Alabama Crimson Tide: Tide-Tigers-110312

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Before Alabama center Barrett Jones trotted onto the field for the No. 1 Crimson Tide's season-defining drive at No. 5 LSU on Saturday night, he offered offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland one final suggestion.

"Hey, don't forget about the screen," Jones told Stoutland.

With about 1? minutes to play, LSU had a 17-14 lead and was threatening to knock off defending BCS national champion Alabama, which probably would have ended the SEC's hopes of winning a seventh consecutive national title.

Along with most of a record crowd of 93,374 fans at Tiger Stadium, college football fans from Eugene, Ore., to Manhattan, Kan., to South Bend, Ind., (and everywhere else outside the Southeast) were probably roaring for the Tigers to make one more defensive stop.

After LSU's Drew Alleman missed a 45-yard field goal with 1:34 to play, the Crimson Tide took possession at their 28-yard line. They probably needed to drive more than 40 yards for a tying field goal attempt or, even better, 72 yards for a winning touchdown.

And they didn't have much time -- or any timeouts -- to do it.

"I just looked at everybody on the sideline," Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said. "We got down for a minute, but we pulled it together. I told them, 'We do it every Thursday in practice. It doesn't matter how many people are in the stands. The field is still 100 yards long, and we have to go put it in the end zone.'"

To read Mark Schlabach's full column, click here.

Alabama shows its mettle in crunch time

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
3:08
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban isn’t sure he has ever been prouder of a football team.

Saban’s senior center, Barrett Jones, isn’t sure he has ever seen his coach happier after a football game.

“He gave me a big, old bear hug,” Jones beamed. “This is one we’ll all remember forever.”

As well they should.

Alabama’s thrilling come-from-behind 21-17 victory over LSU on Saturday night answered emphatically what everybody around college football has wanted to know about the Crimson Tide.

How would they respond when they finally found themselves in a close game and with their backs to the wall?

After all, Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC) had trailed for all of 15 seconds this season, and nobody had come within 19 points of the Crimson Tide. They’d won their previous eight games by an average margin of 32.5 points.

“We knew a game like this was coming somewhere along the way, and we were going to be ready for it,” Alabama senior safety Robert Lester said. “We pride ourselves on being ready for any situation, and tonight we created another part of our identity.

“We showed the world that we can overcome hard situations.”

It certainly wasn’t Alabama’s best game. Not even close, really. The Crimson Tide looked like they might be on the verge of putting the game away late in the third quarter, but freshman running back T.J. Yeldon lost the handle on a handoff and fumbled at the LSU 10.

Not only that, but junior quarterback AJ McCarron missed his first five passes to start the second half, and Alabama’s normally suffocating defense was on its way to giving up 435 yards in total offense, the most the Crimson Tide have allowed since Saban’s first season in 2007, when they gave up 475 yards to LSU in a 41-34 loss.

“I don’t feel like we could have played any worse in the second half. We were just sloppy,” Jones said. “But we never panicked.”

Instead, the Crimson Tide demonstrated why they’re the No. 1 team in the country and why they’ve won 22 of their past 23 games dating back to the end of the 2010 season.

Tiger Stadium was so loud that it was literally quaking after LSU took a 17-14 lead early in the fourth quarter and seized all the momentum.

Alabama got the ball back on its own 28 with 1:34 to play and no timeouts remaining.

As the Tide players huddled, Jones looked at his teammates and said, “Guys, we have a chance to make history right here. Who wants to make history?”

Sure enough, McCarron completed four of his next five passes, and five plays later, Yeldon was celebrating in the LSU end zone after a 28-yard touchdown catch on a perfectly executed screen pass.

“A lot of things didn’t happen right, and a lot of things were out of character for us,” Jones said. “But we made plays when we had to.”

Saban knew what his team was in for, and he also knew that LSU would find a way to make it a four-quarter game.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert"I've never been prouder of a bunch of guys to overcome adversity," Alabama's Nick Saban said.
And while he won’t be happy when he watches the tape and sees the missed tackles and some of the other mistakes that plagued his team, Saban will also be reminded of a couple of similar performances in 2009, when Alabama didn’t play its best football and still found ways to win against both Auburn and Tennessee en route to the Tide’s first national championship under Saban.

In just about every championship season, there are going to be games where you don’t play your best, but you find a way to win.

Saban’s message to his team at halftime was simple.

“I told our guys that we’re going to have to keep fighting in this game and keep punching until we knock them out,” Saban said.

It was LSU, though, that did most of the punching coming out of the break and rallied from a 14-3 deficit. Alabama went three-and-out on its first two possessions, which set the tone for the Tigers to climb back into the game.

“We told our players, and it’s kind of ironic, that we would have to overcome a lot of adversity to win a game here,” said Saban, who’s won eight of his past nine games against nationally ranked teams.

“And when things went bad and the momentum of the game changed, that’s what we kept talking to them about. They kept their poise, and they kept playing and they kept competing. I’ve never been prouder of a bunch of guys to overcome adversity.”

When you play for Saban, it’s never wise to get caught up in reflection during the course of the season. In his world, there are no rearview mirrors.

But Jones did allow himself one brief moment of reflection before leaving the field late Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.

“It was surreal being a part of this game,” Jones said. “One day I’ll be watching [TV] and the greatest games ever played, and this one will be on there.”

The Tide hope their great escape is only a prelude to something bigger and better, like a third national championship in the past four years.

And maybe even another bear hug for Jones.

Video: Alabama LB Nico Johnson

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
1:33
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Chris Low talks to Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson following the victory over LSU.

Instant analysis: Alabama 21, LSU 17

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
12:19
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Top-ranked Alabama (9-0, 6-0) and No. 5 LSU (7-2, 3-2) saved the best for Game 3. It came right down to the final drive, as Alabama squeaked out its 21-17 win with a 28-yard screen play from quarterback AJ McCarron to running back T.J. Yeldon with 51 seconds remaining.

After struggling mightily for most of the second half, McCarron connected on four of his final five passes for 72 yards and that touchdown.

While McCarron played his best at the end, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger played the best game of his career, completing 24 of 35 passes for a career-high 298 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.

LSU actually outgained Alabama 435 yards to 331.

Alabama is clearly in the driver's seat for a trip to Atlanta for the SEC title game, but it also controls its destiny for the Discover BCS National Championship in Miami.

It was over when: McCarron and Yeldon orchestrated a beautiful screen call that went 28 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-17 with 51 seconds left. LSU got the ball back, but Mettenberger was sacked on the third play of the drive as time ran out.

Game ball goes to: Outside of that costly fumble that led to LSU's final scoring drive, Yeldon was a beast for the Tide. He scored the game-winning touchdown and finished with 76 yards on 11 carries. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry and had a long of 23 yards.

Stat of the game: LSU did a very good job of extending drives against Alabama's vaunted defense, converting 10 of 20 third downs, while Alabama converted just 1 of 9 third downs.

Stat of the game II: McCarron completed 4 of 5 pass attempts on Alabama's final drive for 72 yards and a touchdown. Before that, he completed 1 of 7 second-half passes.

Second-guessing: LSU fullback J.C. Copeland's penalty took away all the momentum the Tigers gained from Jeremy Hill's 19-yard run to Alabama's 13-yard line. He foolishly knocked an Alabama player to the ground after the play was over and well away from where the play ended. It pushed the Tigers back, and they eventually failed to execute a fake field goal that took crucial points off the board.

Second-guessing II: Les Miles' decision to go for a fake field goal on a 47-yard attempt and then actually go for a 54-yarder in the second quarter will haunt him. Both decisions didn't work out, and that left the Tigers without a crucial second score before halftime. Alabama drove down the field 63 yards and scored a touchdown to make it 14-3 after Drew Alleman's 54-yard miss. Miles also decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at Alabama's 24 with just under 9 minutes left and LSU leading 17-14.

What it means for Alabama: The SEC title is still in sight and so is the national championship. A win over Texas A&M next week and Alabama is guaranteed a trip to Atlanta for the first time since 2009. If Alabama wins out, it will play for its second national title in as many years.

What it means for LSU: The Tigers' BCS national title hopes are all but gone, but there's still some hope in Baton Rouge that LSU can still sneak into the Sugar Bowl. If the Tigers win out, they could still be in position to play in New Orleans in January. This was also a big step for Mettenberger, who came into the game as one of the SEC's most scrutinized quarterbacks but grew tremendously against the nation's No. 1 defense.

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