NEW ORLEANS -- It wasn’t perfect.
Pretty? Not a chance.
But the final act of the Crimson Tide’s round-about national title run aggregated the themes of the four months leading up to that crowning moment.
Alabama 21, LSU nothing.
The Tide slugged its way to the doorstep of a dynasty with a historic defensive effort, fluctuating special teams play, with a Trent Richardson cherry on top. LSU never really had a shot in Monday night’s BCS national championship game.
Not with Alabama playing with memories of its only blemish on what could have been a flawless run to the crystal football. Tide linebacker Dont’a Hightower knows exactly when LSU’s spirit broke.
“Around halftime, those guys came out with not as much fire as they had when they came in,” he said. “From there, everything went downhill for them.”
And the Tide didn’t let off the gas until the end, just as it had all season. Without running up scores, Alabama’s average final score was 35-8. Georgia Southern was the only team to score three touchdowns in a single game this season. They did it running the ball.
Alabama got it done Monday by tossing it all over the field.
This time Richardson was the decoy and AJ McCarron’s right arm was the weapon. The offense threw downfield effectively after struggling with just that all season.
“If you’re afraid to do things because you don’t trust the players, then you’re probably never going to be able to allow them to grow and be all they can be,” Saban said. “It’s just like your children. There’s just some things you have to let them do. You can’t protect them all the time.”
The same was true for the field goal unit.
They missed six kicks in a two-game span, including the LSU loss.
This time, the field goals found the space between the uprights -- five of them. Jeremy Shelley accounted for all of Monday’s makes on seven attempts. One was blocked, another pushed to the right. His night ended with an extra point drilling the upright, just as Leigh Tiffin’s final point-after try did in the 2010 BCS championship win over Texas.
The ultimately trivial misfire came after the offensive breakthrough. Richardson, a Heisman Trophy finalist, capped things off with the only Alabama touchdown against LSU in eight quarters.
It was also the final run of Richardson’s Alabama career because he announced Thursday his intention to enter the NFL draft.
His late-fourth quarter score broke any will left in LSU.
“I was looking in their eyes, and I could see them looking down at the ground,” Richardson said. “It was amazing.”
The brutal beating left Tiger fans booing Les Miles, the National Coach of the Year, on a night their perfection died a gruesome death.
That’s exactly how Alabama envisioned it.
This was a rugged team that won by physically embarrassing opponents all year. The title game was the fourth defensive shutout for a unit that narrowly missed two others. No Alabama defense in history led the country in every major statistical category before the 2011 team did.
North Texas and Vanderbilt never scored on the Tide, neither did Auburn’s offense. Kent State’s only touchdown came with a 3-yard field following an interception. Mississippi State had just 22 yards to travel for its lone score.
Back in November, LSU didn’t reach the end zone. But it still ran for 148 yards and made the plays when needed. There was nowhere to run, throw or hide Monday night.
Quarterback Jordan Jefferson, also subject of hometown hecklers in the Superdome, was off all night. Twice he fumbled. Four times he was sacked, and the third-quarter intercepted shovel pass epitomized the difference two months make.
Saban couldn’t resist the joke of denying the word “dominant” to describe the Monday night defense.
“No,” he said. “No, I’m sure when we watch the film these guys know we always have a good, bad and ugly reel. I can always find something ugly to talk about.”
No, Alabama wasn’t perfect in its travels to the title. It watched LSU win the SEC championship after falling to the Tigers in early November.
The Tide also watched Oklahoma State play within a whisker of snatching the other seat at the BCS title table.
Then Alabama hushed the critics, exorcised its LSU demons and finished the season on its own terms -- ugly and effective.
And for the 14th time, the national title will reside in Tuscaloosa.