Friday, December 14, 2012
Top 5 moments: The Drive
By David Helman
It's hard to say about a 10-2 season, but LSU's 2012 campaign is going to be remembered for missed opportunities. The Tigers were top contenders for a national championship and instead finished second in the SEC West and were relegated to the Chick fil-A Bowl. It's not necessarily fair, but that's the level LSU football has reached during the tenure of Les Miles.
So it's only fitting that the most memorable moment of 2012 was a disappointment -- one in which the Tigers let one of the biggest wins of Miles' tenure slip away in just less than a minute of gameplay.
A Herculean, 298-yard night from Zach Mettenberger, coupled with a defensive performance that limited Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron to 1-of-7 passing in the second half, had lifted LSU to a 17-14 lead against the No. 1 Crimson Tide with 1:34 remaining in regulation. McCarron wasn't the only member of the Alabama offense to suffer in the second half of a classic, as freshman tailback T.J. Yeldon fumbled at the end of the third quarter to set LSU up to take the lead on a 90-yard touchdown drive.
None of that mattered when McCarron took over at his own 28-yard line after a missed LSU field goal. The junior, who burned the Tigers in the 2011 BCS Championship Game, guided the Crimson Tide effortlessly compared to his struggles from earlier in the game. McCarron found junior receiver Kevin Norwood three times in a row for gains of 18, 15 and 11, respectively. LSU fans will forever bemoan defensive coordinator John Chavis' conservative defensive gameplan to allow such easy completions, especially given the way the Tigers had limited McCarron to just 93 passing yards before the final drive.
The completions to Norwood set Alabama up on the Tigers' 28-yard line, and the rest is history. LSU freshman cornerback Jalen Mills tore in from the near sideline on a 2nd-and-10 blitz. McCarron fired a short screen pass to Yeldon right in the gap created by the blitz, and after the freshman dodged a tackle by linebacker Kevin Minter, he was off to the end zone and a 21-17 Alabama lead.
It took LSU the better part of a half of football to overcome a 14-3 halftime deficit. Even worse, the Tigers had two chances to seal the deal on a crucial victory, but they were stuffed on a 4th-and-1 attempt, and Drew Alleman's 45-yard field goal attempt missed just before McCarron took the field.
In just five plays, McCarron and the Tide erased all of that progress. LSU's last-minute drive fell well short, and Alabama earned the win. Had LSU held on, it would have grabbed a second consecutive SEC West championship and been alive in the national title discussion.
Which is why all conversations about LSU's missed opportunities in 2012 will begin and end with "The Drive."