Alabama Crimson Tide: Texas A&M football

Nick SabanMarvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsNick Saban isn't apologizing for a schedule that appears easier for Alabama in 2013. There's plenty of difficulty at the beginning with matchups against Virginia Tech and Texas A&M.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Les Miles is right. So is Steve Spurrier, Butch Jones and every other SEC coach who looks at his schedule and wonders why it's not as easy as the one the defending champions will play.

Nick Saban knows Alabama caught a break. He might not say it directly, but when he told reporters at SEC Media Days that "there can never be an equal path to the championship," he was acknowledging that his team won't face the stiffest of competition this season, and in his mind that's OK. He coached at LSU. He knows what facing Florida every year is like.

It might not be fair, but it is what it is. The Tide avoid the big three in the SEC East -- Florida, Georgia and South Carolina -- while facing nonconference cupcakes such as Georgia State and Chattanooga. The bye weeks set up perfectly, and if you throw in the fact that Ole Miss has to come back to Tuscaloosa for a second consecutive season, its easy to see why some are pointing fingers.

But don't blame Saban, and don't blame his players. And while you're at it, give Alabama a little bit of credit. While you might not like its schedule top to bottom, the beginning is nothing to sneeze at. If Alabama is going to win a third consecutive national championship, it has no time to waste as three of its most important games come in the first five weeks of the season.

"Obviously we start out with a very difficult opening schedule," Saban said. "Virginia Tech has been a 10win team almost every year. ... And then to go play the team that beat us last year, Texas A&M, on the road in the second game of the season, obviously is going to be very challenging.

"That's what we're sort of focusing on, what we're looking forward to."

Anthony Steen is on the same page. Alabama's veteran right guard was asked what he thought of the busy start to the season, and all he could say was, "I know we play Virginia Tech; I know it's not going to be one of those easy games." As part of an offensive line replacing three starters, he ought to be circling the Hokies defense and its 35 sacks from a season ago.

While everyone might be focusing on the next game on the schedule, the season opener won't be a walk in the park as the Hokies undoubtedly will be a measuring stick for just how prepared Alabama is to stop a mobile quarterback in an uptempo style of offense. Logan Thomas, a 6-foot-6 senior with NFL potential, has run for more than 1,000 yards and passed for more than 6,000 in his career under coach Frank Beamer. Despite a disappointing 2012, he finished in the top 40 nationally in total offense with 3,500 yards and 27 touchdowns.

But to be fair, the second game on Alabama's schedule is easily the biggest of the season. Texas A&M was the only team to beat the Tide a year ago, and it's safe to say revenge will be on the mind of players this time around. A camera recently captured an image of the loss playing on TVs in Alabama's weight room, and though players are saying all the right things, there's no underplaying the magnitude of the matchup.

AJ McCarron gave the best coach-speak a few weeks ago, saying, "Me, personally, I take every week the same way."

"Just a normal week, nothing greater," he added. "It's going to be fun playing in College Station, and I'm looking forward to it."

Steen tried his best to keep the focus on the Hokies, but even he couldn't downplay the matchup.

"We want to beat them by 50," he said. "Obviously we see it on TV every day that they beat us. Like I said, Virginia Tech comes first. Once that switch comes on for A&M, I promise you we're going to be pumped."

Johnny Manziel had his Heisman Trophy moment against the Tide in 2012, leading his team to a thrilling, 29-24 victory. He exposed the defense early with his feet and finished them off late with his arm. And throughout the offseason, players and coaches have been asked how they'll stop him a second time around.

The bye week that comes before the game might be viewed as a positive in that respect, but not necessarily to players. Steen said he'd rather not have the break and that the time off will only make him more nervous. C.J. Mosley, Alabama's leader at inside linebacker, was more even-keeled in his assessment, saying they'll take the extra week to prepare, even though it's not ideal.

"It kind of slows things down," Mosley said. "When the season starts, you just want to keep it going."

Leaving College Station might provide a bit of a breather, but not for long, as Alabama returns home to host an up-and-coming Ole Miss squad two weeks later. Outside of LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia, the Rebels gave the Tide their toughest game last season. The defense held McCarron and company to a season-low 305 yards, while the offense proved dangerous at times, pushing the pace and creating confusion as they went no-huddle. With Bo Wallace, Jeff Scott and Donte Moncrief all a year more familiar with the scheme, Hugh Freeze could increase the tempo even further this time around.

Keeping up won't be easy, especially after going through the wringer against Virginia Tech and Texas A&M in previous weeks. The decidedly weak schedule that follows against rebuilding programs such as Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee will be key in regrouping for late games against LSU and Mississippi State.

Even though Alabama might not have the top-to-bottom schedule of its somewhat perturbed SEC brethren, its road to the championship nonetheless presents its own set of challenges. A fast start to the season means a fast start to fall camp and a sense of urgency. As Mosley explained, a team finds its identity in the beginning of the season, "so we have to make sure we're doing a great job during fall camp to have that step ahead."
Editor's note: The season is nearly upon us, and TideNation is taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular-season opponents. Every Tuesday and Thursday we'll go through each week of the Crimson Tide's schedule, starting with the season-opener against Virginia Tech and closing with the finale against Auburn.

The rundown

2012 overall record: 11-2
2012 SEC record: 6-2, tied for second in the West
Record all time against Alabama: 2-3
Last meeting: Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24 in 2012

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Dave MartinJohnny Manziel and Texas A&M beat Alabama in 2012. Can they repeat the feat this fall?
Starters returning
Offense: 6; Defense: 6; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
WR Mike Evans, CB Deshazor Everett, RB Ben Malena, QB Johnny Manziel, OT Jake Matthews

Key losses
LT Luke Joeckel, DE Damontre Moore, OLB Sean Porter, WR Ryan Swope, FS Steven Terrell

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Johnny Manziel* (524 yards)
Passing: Johnny Manziel* (2,967 yards)
Receiving: Mike Evans* (953 yards)
Tackles: Damontre Moore (119)
Sacks: Damontre Moore (5.5)
Interceptions: Deshazor Everett* (2)


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We're in the dog days of the offseason, where every little comment or development gets overanalyzed or takes on a life of its own. So why not overanalyze some comments Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman made in jest at the Brazos County A&M Club Coach's Night, an alumni event on Thursday night on campus? He made a joke that went like this, according to the San Antonio Express-News: “What do the moon and Texas A&M have in common? They both control the Tide.”

TideNation's Alex Scarborough: First of all, I'm a little disappointed in Hyman for not getting more creative with his joke. It's good for a chuckle, I suppose, but a half-hearted one at that. There's better material out there to draw on, if you ask me. He could have at least incorporated Nick Saban being the devil into it, like everyone else has done this offseason.

That brings me to my next point: Why even make the joke at all? I'm sure Kevin Sumlin really appreciated him providing the bulletin board material because, you know, Alabama certainly needed fuel to add to its fire. The motivation for revenge might not have been enough. Remember the "never again" poster from Alabama's heartbreaking loss to Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers in 2010? The Tide have dominated the last two Iron Bowl contests, winning both by a combined score of 91-14. I've got to believe there's a similar poster being constructed now for Texas A&M with Hyman's quote as its centerpiece.

But Sam, when we look at last year's game and Hyman's analysis of the Aggies being able to "control the Tide," do you think there's some truth in it? I look back at the first quarter and agree, but after that I'm not so sure.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Dave MartinAlabama won't need much more motivation against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M this fall.
GigEmNation's Sam Khan: I think Sumlin agrees with you, even if just a little bit, since he said, "No pressure, Eric. Thank you," when he took the podium. You're right in that the Crimson Tide don't need any additional motivation but I wouldn't overestimate how much that matters. Sumlin is a pretty good motivator himself and I'm sure he'll play up the fact that the whole world expects the Tide to exact revenge on Sept. 14.

As for "controlling the Tide," I do think there's some truth in Hyman's quote. Did the Aggies dominate the game from start to finish? No. Against a team as talented and as deep as Alabama, that's nearly impossible to do. But the Aggies took it to Alabama as well as anybody else has in quite some time with the strong first quarter and a huge last scoring drive. Defensively, the Aggies were solid and opportunistic, coming up with some huge turnovers. Yes, the Tide were one play away from winning, should Deshazor Everett not pull off the interception on fourth-and-goal, but the Aggies win was far from luck or anything of the like.

Here's my question for you, Alex, when it comes to the Crimson Tide. Everyone talks about how Saban and Co. have all offseason to prepare for Johnny Manziel. But it stands to reason that Manziel will improve from Year 1 to Year 2. My question is, how much better prepared are the Crimson Tide going to be for the Aggies' offensive tempo, which seemed to give them significant trouble? Do they face anybody else that plays at that pace?

Scarborough: Therein lies the rub, Sam. You're right about Alabama having all offseason to prepare for what Manziel and the different Texas A&M offensive weapons can do, but until it learns to better handle the uptempo style of play itself, it's a major question mark whether the Tide can consistently handle offenses like the Aggies. After all, Sumlin won't be alone in running the fast-paced spread against Alabama. Virginia Tech will likely push the pace in the season-opener and Ole Miss will definitely look to force the defense's hand in Week 4. Kentucky, Tennessee and Auburn will all do the same later on in the schedule as well.

There's no doubt, though, that the biggest challenge to Alabama's defense will be Texas A&M. Even with Luke Joeckel no longer protecting Manziel's blindside and Kliff Kingsbury no longer calling plays, it's hard to imagine the Aggies offense being anything other than dangerous. And it all comes back to what Manziel can do with his feet. Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart can use every minute of the offseason studying film to better prepare for the Aggies, but there is almost no way to stop what Manziel does best: improvise. All Alabama can hope to do is preach containment up front and pray that someone can wrap up the speedy quarterback when the time comes.

That brings me to my final question, Sam: In light of the recent success of the two programs and the buzz suddenly growing around the rematch thanks to Hyman's comments, do you see Alabama-Texas A&M becoming the best rivalry in the SEC West over the next few seasons? As long as Sumlin is around, I imagine Aggies fans are confident in the direction of the program and its ability to compete with the likes of Alabama.

Khan: I think you answered the last question with six key words: "As long as Sumlin is around." The program is moving upward right now and as long as he's in the captain's chair, I think that will continue. Will it become the best rivalry in the SEC West? Perhaps. I think LSU vs. Texas A&M has great rivalry potential also and Alabama-LSU is probably the best one currently going. I think in order for A&M-Bama to be considered "the best," the Aggies will have to pass LSU, which they haven't done yet. The Aggies lost to LSU last year and finished tied with them in the standings. Bama-LSU games have had a national title feel to them; the Aggies will have to legitimately get into the BCS title game chase for that to start happening against Bama. But there's no doubt that by beating the Tide last year, the Aggies have the Crimson Tide's attention.

That brings me to my last question for you: How much do you think Alabama and its fans care about A, what Hyman said; and B, what the Aggies are doing between now and Sept. 14. The Crimson Tide won the national championship. Are the Aggies really that big of a deal to Bama?

Scarborough: To answer your second question first, everything that happens in the SEC is a big deal to Alabama fans. You might think that not much gets to Tide fans these days, but you'd be wrong. Apathy is not something that sits well in these parts. It's partly the environment in the state, with no professional sports franchises to distract the attention away from college football,and partly the attitude Saban has fostered in these parts where even the most minute of details matter. There's interest in anything even tangentially connected to Alabama, even something as innocuous as an athletic director's comment to what amounts to a semi-private gathering of alumni.

That brings me back to whether Alabama fans care about what Hyman said. They most certainly do. The sting of that defeat still doesn't sit well with the Crimson Tide faithful, even though a national championship came after. But the part that I think bothers fans most is the manner in which he said it. Don't tell me Hyman didn't know he would be quoted or that he didn't know exactly what he was saying. He's been doing the job long enough to know a comment like that would come out.

But at the end of the day, as you've said, Sam, this all boils down to a symptom of the offseason where even comments made in jest are overanalyzed. Hyman would probably like to have what he said back, and Sumlin would, too, but overall it was harmless and only serves to make a budding rivalry just a little more entertaining. And as fans of college football, what's really so wrong about that?

DBs from SEC blanket combine

February, 22, 2013
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Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites took a look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins today in Indianapolis, and other predraft camps. Click here to read the entire predraft series. Today: Defensive backs and special teams.

Alabama Crimson Tide


It's hard to imagine that the Alabama secondary in 2011 yielded five NFL prospects. Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and De'Quan Menzie were all drafted a year ago. Dee Milliner and Robert Lester stuck around and won one more ring before hanging it up in 2013.

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SEC's DLs, LBs strong at combine

February, 21, 2013
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Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis, and other predraft camps. Today: Defensive linemen and linebackers.

Alabama Crimson Tide


Alabama's front seven was rock solid and had a distinctive rock-n-roll flair in nose guard Jesse Williams. Though the Crimson Tide defense lacked a true superstar, Williams' Mohawk haircut, countless tattoos and colorful face paint made the unit stand out.
  • DT Jesse Williams (Position rank: No. 8)
    Strengths: Like his counterpart on the middle of the Alabama offensive line, Barrett Jones, Williams is nothing if not versatile. He played both defensive end and nose guard at UA and possesses the type of strength and quickness that would allow him to do the same at the next level.
    Weaknesses: While Williams is above average in defending the run and the pass, he's not superb at either. His production at Alabama was less than ideal, which can be attributed to the scheme on defense, but a lack of sacks and tackles for loss highlight an inability to consistently rush the passer.
    Comparable: In terms of versatility and athleticism, he is similar to Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams.
  • ILB Nico Johnson (Position rank: No. 8)
    Strengths: Johnson -- who no longer is scheduled to attend the combine -- has the look of an NFL linebacker at 6-foot-2 and 249 pounds. He is a solid wrap-up tackler with good instincts. The fact that he has had no off-field trouble or injury concerns will only help his draft stock.
    Weaknesses: The emergence of C.J. Mosley hurt Johnson in 2012. When Alabama had to defend multiple-receiver looks, Johnson often came off the field in favor of Mosley. Johnson is built for run support, but his lack of athleticism hurts in terms of being an every-down linebacker.
    Comparable: Johnson looks and plays like New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton. Both are sure tacklers with good instincts getting between the tackles and getting to the ball carrier.
  • DE Quinton Dial (Position rank: No. 27)
    Strengths: Every so often an Alabama player doesn't hit his potential until he has left college. Dial might be one of those guys. The big, thick defensive end has the raw size (6-foot-5, 307 pounds) and skill to play at the next level and will likely do well in team workouts leading up to the draft.
    Weaknesses: A lack of production at Alabama will create a glass ceiling for Dial. While scouts can fall in love with measurables, they still want to see the talent on tape.
    Comparable: Dial could learn a thing or two from Baltimore Ravens defensive end DeAngelo Tyson, who didn't blow away anyone at Georgia, but after being selected late in the seventh round has become a solid contributor. In terms of size, the two compare favorably, as Tyson comes in at 6-foot-2, 315 pounds.
  • Damion Square (Position rank: No. 29)
    Strengths: Square isn't going to light up the scoreboard with sacks or tackles for loss, but he's consistent. Under coach Nick Saban's watchful eye, Square developed into a solid defender against the run and pass, and understands the idea of gap-assignment football.
    Weaknesses: Simply put, Square doesn't possess the necessary athleticism to get drafted. If there is a player hurt most by missing out on the Senior Bowl, it's him.
    Comparable: N/A

Florida Gators


The heart of the Gators’ 2012 defense will participate in the combine today. DT Sharrif Floyd, whose stock is rising rapidly as he is projected to be taken as high as No. 3, had a fantastic season and anchored UF’s front. He dominated Florida State’s front, and his mixture of size, strength and quickness has scouts drooling. ILB Jon Bostic started every game the past two seasons and was UF’s leader on defense. Nobody was more dependable than Bostic. OLB Jelani Jenkins was limited in 2012 because of a broken finger, a strained hamstring and a broken foot, but when healthy he’s a solid player. OLB Lerentee McCray was forced into action at the buck position (hybrid end/linebacker) because of the injury to Ronald Powell. He didn’t produce big numbers but was a high-effort, high-motor guy.

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OLs from SEC can thrive at combine

February, 20, 2013
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Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis, and other predraft camps. Today: Offensive linemen.

Alabama Crimson Tide


It's only fitting that the best offensive line in college football would produce some of the most intriguing prospects in the NFL draft. Alabama will likely have three offensive linemen taken in the first few rounds in April, further proof of the talent that resided in Tuscaloosa this past season.

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SEC sends several RBs to NFL combine

February, 19, 2013
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Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis. Today: Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.

LSU Tigers


Perhaps it says something about LSU's offense in 2012 that among a record 13 players invited to the NFL combine from the Tigers, only two are offensive skill players who are generally considered, at this point, marginal talents. Running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford are the only skill players invited to Indianapolis, which is understandable when one considers LSU was 10th in the SEC in total offense. It's also a sign of youth. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, fullback J.C. Copeland, running back Jeremy Hill and all of LSU's primary threats at wide receiver will return in 2013.

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As ESPN 150 defensive end Tim Williams (Baton Rouge, La./ University Lab) nears national signing day, all that remains between him and choosing a school is a few official visits.


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Haney: If there were a 2012 playoff ...

November, 14, 2012
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The seeds would be Oregon, Kansas State, Notre Dame, Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida and LSU. But how would it play out? ESPN Insider Travis Haney lines it up, gets some help from the oddsmakers, and picks his champion.

Read the story here. Insider

Film study: Alabama vs. Texas A&M 

November, 12, 2012
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An analysis of three key plays in Alabama's 29-25 loss Saturday to Texas A&M:


Johnny Football's first foray

Johnny Manziel
John David Mercer/US PresswireTexas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was able to break containment far too often in the first half.
The score: No score, 12:12 remaining in the first quarter

The situation: Second-and-7 from the Alabama 43-yard line

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- A look at the good and the bad from No. 1 Alabama's 29-24 loss to No. 15 Texas A&M at home on Saturday night.

THREE UP
1. Rushing attack: When Alabama needed it most, the running game came through. With Texas A&M ahead big in the first quarter and the Alabama offense seemingly lost, coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator turned to the running game. Alabama pounded the ball one play after another with Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon to get its first touchdown of the game and continued to work off the run to score again before halftime.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- No. 1 Alabama returns home Saturday afternoon to Bryant-Denny Stadium to face No. 15 Texas A&M. The Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC) lead in their series with the Aggies 3-1, the last game a 33-10 win by UA in 1988 in College Station, Texas.

Here are five storylines for the game ...

1. Deflate Johnny Football: Johnny Manziel is the key to Texas A&M's high-powered offense. Whether it's his arm or his legs, the Aggies go with him. His ability to prolong plays with his feet and get the ball into the hands of his playmakers are key to his team's success. The freshman is No. 2 in the country in total offense, accounting for 383 yards per game.

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Q&A with Aggies beat writer Kahn

November, 8, 2012
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In advance of Saturday's game between the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide and the No. 15-Aggies, Texas A&M beat writer Sam Kahn Jr. spoke to TideNation about the matchup and what Kevin Sumlin's team will have to do to be successful in Bryant-Denny Stadium:

Scarborough: Texas A&M has made the transition to the SEC look easy despite a complete overhaul of the coaching staff and a rookie quarterback under center. How has Kevin Sumlin gotten the Aggies to this point and how much of that success is credited to Johnny Manziel?

Kahn: The early success I think is helped in part by the fact that while the coaching staff is completely new, a large chunk of the staff is familiar with each other. Sumlin hired most of the offensive staff he had at Houston over at Texas A&M, strength coach Larry Jackson, as well as a few other staff members that worked with him there, so that continuity has helped. Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury is a rising star in the coaching ranks and I think there's little doubt that he'll be a head coach of his own in the future. The hire of Mark Snyder as the defensive coordinator has paid huge dividends as Snyder and his staff have done a really good job getting that side of the ball to play above expectations, despite limited depth in a few areas. Manziel no doubt has been a big part of the success. If he was playing like you might expect a redshirt freshman to play, I don't think there's any way they're 7-2 right now. But he has taken care of the ball (mostly), made some amazing plays and the confidence that has combined with his ablity and the personality fit with Kingsbury has been huge for the offense. And I don't think it can be overlooked that the strength of the team, personnel-wise, is the offensive line, which is critical in SEC play. That unit has been stellar for most of the season.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban took to the SEC's weekly teleconference on Wednesday morning to talk about how his team is handling the hangover from an emotional win over LSU on the road last week. He touched on the health of Amari Cooper and Eddie Lacy, coming back ready for Texas A&M and the challenge of the Aggies offense.

1. Injury update: Saban said he's "optimistic" both Cooper and Lacy will be available to play Saturday against Texas A&M. Lacy sat out most of Monday's practice but returned on Tuesday and took half the repetitions, according to Saban. "Hopefully he'll be even better today," Saban said. Cooper has been full-go at practice all week after nursing an injured ankle for the better part of two weeks. Saban said he seems to be getting better every day.

2. Return to form: Alabama's last-second win over LSU was emotionally draining. AJ McCarron's tears after the game was evidence of that. More than a few days later, the question remains: How do you come back from such a difficult, draining game? Saban did his best to answer that on Wednesday, stressing the importance of focusing on the task at hand. "They're going to have a difficult 15-round fight coming up," he said. Practice has gone well this week and the players are working hard, Saban said. "We're doing OK, we just got to continue to finish the week and improve and play our best game of the year," he added.

3. Stopping the Aggies: Texas A&M will be the opponent in the ring Saturday afternoon, and the Aggies are no pushovers. Saban hailed Kevin Sumlin's team as the best offense in the league and said Johnny Manziel is one of the most dynamic players in the game. "He's been pretty phenomenal this year," Saban said of Manziel.
There was nothing pretty about it. Set the final drive aside and LSU was the better team on Saturday night in Death Valley. For 58 minutes, Alabama didn't play like the No. 1 team in the country. The turnaround came in the nick of time -- about two minutes for those counting at home.

But AJ McCarron's masterful drive down the field for the game-winning touchdown can't overshadow all. It can't overshadow the litany of three-and-outs on offense, the missed tackles on defense and the poor execution all around.

"I don't think we played our best game" coach Nick Saban said. "I think (LSU) played an outstanding game."

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