For the Alabama Crimson Tide and head coach Nick Saban, no need to book hotel rooms for Glendale, Arizona and the national title game in Janaury.
While it doesn’t often happen, Saban got outcoached by LSU’s Les Miles Saturday afternoon in Death Valley in front of nearly 93,000 fans, leading to a 24-21 victory for LSU.
The loss not only ended No. 5 ranked ’Bama’s hopes of defending its national championship, but likely prevents them from defending their SEC title from a year ago too.
‘Bama held a slim 14-10 lead going into the fourth quarter, but could not stop LSU down the stretch defensively, as the Tigers aveneged a pair of defeats to the Crimson Tide the last two years.
“(LSU) really showed great resiliency in the second half,” said Saban. “They made a lot of plays, a lot of big plays, which was certainly the difference in the game.”
Alabama (7-2, 5-2) used a 73-yard touchdown drive to take a 14-10 lead on Mark Ingram’s five-yard touchdown run with 2:30 remaining in the third quarter, but a key fourth quarter fumble by QB Greg McElroy (21-for-34, 233 yards, 2 TD’s, 1 INT) allowed LSU to take control of the game. Ingram finished the game with 97 yards on the ground on 21 carries.
Trailing 14-13 early in the fourth quarter, LSU’s defense stuffed three Alabama plays and forced a punt, with the Tigers then marching down the field on a 77-yard scoring march.
LSU scored on its first three possessions of the fourth quarter to grab a 24-14 lead before a nine-yard McElroy to Julio Jones touchdown pass cut it to 24-21 at the 3:23 mark of the fourth quarter.
‘Bama got the ball back with under a minute to go, but was not able to advance it down the field in order to try a potential game-tying field goal, leaving the Crimson Tide on the outside looking in at this year’s national title game.
While McElroy entered this season not having lost a game he started since his junior high school days, he now has two losses this fall. It was his fumble in the fourth quarter on the ‘Bama side of the field that allowed LSU to go up 24-14 with 5:34 remaining in the game.
Let it be known, though, it wasn’t just McElroy’s inability to execute at times that doomed the Tide. ‘Bama’s defense was unable at key times to get the stop it needed to end drives consistently.
On the day, sophomore linebacker Dont’a Hightower tallied a team-high 10 tackles for the Tide, freshman linebacker C.J. Moseley added nine tackles, while junior defensive lineman Josh Chapman recorded a career-high eight tackles as well as his first sack of the season.
The bottom line was that LSU’s Miles seemed to be one step ahead of Saban much of the day.
The defining play of the contest was a 23-yard run by tight end Deangelo Peterson on a fourth-and-1 play from the Alabama 26 in the fourth quarter. The Tigers pitched it twice with Peterson taking the second toss on a misdirection play to the left side all the way down to the Alabama 3.
LSU punched the ball across the goal line and added a two-point conversion pass to take the lead for good at 21-14.
While it may not have gone in ‘Bama’s favor, Saban elected not to challenge what looked like a possible fumble on the run prior to the next play that was a touchdown.
Was it worth potentially losing a timeout and challenging the call? It is easy to second guess, but if ‘Bama gets the call in its favor, LSU doesn’t get another chance to score.
Earlier in the game, the Tigers also converted a fake field goal, then essentially iced the game with a 47-yard pass from QB Jarrett Lee to Rueben Randle on a third-and-13 play from their own 20.
Yes, the players and not Saban or defensive coach Kirby Smart have to make the plays on the field. That being said, Saban and Smart’s inability to dial up the right defensive calls at the right time Saturday oftentimes proved deadly.
So deadly that Alabama is now in danger of not even securing a BCS bowl game.
For Alabama, it will be interesting to see if it comes out with intensity when it hosts Mississippi State next Saturday (6:15 p.m. CT) or feels like its season ended this Saturday in Death Valley.
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Written by Dave Thomas