alabama fans joke about the Les Miles line on Tiger Stadium being a place where dreams die, but Saban keeps plucking prospects out of Louisiana, including 11 on this year’s roster.

Through that all, Tiger Stadium has been a nightmare for opposing teams. Overall, they’re just 11-88 during games played in the evening since 2000, 6-37 since 2010 and 2-11 under Ed Orgeron. Just last month, No. 2 Georgia made a rare visit and got mauled, 36-16.

Yet no one on the Alabama team has ever lost to LSU, and none of the coaches have either except for Saban. Every game at Tiger Stadium has been close, but he’s only been on the losing side once with the Crimson Tide.

Alabama at LSU, Nick Saban era

2008: No. 1 Alabama 27, No. 15 LSU 21 OT

2010: No. 12 LSU 24, No. 5 Alabama 21

2012: No. 1 Alabama, 21, No. 5 LSU 17

2014: No. 4 Alabama 20, No. 14 LSU 13 OT

2016: No. 1 Alabama, 10, No. 15 LSU 0

Of note, the higher-ranked team has won every time but once. However, the Crimson Tide won only one of its five national titles under Saban after a trip to Baton Rouge. It occurred in 2012, when Alabama lost the following Saturday at home to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.

Yeldon was the hero of the LSU game in 2012. Alabama’s offense had been non-existent in the second half before quarterback AJ MacCarron led a late drive and flipped him screen pass resulting in a 28-yard touchdown with 51 seconds remaining.

You already know what happened in 2014. Among those still around from that team are Pierschbacher, Christian Miller, Joshua Casher, Jamie Mosley, Ronnie Clark, Derek Kief and Johnny Dwight, but obviously none of them played.

Two years ago, the teams were scoreless heading into the fourth quarter before Alabama rallied for a 10-0 victory. Jalen Hurts passed for just 107 yards and had one of his nine interceptions that season, but also had 114 of the Crimson Tide’s 216 rushing yards.

“It was tough,” running back Damien Harris said. “They played us really well. It was an unbelievable environment.”

“I was hostile,” said safety Deionte Thompson. “Their fans were screaming. They weren’t quiet the whole game. That’s the kind of game you have to expect when you go to LSU.”

It figures to be again.

Saban, who obviously knows better than anyone, says the key to playing in that kind of atmosphere is to be calm in the midst the chaos. He might have the perfect quarterback for that, sophomore Tua Tagovaolia.

Another plus for the offense is having a veteran center as Pierschbacher slid over from left guard this season. He knows exactly what to expect.

“We’re going to have to kind of mouth things and kind of read lips,” he said. “I remember always having to do that there, just kind of getting the gist of what the center’s saying [since] you’re not really hearing everything and just kind of knowing the guy next to you and what he’s thinking, and sometimes you’re not going to be able to hear the call. And just hearing the quarterback and all the changes that we have to do with that, too, so we’re going to do that this week.”

Alabama has outscored its opponents 422-127 (54.1-15.9), and outgained them 4,514-2,463 (564.2-307.9), but even Saban is playing up the fact that the Crimson Tide hasn’t faced a top-10 opponent or played in a close game yet. Physically, it’s always the most demanding game on the schedule, and Alabama’s whole season has been building up to this.

The Crimson Tide made a lot of those first eight wins seem routine. Well there’s nothing routine for Alabama about playing in Death Valley.

“You know how loud it gets in there,” Thompson said. “It’s the kind of game you come here for. It’s the kind of game you dream about as a little boy watching them on TV.”