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Monday, November 5, 2012
Film study: Alabama vs. LSU

By Alex Scarborough

An analysis of three key plays in Alabama's 21-17 victory Saturday over LSU:

Waltz to paydirt

Bill Haber/AP Photo

AJ McCarron celebrates a scramble for a touchdown.

The score: Tied at 3-3 just before the end of the first half

The situation: Second-and-2 from the LSU 9-yard line.

Why it worked: AJ McCarron surveyed the field and saw no receivers open. Instead of forcing the pass or throwing it away, he saw a running lane and went free into the end zone.

The breakdown: Alabama lined up in trips left and Michael Williams at tight end on the right side of the line. Eddie Lacy started out alongside McCarron in the shotgun before splitting out to the right and emptying out the backfield, pulling LSU linebacker Lamin Brown away from the middle of the field.

The Tigers had four down linemen and two linebackers in the nickel look. Kevin Minter covered Christion Jones in the slot and Brown stayed with Williams.

At the snap, all five receiving targets were covered up and the pocket collapsed around McCarron. LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo went wide on the pass rush before being chipped to the ground by D.J. Fluker.

Mingo's fall left a crease for McCarron on the right side. Seeing that no one was open, McCarron broke through the middle of the line and rushed to wide open grass, running into the end zone untouched. Alabama took the 14-3 lead after the extra point.

What it means: You don't expect McCarron to beat the defense with his feet, but it's a sign of smart quarterbacking for the junior from South Alabama. As he's done all season, he took exactly what the defense afforded him, even if that wasn't a pass. Where he might have tried to force a throw a year ago, he read that everyone was covered and he opted for a positive play, yet another reason he's gone all season without throwing an interception. Do defenses bring in a spy to keep an eye on McCarron? Probably not, but it could cause defensive players to look back from time to time to make sure he doesn't stray too far from the pocket and beat them with his legs.

Fourth-down stand

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Nico Johnson celebrates a fourth-down stop of LSU's Wildcat.

The score: LSU leading 17-14 midway through the fourth quarter

The situation: Fourth-and-1 at the Alabama 24-yard line

Why it worked: Alabama's defensive line held its gaps and was not pushed backward by LSU's jumbo package.

The breakdown: LSU lined up in a jumbo Wildcat package with running back Spencer Ware taking the snap under center. An extra offensive lineman, Elliott Porter, joined fullback John Copeland as a lead blocker in front of tailback Michael Ford. LSU used seven down linemen to try to get the push necessary for the yard needed.

Alabama sent off two defensive backs for an extra lineman and linebacker, bringing in six down linemen and crowding the line of scrimmage with three linebackers and two defensive backs.

At the snap, Alabama defensive linemen Damion Square and Brandon Ivory shot the gap while Jesse Williams held the point. Defensive end D.J. Pettway got a strong push and found himself face-to-face with Ware, who tried to carry the ball behind the right guard. Simply put, the right side of the LSU line couldn't get the push against Alabama's defense, which got behind the line of scrimmage in a hurry and prevented any forward progress.

The stop kept it a three-point game, rather than allowing for a 41-yard field goal attempt that would have pushed the lead to six. Looking back, it was just one of a handful of decisions by Les Miles that potentially made the difference.

What it means: Alabama's defense struggled mightily in Death Valley, turning LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger from a goat into the hero. Missed tackles and missed assignments plagued the Tide defense all night. But when Alabama absolutely needed a stop, the defense delivered. The fourth-down stop was perfectly executed and the defensive line that had been gashed by the LSU running game stood strong. The play sent a message that when the defense is on, even a yard is hard to come by.

'The Drive' completed

Crystal LoGiudice-US PRESSWIRE

T.J. Yeldon scores the game-winning touchdown.

The score: LSU leading 17-14 with a minute remaining in the game.

The situation: Second-and-10 from the LSU 28-yard line.

Why it worked: Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier pulled the right play out at the right time, capitalizing on an eager LSU defense that was looking to force a negative play and push Alabama out of field goal range.

The breakdown: Alabama lined up with Marvin Shinn and Christion Jones to the right and Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood split out to the left. McCarron, with T.J. Yeldon lined up alongside him at running back in the shotgun, motioned Norwood closer to the line before the snap.

LSU stayed in nickel coverage with three down linemen and rushed three more. Yeldon slipped out to the far side of the field at the snap and the Alabama offensive line chip-blocked before center Barrett Jones and guard Chance Warmack released in front of Yeldon. Warmack was able to get a hand on Minter and slow him down, otherwise Yeldon might have been stopped at the line of scrimmage. From there, Yeldon had pay dirt. Christion Jones kept his defender out of the play and Yeldon did the rest, splitting defenders to get into the end zone.

The play from Nussmeier came at the perfect time as LSU sold out on the blitz. Minter was the only one to read the screen but he ended up in the wrong position to defend it. The 28-yard screen pass won the game for Alabama, capping off an otherwise dreadful night on the offensive side of the football.

What it means: The fourth-quarter comeback not only kept Alabama's championship hopes alive, it also sent a message about what kind of quarterback McCarron is and what kind of offense the Tide possess. McCarron had completed just one of his previous seven passes before the final drive of the game and Alabama had gone three-and-out on four of the last six drives. The game-winning touchdown showed that even on Alabama's worst day, its capable of recovering and doing just enough to come away with a victory. Every championship season is defined by a close call and a big play. Could the McCarron-to-Yeldon touchdown be that play?