LSU and their “Mad Hatter” Head Coach Les Miles did not disappoint the College Football world this weekend. Not because they couldn’t knock off Alabama, but because they pulled out every trick in the book and pushed the Tide to the brink, leaving no doubt that LSU doesn’t belong in the National Title picture this year, and Alabama does (for now).
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It seemed as though LSU was just a step too early all night against Alabama. Throughout the first half, they drove the ball at-will against Alabama but came away, time and again, with no points. Alabama, meanwhile, was efficient throughout the first half, scoring two touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 14-3 lead into halftime. On the night McCarron completed 24 of 35 passes for a touchdown and RB Lacy added 83 yards on 11 carries
Both offenses did a good job of moving the ball between the twenties all night and the defenses, for the most part, kept them out of scoring chances. The first hint of how the night would go for the Tigers came in the second quarter after Alabama had taken a 7-3 lead on a 7-yard touchdown run by Lacy. LSU drove down the field following that touchdown and reached the Alabama 30. Les Miles called a fake field goal on the 47-yard attempt and holder Brad Wing tossed a pass to Alleman who was tackled for a 2-yard loss. When they lined up for a field goal it seemed improbable in the moment. Perhaps a pooch punt would have been a better choice at the time.
On their second possession of the third quarter, the Tigers began their comeback which would eventually wrestle control of the game, as Mettenberger went 3-3 on the 13-play, 58-yard drive that ended with Hill diving into the end zone from the one. On the drive, LSU seemed to be bullying Alabama up front and running up the middle at will against Alabama. On the ensuing kickoff, the Mad Hatter rose again and called an onside kick. The trick failed, as the kicker touched the ball a half step too soon and gave Alabama the ball in terrific field position on the LSU side. Once again, the timing of this call felt a bit rushed at the time. An onside kick in the third quarter of this type of game, particularly when your defense is playing so well, seemed a bit desperate.
The LSU defense, and Alabama running back Yeldon, bailed out Les Miles for this ill-timed decision by turning the ball back over to the LSU offense after the Tide had driven down to the 10-yard line, threatening to put the game out of reach. Once again, the Mad Hatter seemed to be a step ahead of his rival on the other sideline, Nick Saban. Could Miles have anticipated that Alabama would fumble the ball in the red zone, thus making his gamble worth the risk?
Mettenberger responded to the opportunity by guiding the Tigers back down the field, highlighted by passes of 42 and 23 yards to set up a 14-yard fade pass in the corner of the end zone to WR Landry. Mettenberger was outstanding on the night and displayed the type of play from an LSU quarterback that was previously unthinkable on this type of stage. He hit 3rd down pass after 3rd down pass, keeping the Alabama defense off balance all night as the Tigers continually pounded their way down the field, primarily behind their Freshman duo at Right Guard and Tackle (Bull and Dozer, respectively).
At this point in the game, Alabama seemed beat, as Saban continually looked to the scoreboard (or the heavens?) for answers to what Miles and the LSU Tigers were throwing at his team. The Tide went three and out on their next two possessions giving over full momentum of the game to the Tigers in the final frame. The Tigers responded by driving down to the Alabama 24-yard line. Facing a fourth and one, Miles decided to take another gamble and go for it only to get stuffed by the Alabama front line. In retrospect, I am sure that Miles feels as though he should have taken the points at this juncture of the game. It was obvious that he was riding high on his team’s confidence and momentum and was looking for that “kill shot”.
After getting the ball back from another three and out by the Tide offense, LSU began a methodical march that seemed certain to end the game and send the Tide back to Tuscaloosa short of their goal of winning the SEC West for the second straight year. The drive started brilliantly as Jeremy Hill gained yards on first and second down run plays setting up a 3rd and 6. Mettenberger then coolly threw an out pattern to the sideline to pick up the first down and the clock continued to roll. On the second set of down, Hill again gained four yards on first and second down runs to set up a 3rd and 6. Then Mettenberger again with the conversion; kept the drive and the clock rolling. At this point they were sitting at midfield with the clock ticking under three minutes to go. Over 90 thousand fans along with Nick Saban were calculating when he would have to use his two time outs in a futile attempt to save time on the off chance LSU would misfire. To this point, it seemed unlikely that Alabama would be able to stop Hill or get to Mettenberger. Then, following another 2-yard run by Hill up the middle on first down, Miles inexplicably called a passing play on second down.
The pass was a success and a terrific grab on the sideline by the LSU wide receiver, but it would ultimately speed up the timing of the drive and give Saban and Alabama QB McCarron a shot at the end to win; and a shot at the end to win was all they needed. With the field shrunken in size without any time taken off the clock, the game flipped to the advantage of Saban and his red zone defense. The Tide defense was able to rise up and stuff the Tigers to set up a field goal opportunity. LSU kicker Alleman missed the 45-yard field goal, but more importantly left 1:34 on the clock.
The field goal in this instance was mostly irrelevant. It would have forced Alabama to go the length of the field for a TD to win the game but, as we would find out, they were able to do that anyway with the time left on the clock. The Tigers were moving the ball successfully on the ground in the middle of the field. Had they continued to move as they had been successfully, the worst case scenario would have been that they would have been stuffed at mid field, Saban would have used his two time outs to save clock time, and LSU would have punted Alabama deep and made them drive the field for a score to tie or win. At best, as they had been moving the ball successfully, Saban would have felt compelled to call his second time out on the second down run play, which was actually that long sideline pass which stopped the clock for him. LSU would have been one first down away from icing the game away at that point with Alabama only having one time out left to stop the clock and less than 3 minutes to play.
Photo Credit: Bill Haber/AP Photo
But it would not be, as McCarron and Alabama got one last chance with 1:34 left from their own 28-yard line. They only needed 43 of those ticks to move the ball down on three passes to Kevin Norwood from McCarron before he found Yeldon on a screen pass who was able to scamper 28 yards into the end zone. Before that drive, McCarron had only completed 1 pass on 7 attempts as the LSU defense stifled him for nearly 30 minutes. Mettenberger and the Tigers had a chance to answer, but a sack by Damion Square ended the Tiger threat and the game. And once again, Miles found himself trumped by Saban.