In the most hyped matchups of the 2012 college football season, Alabama squeaked by LSU with a thrilling 21-17 victory.
The Crimson Tide appeared to be in control when it took a 14-3 lead into halftime, and it looked like the Tide's defense would lead its team to victory.
But the Tigers came roaring out of the locker room to start the third quarter and clamped down on A.J. McCarron and the Alabama offense, refusing to allow them to move the ball. Zach Mettenberger, who had come under fire this season for his play, had the performance of his career and made enough plays to give LSU a slim lead; the team held this advantage until the final minute of the game.
Then, the No. 1 team in the country had one last drive in it, and T.J. Yeldon took a screen pass 28 yards for a touchdown to put the Tide ahead with 51 seconds remaining. This fantastic finish was a fitting end to one of the finest games of the season.
CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd noted that the atmosphere in Death Valley would once again be a spectacle.
Another Tiger Stadium record, 93, 374— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) November 4, 2012
Sporting News' Matt Hayes took to Twitter to add that the talent, not just the atmosphere, would make this an incredible contest.
When Bama on offense/ LSu defense, look at lines of scrimmage. Lotta NFL players on both sides.— Matt Hayes(@Matt_HayesSN) November 4, 2012
With a serious lack of offense to start this matchup, Grantland's Bill Barnwell resorted to coming up with creative prop bets.
Anyone have a line on LSU punts vs. points scored tonight?— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) November 4, 2012
But the action heated up later in the game, and Zach Mettenberger continued to look like a completely different player. This caused CBS Sports' Doug Gottlieb to wonder if the LSU quarterback was toying with fans up until this point.
Was Mettenberger pulling a rope a dope until now?— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) November 4, 2012
ESPN SEC noted that the nation's best defense had yet to face a quarterback with Mettenberger's talent, and his strong arm exposed hidden flaws.
Privately, Alabama was worried about its secondary. We see why. Tide hadn't been tested by anybody who could throw the ball.#BAMAvsLSU— ESPN_SEC (@ESPN_SEC) November 4, 2012
But champions tend to emerge in games like this, and Bryan Fischer saw the bigger picture in A.J. McCarron's finish to this game.
Did AJ McCarron just deliver a Heisman moment?— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) November 4, 2012
A.J. McCarron, Alabama: A-
While the stats certainly do not jump off the page for McCarron, he once again did exactly what he needed to do in order to allow the Alabama defense to win the game. He finished with 165 passing yards, one touchdown through the air and one on the ground.
For McCarron, avoiding mistakes is significantly more important than making plays, and he made a rare error in this game with a poor handoff that resulted in a fumble. This gave LSU a significant amount of momentum, but McCarron stole it all back with an amazing game-winning drive.
Zach Mettenberger, LSU: A-
While McCarron had been flawless this season, Mettenberger had been frustrating. But in this game, the big-armed junior was on top of his game. He was accurate with his throws and calm in the pocket, going 24-of-35 for 298 yards and a touchdown.
Mettenberger elevated his performance in the most important game of the year, and he deserves a significant amount of credit. This was exactly what LSU needed out of Mettenberger tonight, and he is unfortunate not to have earned a victory.
Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: B+
The Tide's two running backs combined for 159 yards on 22 carries and had a productive day. Unfortunately, a surge by LSU forced Alabama to play from behind and limited the effectiveness of the running game.
The offense stalled in the second half and, ultimately, all of the team's playmakers share the blame for this. But one play in particular will stand out from this contest, and Yeldon deserves credit for that game-winning touchdown.
Jeremy Hill, LSU: B+
Hill took on workhorse duties in this game, and his consistent play throughout the game opened up the game for Mettenberger and the passing game. He finished with 107 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown.
Eclipsing 100 yards against the Tide's defense is an incredibly impressive accomplishment, and the Tigers would not have had success on offense without Hill's effort.
LSU Defense: A-
The Tigers defense clamped down in the second half and was the reason the team very nearly pulled off a massive upset. This group cannot be faulted for its performance and was simply beaten by a remarkable team.
This was a fantastic game of football, and every player that took part in it deserves to recognized for his fine performance. LSU's defense put forth an admirable effort and came up just short.
Alabama will retain their No. 1 ranking and just took a giant step toward repeating as national champions. They will take on Texas A&M next week.
LSU likely won't take a massive hit in the BCS Standings after this loss, but with two losses on their record, their national championship hopes are over. The Tigers face Mississippi State next Saturday.