LSU clutch plays, Bama mistakes make difference
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)
The Game of the Century turned into a game of opportunities missed and taken.
Beyond all of Alabama's stalled drives and four failed field goals, No. 1 LSU made the kind of plays that can sometimes supply the sliver of difference needed to continue on the path to a national title.
The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide didn't in that 9-6 overtime defeat in a 1-versus-2 matchup Saturday night.
''That was the difference in the game,'' Tide coach Nick Saban said. ''We had the ball inside the 30-yard line how many times? And didn't get but six points. That's the difference in the game.''
Counting overtime, the Tide had more possessions inside LSU's 35-yard line (seven) than points.
LSU (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) came up with clutch plays when it needed them, courtesy of everyone from a ball-hawking secondary to punter Brad Wing. The margin was close enough that Alabama only dropped two spots in the rankings and can still cling to hopes of a national title game rematch.
Drew Alleman sealed it with a 25-yard kick in overtime after the Tide failed to score.
If just about every national championship team has one great escape, this might have been LSU's. Last year, it was Auburn's rally from 24-0 down to beat the Tide; two years ago Alabama survived a scare from Tennessee with two blocked field goals in the fourth quarter.
A handful of plays made the difference in a game that was as evenly matched as advertised.
-The pick. Wide receiver Marquis Maze's pass after taking the direct snap appeared to settle into the arms of tight end Michael Williams at the goal line four minutes into the fourth quarter. Safety Eric Reid not only raced to catch up with Williams but wrestled the ball away as the 6-foot-6, 269-pounder fell backward.
''It was big time,'' said Tigers cornerback Morris Claiborne, whose own pick set up the tying field goal a few minutes earlier. ''He's been on the sideline for the longest time saying he was going to make a play, and he went out and made a play for us.''
-Wing and a prayer. Australian punter Brad Wing took away Alabama's field position edge after a subsequent defensive stand. The punt sailed over Maze's head and went an extra 20 yards - totaling 73. It appeared Maze's gimpy right ankle affected his ability to track the ball down, but he said it hit a wire for one of the TV cameras.
Wing twice buried the Tide inside its 5 with earlier kicks.
''He's a tremendous weapon,'' LSU coach Les Miles said. ''When you play field position, and you have a great defense, there's a tremendous opportunity for your team.''
-The flag. The Tide had a potentially game-changing interception in a 3-3 game in the third quarter. Mark Barron returned an interception inside LSU's 5-yard line, but nose guard Josh Chapman was flagged for a block in the back - linebacker Courtney Upshaw appeared to have another one a moment later. Instead of its deepest penetration of the game, Alabama started from the 35 and went nowhere.
Cade Foster, who missed three other tries, booted a 46-yard field goal.
Claiborne answered with a pick and long return of his own - with no flags - that set up the tying field goal after a Tide defensive stand.
''We made a few mistakes, but we made less than they did, and they're a very good team,'' LSU guard Will Blackwell said. ''I hope we don't have to play them again.''
Both teams left the game with potential issues.
LSU's two-man quarterback machine had a change in pecking order, at least for this game. Jordan Jefferson took over when starter Jarrett Lee threw his second interception after getting picked off just once in the first eight games.
Jefferson passed for only 67 yards but also ran for 43 and had an 18-yarder on LSU's final drive of regulation.
Lee was 3 of 7 for 24 yards. Could there be a quarterback controversy brewing in November for the national championship front-runner? Not necessarily. The two-quarterback system hasn't been a problem for the team so far.
''We've gotten this far with two quarterbacks, and (Lee has) made a tremendous contribution and will continue to be a key contributor,'' Miles said.
Alabama needs to resolve kicking issues before the next close game. Jeremy Shelley has made 12 of 15 field goal attempts but his long is 37 yards. Foster, who typically handles the longer kicks, is 2 of 7.
Saban said his postgame locker room talk dealt with missed opportunities - and reacting well to the season's first loss. The Tide plays at Mississippi State on Saturday.
''I said, `We need to learn from this and we need to make a commitment to the rest of the season in terms of the kind of football team we want to be and the way we want to respond to what happened. You guys have put too much in it. You've got too much character, too much class, too much leadership here not to finish this season the right way.'
''They're all in,'' Saban said.