Did LSU’s win signal the end of an era?

BATON ROUGE – There’s no cheering in a press box.

It’s one of the cardinal rules of sports journalism, an inalienable standard that’s thoroughly enforced from working area to working area. Signs are plastered everywhere, notices relayed over the PA system periodically, because human beings sit there.

When Mason Taylor crossed the goalline on the two-point conversion that ended a dramatic, tension-filled regular-season game that felt more like a national championship bout, no journalist, writer, or reporter cheered.

Instead, there were heavy sighs, like a weight being lifted. There were glances at one another, an acknowledgment that we’d just witnessed the same event. The electricity from a fervent crowd pulsated through the press box. You could feel the tension ease. There was hurried scribbling on notepads and typing on phones, trying to come up with the right question to encapsulate the moment.

After all, what had just transpired was an instant classic. It’s a game that will be remembered for years to come, and the ultimate confirmation of Brian Kelly’s arrival as a savoir at LSU. It was an improbable upset against a rival that’s given LSU fits over the last decade, and Kelly did it with a team of underclassmen and transfers.

There was a lot to digest.

There was a lackluster performance from Tiger traitor/Alabama cornerback Eli Ricks, who had left LSU nearly a year ago just to be exposed by his former teammates on several key plays that kept the Tigers alive — not that they needed any help doing that themselves. There’s still a narrative out there that Ricks could be a first-round pick in next year’s draft, despite not starting for half the season.

There was another good-not-great performance from Bryce Young, who had only played in Death Valley during the COVID years, when Tiger Stadium was a shell of what it was Saturday night.

There weren’t any big-play receivers that could demoralize LSU with one flash, except for one long catch by Jase McClellan on Young’s wild scramble creating busted coverage by Major Burns. The only ’Bama bright spot was Jahmyr Gibbs, who looks like the prototypical three-down back that has taken the NFL by storm the last few years.

There’s no doubt that LSU was the better team Saturday night, just like they were against Ole Miss before that. They’ve cemented their spot in the Top 10 through sheer force of will, and I don’t think they’ll relinquish it over the final quarter of the season. This team has overachieved in almost every way. 

But did this Crimson Tide crew seem like a Nick Saban team to you?

It didn’t to me.

Saban’s 71 now, no spring chicken in the college football scene. The longevity of his dominance has been exceptional, and should be celebrated accordingly. His offensive and defensive schemes are far from antiquated. He does a good job of surrounding himself with the right people to make sure his team isn’t living in the past.

But I couldn’t imagine being 71 years old and having to keep up with upwards of 100 teens and 20-somethings. I couldn’t imagine having to maintain the rigors of an SEC schedule, the 10-, 12-, 14-hour days that keep you away from the other parts of your life.

Then there’s the transfer portal, which, by the way he’s talked in the offseason, has really thrown a wrench in his program. Is that a part of his program’s problem, he can’t keep the depth he used to because those players move on to more significant roles at other programs?

It feels almost blasphemous to say, but is Saban just old?

There aren’t many coaches who have had success over 70. There aren’t even many Power 5 coaches that are still coaching at 70.

Bobby Bowden was one, maybe the most successful coach in terms of his twilight coaching career. He’s the oldest coach to win a national title, when he did so with Florida State at the age of 70 years, 1 month and 27 days in 2000. Bowden coached until he was 80, when he stepped down; the Seminoles failed to reach 10 wins in any of his final six seasons.

There was Joe Paterno with Penn State whose sterling career was marred by the reprehensible Jerry Sandusky child molestation case. Paterno coached until the ripe age of 85. If his wins weren’t stripped due to his indifference to Sandusky’s conduct, Paterno would’ve finished 120-62 over his final 15 seasons. Bill Snyder at Kansas State also had a winning record during his second stint, which lasted 10 seasons.

But none of them coached in the SEC. It’s an arguable point that none of them have put together the dynasty Saban has, either. They certainly didn’t have to deal with a transfer portal, or Name, Image and Likeness deals, or social media platforms that have given players the capability of growing their own brand without having to actually do something on the field of play.

Maybe Saturday night’s game was a sign of things to come for Alabama.

Maybe it’s over.

If so, it’s certainly been an impressive run.

Contact Ryne at rgberthelot@gmail.com