Number one ranked Alabama seemed sure to be out of the national championship picture at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge Saturday night, but the Crimson Tide rallied in the final minutes to get an improbable 21-17 win over LSU.
Alabama had suffered through a second half of all sorts of inept play, but when Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron got the ball back at the Crimson Tide 28 with 1:34 to play, he seemed to remember how he and Kevin Norwood had bedeviled LSU in winning last year’s national championship game.
McCarron completed an 18-yard pass to Norwood, then a 15-yard pass to the LSU 39. An 11-yard McCarron-to-Norwood call put it at the LSU 28 with 1:11 to play. McCarron then overthrew Norwood in the end zone. With a minute to play, he called freshman tailback T.J. Yeldon’s number on a short screen, that Yeldon turned into the winning score.
The drive had covered 72 yards in five plays and taken only 43 seconds.
LSU’s last hope was snuffed out with Damion Square sacking LSU quarterback Zack Mettenberger.
In the first two months of play, Mettenberger had probably been the most disappointing player in the Southeastern Conference. Against Alabama he looked to be all-conference; maybe better.
Meanwhile, McCarron had one of his poorest showings, but managed to pull out the win. Alabama is now 9-0 overall and 6-0 in SEC games. LSU fell to 7-2 overall, 3-2 in the SEC.
Next week Alabama hosts Texas A&M and phenomenal freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, aka Johnny Football. The Aggies, in their first year in the SEC, will come into Bryant-Denny Stadium with a 7-2 record, including a 4-2 SEC record after blistering Mississippi State 38-3 and rolling up 693 yards of total offense.
Until the final drive, Bama’s second half had been a comedy of errors. Offensive drives were three-and-out, except for one that ended with a fumble. Meanwhile, LSU seemed the irresistable force on third downs. McCarron couldn’t find Alabama receivers and Bama defenders couldn’t find LSU receivers. The Tide lost two fumbles and had no takeaways.
For the game, LSU had 22 first downs to Alabama’s 18. Bama had 25 carries for 165 rushing yards, the Tigers 49 carries for 139 yards. McCarron completed 14 of 27 passes for 165 yards, Mettenberger 24-35 for 298 yards. (LSU also had a trick play pass by punter Brad Wing that lost two yards. In total offense, Alabama had 52 plays for 331 yards, LSU 85 plays for 435 yards. Those 33 additional plays for LSU resulted in the Tigers having nearly double the time of possession – 39:15 to 20:45.
At one time in the second half, LSU converted seven consecutive third down plays. For the game, the Tigers were 10-20 third downs. Alabama was 1-9.
Eddie Lacy had 11 runs for 83 yards and a touchdown, Yeldon 11 runs for 76 yards. Jeremy Hill added his name to a very short list of men who have run for 100 yards against a Nick Saban Alabama defense, picking up 107 yards on 29 carries.
Norwood, who had a career-best four catches for 78 yards in the Tide’s BCS win over LSU, caught five passes for 62 yards in Baton Rouge Saturday night – 3 for 44 yards on the final drive. Christion Jones had four receptions for 40 yards.
On defense, Nico Johnson and Adrian Hubbard were in on a game-high 12 tackles, both having two primary and 10 assists. Hubbard was in on a sack and two tackles for loss and Johnson was in on one tackle for loss. Dee Milliner and Square both had sacks and C.J. Mosley assisted on a sack. Nick Perry and Trey DePriest were in on 10 tackles and Deion Belue – who probably won’t get high marks from this game – was in on 9 tackles.
Alabama did not have the best start it has had in games this year. In fact, the first half was so-so except for a couple of nice drives. But other than the final drive, it looked magnificent compared to Bama through the third and most of the fourth quarters.
For the first time this season, Alabama did not score in the first quarter. Moreover, the Tide gave up a field goal to LSU in the opening stanza, only the second time this year Bama has allowed an opponent to score in the first quarter. Thus, Alabama trailed for the second time this year.
Alabama’s first possession was a three-and-out and looked like it would result in LSU having good field position, but the Tigers had some untimely penalties, including one that moved LSU back from near midfield to the Tiger 26. That didn’t seem to bother a bevy of LSU running backs or quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Tailbacks Russell Shepherd, Jeremy Hill, Michael Ford, and Spencer Ware took turns with key runs and drove to the Alabama 21 before a couple of incomplete passes forced a Drew Alleman 38 yard field goal. LSU had a 3-0 lead with 6:11 remaining in the first quarter.
An offensive pass interference call against Bama scuttled the next Tide possession, which had featured some nice Eddie Lacy runs. The Tigers drove into Bama territory, but sacks by Dee Milliner and Adrian Hubbard stopped LSU and forced a punt.
It was a good punt, pinning Alabama at the 8, but the Tide responded with an outstanding 11-play drive. Back-up tailback T J Yeldon got it started with a 15 yards run and the freshman would have five runs for 40 yards in the 92-yard march. Quarterback AJ McCarron went 4-4 in the drive for 43 yards, including two to Christion Jones – one for 16 yards, and one on the only third down of the drive for 11 and a first-and-goal at the nine. From there, Lacy went right up the middle for the touchdown. Jeremy Shelley kicked it to 7-3 with 8:17 to play in the second quarter.
The kicking game strategies of both teams took a hit in the next moments. After Alabama held LSU to a punt from the LSU 16, Bama’s Cyrus Jones tried to field the bouncing ball on the run and fumbled it back to the Tigers at the Tide 32. A long run by Hill to the Bama 13 was wiped out by a penalty against the Tigers, and a few plays later LSU was lining up to try a 47-yard field goal.
Alabama plays regular defense on long field goals, so a fake is not likely to fake. But LSU tried, holder Brad Wing tossing the ball to Alleman. It resulted in a two-yard loss when Nico Johnson and Jesse Williams wrapped up the placekicker/receiver.
After an exchange of punts, Alleman lined up for a 54-yard field goal attempt, and this time tried it. It was short. Alabama had the ball with 1:08 to play at the Tide 37.
Lacy got it off to an excellent start with an 11-yard run and two plays later took a screen pass for 19 yards and out of bounds at the LSU 38 with 41 seconds to play. A pass to Kenny Norwood gained 10 and a pass interference all against the Tigers made it first down at the 17 with 24 seconds remaining in the half. A pass to Norwood, who went out of bounds, gained eight and stopped the clock. On second and two, McCarron scrambled nine yards up the middle behind a block from D.J. Fluker for a 14-3 halftime lead.
Expecting to take that momentum into the third quarter, when Bama would get the kickoff to start the second half, it was anything but.
Bama’s first three possessions after intermission were three-and-out. Meanwhile, LSU put together a 58-yard, 13-play drive that ended with Hill going in from a yard out and pulling the Tigers to within 14-10.
LSU had some more special teams trickery to try, but an onsides kick attempt failed only because an LSU player touched the ball before it went 10 yards.
Working from a short field, it looked as though the Tide might get the points back when Yeldon had four consecutive runs to a third-and-three at the LSU 10. But the fifth Yeldon run resulted in a fumble, recovered by LSU.
Mettenberger got the Tigers out of a hole with a short pass to fullback J.C. Copeland. It turned into a 40-yard gain when Belue and DePriest both missed tackles. As the third quarter came to a close, Bama had a 14-10 lead, but LSU had momentum.
Mettenberger completed passes of 23 and 14 yards to Jarvis Landry, the second for the go-ahead touchdown. That score completed a seven-play, 90-yard drive that made it LSU 17, Alabama 14.
There was still plenty of time, but Alabama squandered a lot of it with two more three-and-outs around an LSU drive that took three minutes.
It then became a matter if Alabama would ever get the ball back when the Tigers marched from their 19 to the Bama 28, taking another 5:46 off the clock. That left only 1:34 for McCarron to perform his magic. More than enough time, as it turned out.