BATON ROUGE — For 28 of the final 30 minutes of Saturday night’s electric SEC West showdown, No. 5 LSU did whatever it wanted to against No. 1 Alabama.
But those two other minutes meant everything.
Alabama drove 72 yards in just 43 seconds and scored the game-winning touchdown when quarterback A.J. McCarron hit freshman T.J. Yeldon for a 28-yard touchdown on a screen pass
“Our football team came in here to play to win,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “We were not going to go timidly into the game. We went after it. I thought we played extremely hard.”
To that point, LSU’s defense had held Alabama to just 49 yards in the second half. McCarron hadn’t completed a pass and the Crimson Tide hadn’t converted a third down.
And LSU had scored its first two touchdowns against the Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC) since 2010 thanks to quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who went 24 of 35 for 298 yards and hit every big pass he needed to in the final two quarters.
“Me and the receivers and the offense knew we were fully capable of that all year,” Mettenberger said. “Finally things were clicking for us. As well as I played, I would trade under 50 percent and three interceptions for a win tonight.”
Against Alabama, the special teams failed. Drew Alleman missed two field goals, including a 45-yarder late in the fourth quarter that gave the Crimson Tide the ball back at its own 28 with 1 minute, 34 seconds to go in the game.
Until the final drive, LSU (7-2, 3-2) had held Alabama to just 259 yards. But the Crimson Tide finished with 331 total yards with McCarron ending the night with 165 yards and the touchdown on 14 of 27 passing.
The Tigers had their chances. Twice in the final 12 minutes they drove inside the Alabama 30-yard line only to be turned away from points.
First, on fourth-and-one from the 24, LSU’s Les Miles called for running back Spencer Ware to take a direct snap. But he was stopped at the line of scrimmage.
One series later, the Tigers drove to the Crimson Tide’s 28. But on fourth-and-six, Alleman pushed the 45-yard field goal wide left.
That’s when McCarron and the Alabama offense took over, giving the Tide the lead after trailing in a second half for the first time in two years.
“Our guys don’t really look at the scoreboard,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said, before later adding, “I told our guys that we’re going to have to keep fighting in this game and keep punching until we knock them out.”
McCarron went to receiver Kevin Norwood three straight times along the boundary for 44 yards before he overthrew him in the end zone.
On the very next play, LSU’s pass rush took off upfield after McCarron, who deftly delivered the pass to Yeldon, whose third-quarter fumble led to the Tigers’ lead-taking fourth-quarter touchdown.
The freshman did the rest, weaving through the open field and into the end zone for the heart-breaking points and the win.
“I pretty much suspected it would be a screen,” LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. “I was echoing the call, ‘Screen, screen, screen!’ Not picking up the back when he flared out was something that we worked on and I guess you get caught in the game, you lose focus on your responsibility.”
But with 45 seconds left, the Tigers couldn’t gain anymore yards, the game ending on a sack of Mettenberger to send the Alabama players streaming onto the field.
“For us, we wanted to close off that last drive,” offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk said, referring to the series that ended in the missed field 45-yard field goal. “It’s still killing me that we didn’t finish that last drive getting the first down when we needed it. To give the ball back to Alabama’s offense with the things that they are capable of doing on that last drive, I think those are the kind of things they’ve been doing all year long.”
LSU finished with 435 total yards, including 139 on the ground. Jeremy Hill led the way with 107 yards and a score running.
The Tigers took a 3-0 lead on a 38-yard Alleman field goal. Minutes later, Alabama took a 7-3 lead when Louisiana native Eddie Lacey darted into the end zone from seven yards out.
Alabama’s first mistake came when Cyrus Jones muffed a punt and the Tigers’ Jerqwinick Sandolph recovered at the Alabama 32. But after a series of plays could only get the Tigers to the 30, Miles sent out the field goal team on fourth-and-12, only to fake the field goal. Alabama snuffed it out and took over on downs.
Two series later, the Tigers again were held to a field goal attempt inside Alabama territory. While Miles didn’t fake this attempt, the result was the same – no points after Alleman’s 54-yard attempt was no good.
The Crimson Tide made LSU pay. With 1:08 to play in the first half, Alabama used just 57 seconds to drive 63 yards and push its lead to 14-3 at the break when McCarron easily walked into the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown scamper.
LSU’s defense opened the second half with two straight stops and the offense finally put together the drive it needed. Mettenberger went 3-for-3 for 35 yards, LSU converted four third downs and the Tigers scored their first touchdown against Alabama since 2010 on a Hill 1-yard plunge.
Suddenly, LSU, and Tiger Stadium, was back in the game, the Tigers down 14-10.
Minutes later, both would be downright delirious. After Alabama had worked its way to the LSU 10 following a failed Tigers’ onside kick, Crimson Tide freshman running back T.J. Yeldon fumbled the handoff from McCarron.
LSU’s Sam Montgomery recovered and Mettenberger took over. The quarterback threw for 82 yards on the lead-taking 90-yard scoring drive. His best pass was the last on the drive, a high back-shoulder fade to receiver Jarvis Landry, who caught the ball over Alabama cornerback Deion Belue. The catch gave LSU a 17-14 lead with 12:58 to play, setting up the wild finish.
"Well, we held them for the most part," LSU safety Eric Reid said. "It just goes to show you it takes one error for you to lose the game. It's so unfortunate for it to happen to us tonight."