Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  By ZACH DILLARD  |  Last updated 11/10/13
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If there's been a potential foil to Nick Saban's reign in Tuscaloosa, the likeliest of spoilers to an unprecedented three BCS titles in four years and the never-ending quest for more, he stood 55 yards across Bryant-Denny Stadium's field on Saturday. He wore his trademark white ballcap and purple pullover, clapped his hands with his elbows tucked in his familiar way and generally carried along with him that look of mischief befitting Les Miles and only Les Miles. Others have played the role -- Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, Steve Spurrier -- but none quite like Miles, Saban's polar opposite of the coaching world and one of the Crimson Tide's toughest outs in recent years. In 2009, with Saban en route to the first of his Tide titles, it was Miles' Tigers who marched into this very stadium and clung to a fourth-quarter lead before falling 24-15. And it was Miles who exacted revenge during the 2010 and 2011 regular seasons, the latter coming in the 9-6 overtime "classic" before facing off again in the BCS title game. Even Saban's 2012 championship was nearly upended (or so it was believed at the time) in Baton Rouge before TJ Yeldon took a screen pass to the house with 51 seconds remaining. Every step of the way toward college football's greatest modern dynasty, the SEC's favorite riverboat gambler has stood 55 yards away at one point or another. But this time Miles and his team merely served as a stepping stone toward something greater, falling 38-17 on Alabama's home turf in a brutal second-half onslaught that Saban called his team's best 30-minute performance to date. AJ McCarron maintained his efficiency (14-0f-20, three touchdowns) despite missing many of his home run attempts, T.J. Yeldon (133 rushing yards, 2 TD) and the rushing attack slammed the door and the defense, well, what else is to be expected of a Saban-led defense? The top-ranked Crimson Tide held the high-scoring Tigers attack to 52 total yards and three points in the closing half -- this coming after clinging to a three-point halftime lead. "No matter what the record in this game, though, it always seems like both teams come out in this game and they have high expectations for how they want to play and what they want to do," Saban said, "but our guys did a great job of keeping their poise and staying focused on the things that they needed to do." Miles appeared to have taken a lesson from last year's game (or others in his eccentric past) by playing this one close to the vest. Absent were the LSU fake punts or strange trick play calls. Even as the Tigers began to flounder late in the third quarter, Miles' wackiest call came on a fourth-and-13 attempt already down two touchdowns, a far cry from previous attempts that never seem to fool this disciplined Alabama team. It was as if the 13th-year head coach wanted to beat Alabama straight up. No gimmicks. "I'm really not prepared for this," Miles said in his postgame press conference. "This kind of felt like we played better. ... I thought our team fought and I think they are stung right now. I don't think they are happy about it at all. When you prepare hard, you want victory and you are ambitious. It's not fun to finish second." Saban brought his own bag of tricks, though: successfully running a fake punt coming out of a timeout and later dusting off the ol' flea-flicker to little avail. It probably did not matter much. In the end, Alabama defensive standouts C.J. Moseley and Jeoffrey Pagan said they could visibly see the will drain from the eyes of LSU's players. Alabama stole it just like they have every other opponent (except Texas A&M) during this 9-0 start. "We kept battling through the end, to the point where it seemed like they gave up, and we just had to finish the game," Moseley said. "I could tell in the players' eyes that it was about over for them Closer to the end of the game, I could just look into the quarterback's (Zach Mettenberger) eyes and I could tell (it was over)." Pagan added: "I would say that we changed the way they thought." With Les Miles and the Tigers in the rearview mirror once more -- Alabama now owns a three-game winning streak in the rivalry -- Alabama moves into a future even more certain than the week before. After the entire population of Tuscaloosa tuned in to catch former No. 2 Oregon fall to Stanford on Thursday, Alabama's placement in the BCS pecking order remains better than ever. As other undefeated teams (FSU, Baylor, Ohio State, Fresno State, Northern Illinois) continue to look up, the Crimson Tide can afford to look ahead. The next two weekends provide little intrigue as the nation's No. 1 team squares off against Mississippi State (4-5) and Chattanooga (record not applicable). However, the Iron Bowl surprisingly looms large. If Auburn can get past Georgia on Nov. 16, a top-five Auburn team could lie in wait on the Plains. Gus Malzahn has stood 55 yards from Nick Saban as well, engineering the Cam Newton-quarterbacked comeback win in 2010 en route to Auburn's own BCS title. Foil after foil. This is Saban's annual fall challenge. Granted his team keeps winning, Saban will go from Auburn to the SEC Championship in Atlanta against an underwhelming eastern division champ -- pick from the lot -- and, presumably, on to the final BCS title game. "We still have some very tough challenges," Saban said. It's not as imposing as it sounds, though, certainly much less imposing than it was this time last week.Perhaps that small fact was found in the postgame scrum, as the coach found his quarterback, AJ McCarron, smiled and embraced him. The two are five games shy of a three-peat; five more games of discipline and physicality and Alabama imposing its will on another group of young men. Saban will surely point out in the coming week that those five tasks require a strict adherence to The Process. It was this time last year, coming off an emotional win over the Tigers, that Alabama was tripped up by Manziel & Co. It could happen again. It could happen to just about any team. So as Saban briskly jogged off Bryant-Denny's field, even as waved to the packed house and rode a certain wave of energy across the grass, he seemed to welcome his public disappearance, out of the lights and the cheers and the light rain and into a tunnel that surely winds its way to an office and a film room where it starts again. Potential foil after potential foil. Over and over. Until it's all over.71-3 when leading at half
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