8:00 PM ET, November 3, 2012
Tiger Stadium, BATON ROUGE, LA
BATON ROUGE, La. -- While a small batch of Alabama fans celebrated behind the end zone at Tiger Stadium, AJ McCarron found his parents at the edge of the stands. He lunged into their arms, his watery-eyed father furiously rubbing his son's hair.
McCarron had vowed he wouldn't let his team lose to LSU in the game of the year.
The Crimson Tide quarterback was true to his word.
With Alabama's hopes of a second straight national title slipping away, McCarron shook off a dismal second half and guided his team right down the field. He read an LSU blitz and flipped a screen pass to T.J. Yeldon, who did the rest on a 28-yard touchdown with 51 seconds remaining that gave the top-ranked Tide a 21-17 victory over No. 5 LSU.
Talk about a Saturday night stunner in Death Valley.
"It was like clockwork," McCarron said. "The whole offense just looked at each other and you could just tell in everybody's eyes it was like, 'We do this every Thursday, so what's the difference here?' "
Alabama (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) now has a clear path to the league championship game in Atlanta, and remains solidly on course to defend its national title in Miami.
"There's just so many emotions running through me," McCarron said. "Sometimes it can be a lot of pressure playing here at this university, especially with all the tradition of winning and everything. Just coming back and winning a game like that, and like coach (Nick) Saban said, it might be known as 'The Drive' for the history of Alabama. And just to be a part of it with my teammates was just truly a blessing."
This one was a struggle. Led by embattled quarterback Zach Mettenberger, LSU (7-2, 3-2) fought back from a 14-3 halftime deficit with an offensive performance that was nothing like their dismal showing against the Tide in last season's BCS Championship Game.
Freshman Jeremy Hill scored on a 1-yard run late in the third quarter, LSU's first TD against Alabama since 2010 -- a span of nearly three full games. Then Mettenberger threw perhaps the best pass of his LSU career, hooking up with Jarvis Landry on a 14-yard touchdown that put the Tigers ahead 17-14 with just under 13 minutes remaining.
LSU was on the verge of putting the game away, driving into Alabama territory and forcing Saban to call his remaining timeouts. But Drew Alleman missed a 38-yard field goal, and McCarron took over from there.
He completed three straight passes to put Alabama in scoring position. Then, when LSU brought a corner blitz, he got the ball away quickly to Yeldon. The freshman running back broke one tackle and faked out another defender, racing to the end zone for the winning score.
McCarron Carries The Weight
Alabama hadn't trailed in any game all season entering Saturday, but when quarterback AJ McCarron found his team behind, he played at his best.
|3rd down Comp-Att||2-3||0-4|
-- ESPN Stats & Information
"I'm really, really pleased with that last drive," Saban said. "That's something I'll never forget."
Before the final possession, McCarron was 1 of 7 for 0 yards in the second half. All was forgiven when he guided the Crimson Tide on the lightning-quick 72-yard drive, connecting with Kevin Norwood on three straight passes covering 18, 15 and 11 yards against an LSU defense that was giving some room short. McCarron took one shot at the end zone, the ball falling to the turf when both the receiver and the defender fell down.
But, with a much shorter throw, he hit paydirt on the very next play.
Mettenberger, who had gotten much of the blame for LSU's lackluster offense, suddenly put it all together for the Tigers in the second half. But LSU couldn't overcome the nation's top-ranked team and some dubious calls by coach Les Miles.
The Mad Hatter kept reaching into his bag of tricks -- and kept getting burned. A fake field goal was stuffed. An onside kick didn't work. And going for it on fourth down in Alabama territory didn't work out either.
"I wish I had a couple of my calls back," Miles said. "That's the way it goes."
Mettenberger nearly bailed out his coach. He finished 24 of 35 for a career-best 298 yards, with 14 of those completions for 202 yards coming over the final two quarters. Landry had eight catches for 76 yards, and Hill rushed for 107 yards and a third-quarter touchdown that got LSU back in the game.
Alabama has not been behind in the fourth quarter since 2010, and sure didn't have much experience at playing with a deficit in 2012. The Tide arrived in Baton Rouge having trailed for a grand total of 15 seconds this season -- one play against Mississippi -- and when McCarron took off on a 9-yard touchdown run with just 11 seconds left in the first half it looked like a repeat of last January's national championship game.
But LSU was determined not to turn in another embarrassing performance like the one in the Superdome, when a perfect season ended with a dismal 21-0 loss to the Crimson Tide. The Tigers managed only 92 yards and five first downs in that game; this time, they put up 435 yards and 17 first downs against the nation's top-ranked defense.
It still wasn't enough.
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"I told the players they would have to overcome a lot of adversity to win a game here," Saban said. "Things went bad. The momentum changed. But they kept their poise, kept playing, kept competing. I've never been prouder of as bunch of guys."
Alleman's 38-yard field goal gave LSU an early lead, but Alabama began to impose its will in the second period. McCarron completed four straight passes, Yeldon rushed five times for 40 yards and Eddie Lacy capped an 11-play, 92-yard drive by running it in from the 7.
McCarron finished 14 of 27 for 165 yards and has still yet to throw an interception this season. Lacy finished with 83 yards rushing, while Yeldon had 76.
LSU actually moved the ball rather effectively through much of the first half, but some silly blunders and questionable calls cost the Tigers dearly.
After Alabama's Cyrus Jones bobbled away a bouncing punt, Jerqwinick Sandolph recovered for LSU at the Tide 32. With the record Tiger Stadium crowd of 93,374 in a frenzy, Hill quickly ripped off a 19-yard run, but fullback J.C. Copeland picked up a needless personal foul when he plowed into an Alabama player after the play was over.
The officials stepped off 15 yards the other way, and LSU's drive imploded. LSU lined up for a 47-yard field goal attempt on fourth-and-12, but Miles decided to try one of his trademark gambles.
Brad Wing, the holder, took the snap and tossed a short pass to Alleman. Miles was counting on his 5-foot-11, 183-pound kicker to outrun the defense, which he's done before, but the Crimson Tide wasn't fooled at all. Alleman was dragged down for a 2-yard loss, preserving a 7-3 lead.
Getting the ball back with just over a minute remaining in the half, Alabama moved quickly down the field for a touchdown that many thought had broken LSU's back.
Norwood hauled in an 8-yard pass and stepped out of bounds with 16 seconds left. McCarron dropped back into the pocket and spotted a huge hole right up the middle. The junior never even hesitated, taking off on 9-yard touchdown run without being touched.
After that big play, McCarron was largely overshadowed in the second half.
Until the end.
Call it The Drive, Alabama style.
"I didn't doubt it one bit at all," McCarron said. "I just love moments like that. I like having the ball in pressure situations. When you've got teammates like I have, it makes your job easy."
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... AJ McCarron hit RB T.J. Yeldon with a screen pass that Yeldon took to the house to give the Tide a 21-17 lead with 51 seconds left.
Gameball goes to... Yeldon. Including scoring the game-winning touchdown, he finished with 76 yards on 11 carries for an average of 6.9 yards per attempt.
Stat of the game... 4 of 5. McCarron connected on 4 of 5 passes on Alabama's final drive. Before that drive, McCarron was only 1 of 7 on passes in the second half.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||1-9||10-20|
|4th Down Conversions||0-0||0-2|
|FG||06:11||Drew Alleman 38 Yd||0||3|
|TD||08:17||Eddie Lacy 7 Yd Run (Jeremy Shelley Kick)||7||3|
|TD||00:11||AJ McCarron 9 Yd Run (Jeremy Shelley Kick)||14||3|
|TD||03:35||Jeremy Hill 1 Yd Run (Drew Alleman Kick)||14||10|
|TD||12:58||Jarvis Landry 14 Yd Pass From Zach Mettenberger (Drew Alleman Kick)||14||17|
|TD||00:51||T.J. Yeldon 28 Yd Pass From AJ McCarron (Jeremy Shelley Kick)||21||17|
Alabama averaged 6.6 yards per rush against LSU on Saturday, the highest average allowed by the Tigers since Auburn averaged 8.5 on Oct. 23, 2010. The Tide gained 116 of their 166 rushing yards before contact, including 11 runs in which they were not contacted until at least five yards past the line of scrimmage. LSU had allowed 134 yards before contact in its first four SEC games combined.[+]
LSU Rush Defense
Alabama completed all five of its screen passes for 65 yards Saturday against LSU, including T.J. Yeldon's 28-yard game-winning touchdown. It was the first touchdown and the longest play allowed by LSU on a screen pass this season. The Tide's five completions and 65 yards on screen passes were their most in a game this season.[+]
LSU Defense vs Screen Passes
Entering Saturday, Alabama was the only FBS team that had not run a play when trailing this season. The last time AJ McCarron threw a pass with the Tide behind was in the first quarter against Tennessee on Oct. 22, 2011. McCarron was up to the challenge Saturday, completing 10-of-16 passes with Alabama behind, including 4-of-5 passes on the Tide's final drive.[+]
AJ McCarron by Score Differential
The last time Alabama trailed a game in the 4th quarter was November 26, 2010 vs Auburn (Lost 28-27). The last 3 times Alabama has trailed in the 4th Quarter they have lost.[+]
Alabama Trailing in the 4th Quarter - Last 3 Occurrences
LSU scored a TD in the 3rd quarter against Alabama. It's LSU's first TD in its last 11 quarters (not even counting OT) of football played against Alabama.
AJ McCarron: 3rd career Rush TD, 1st this season. He entered the game with -51 rushing yards on the season.
ESPN Stats & Information