“That last drive was something I’ll never forget,” a relieved Alabama coach Nick Saban said after the game. “The offense did a great job of executing it.”
With 1:34 remaining in the fourth quarter in Death Valley, it looked like Alabama had all but read LSU’s script of a perfectly written upset. An ultimate shot at a national championship hung in the balance for the SEC and sat firmly upon the shoulders of AJ McCarron. And to answer the enormous call after going 1 for 7 for 7 yards in the second half, McCarron orchestrated a five-play, 72-yard drive that will be gushed about for many years in Tuscaloosa. That’s why we knew he would be the difference in this football game. He’d been there, done that. On a night where he was outplayed by a middle-of-the-road quarterback in Zach Mettenberger, McCarron had ice water in his veins for the final two minutes. Ultimately, it proved to be the difference.
We had three keys to an LSU upset coming into the game – 1. The Tigers had to win the turnover battle, 2. Zach Mettenberger had to have his best game passing the ball, and 3. Les Miles had to reach into his bag of tricks and dial up some plays outside of his recent conservative style. He did that, but none of them worked, finishing 0-3 on a fake field goal, onside kick and fourth-down conversion attempt in field goal range up three points. All of the ingredients to an LSU upset was there, but the Tide just refused to lose.
Mettenberger had the best game of his career by far, completing 24 of 35 passes for 298 yards and one touchdown. He was on the mark with precision and accuracy the entire game and was the best quarterback on the field. Mett looked comfortable from the no huddle get-go. He led LSU on four drives of eight-plus plays in the game, compared to McCarron, who led Alabama on one drive of more than eight plays. In addition, Mett led LSU to convert 10 of 20 third downs. Les Miles’ no-huddle game plan starting with quick throws for Mett gave him confidence early.
LSU also won the turnover battle 2-0, as Alabama lost two fumbles – one by TJ Yeldon and the other by Cyrus Jones when he muffed a punt. LSU drove the field and scored on a Mettenberger touchdown pass after the Yeldon fumble but came up empty after Jones’ fumble due to JC Copeland’s personal foul penalty. What a selfish play.
Lastly, Les Miles will take heat for this game, namely his overly aggressive approach and bone-headed in-game decision making. But had Miles converted at least two of the three Mad Hatter plays – the fourth down and onside kick – we would be singing his praises today. He knew he had to be aggressive after being so conservative through the first nine weeks. However, I think he got too caught up in his alternate ego. I love Miles going for it on fourth down but just didn’t love that Spencer Ware lined up under center and not out of the Wildcat. I love the onside kick. Perfect time to pull that out, but it just didn’t work out his way. The fake field goal was inexcusable on 4th and 12. He should have taken the points there.
LSU dominated the box score, too. The Tigers had the edge in total offense (435 to the Tide’s 331), passing (296 to 165), third downs (50% to 11%), time of possession (39:15 to 20:45) and won the turnover battle 2-0.
However, the resiliency Alabama showed on their last drive, and the cohesion and belief as a unit on offense – especially McCarron – to hold it together and refuse to lose is why the Tide are breathing a sigh of relief.
To be a championship-caliber team, you have to have championship quarterback play. McCarron sets this team apart. That’s why this team is bound for another national championship because of the leadership of the quarterback. Big-time players make massive plays when they have to. McCarron did just that to send Death Valley out quietly and hung over.
On a night where LSU wrote the perfect upset script, Alabama was just too resilient in the end.
Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE