Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide survived a scare from rival LSU and earned a thrilling 21-17 comeback victory.
It took 94 seconds to rewrite history on a Saturday night in Death Valley.
Trailing 17-14 with 1:34 remaining and no timeouts left, Alabama snatched victory from the jaws of defeat—and with that, they dealt another crushing blow to rival LSU in its heart-stopping 21-17 win.
For a majority of the fourth quarter, LSU had top-ranked Alabama on the ropes and down for the count, controlling the action while holding a three point lead and driving deep in Tide territory.
Starting with a missed Drew Alleman field goal (a twist of irony, considering the teams' regular season meeting last year), the offense shook out of its funk and into the annals of history with a five-play, 72-yard drive, culminating with T.J. Yeldon’s 28-yard touchdown reception.
Nick Saban’s club was outplayed by the rival Tigers, but the lessons are much easier to learn after a win that will likely shape the remainder of the season.
What can Tide fans take away from the team’s improbable victory?
Here are 10 things we learned from the Tide’s victory over LSU.
You could almost hear Saban’s teeth gnashing when Steve Spurrier’s comments on Alabama being able to beat an NFL team arose in the middle of last week (h/t, ESPN.com).
Perhaps another by-product of the Tide’s thrilling win over the Tigers is that it should put that debate to bed and help the Tide focus on the rest of its season.
In truth, LSU left the door open for Alabama one too many times.
However, it says a lot about the Tide’s character that they were able to find a way to win a game in which they played below average in a tough environment.
Alabama’s top-rated defense seemed to have an advantage against a struggling LSU offense that had failed to produce in any of its conference games to date.
Led by maligned quarterback Zach Mettenberger, the Tigers rolled up 435 yards against the Tide—easily the most given up by Alabama’s defense this season.
Mettenberger sliced up the secondary for 296 passing yards, while Tigers true freshman tailback Jeremy Hill rushed for 107 yards.
While much of the Tide’s performance can be attributed to taking LSU’s best shot, Saban and his troops clearly have some things to work on over final three weeks of the regular season.
Lost in the fourth-quarter heroics of the Tide’s win will be the clutch punting of junior Cody Mandell, who averaged 45 yards per boot in seven attempts against the Tigers.
With field position so important in big games, Mandell’s last punt—a bomb that traveled 55 yards and resulted in a fair catch by LSU’s Odell Beckham, Jr.—ensured LSU would have a long field to start its most important drive of the game.
If that punt had only traveled what his average was on the night, the narrative could be reading a little different for the Tide.
Taking into account how special teams cost the Tide in last season’s regular season meeting with LSU, Mandell played a huge role in reversing that trend this year.
Alabama has played at a high level all season long, despite contributions from several underclassmen and even true freshmen in some cases.
For the first time this season, the Tide faced adversity for four quarters, and its young roster seemed overwhelmed at times by the game’s electric atmosphere.
However, Yeldon bounced back from a third-quarter red-zone fumble to make the game's decisive play.
Plus, Alabama’s young defense stepped up time and again late in the fourth quarter when LSU was threatening to ice the game.
Moving forward, this game could be looked upon as a turning point for the Tide’s younger contributors.
Alabama’s first scoring drive took six minutes off the clock and covered 92 yards in 11 plays.
That drive would turnout to be Alabama’s only sustained offense in the game—which signaled how tough it is to drive the length of the field against a defense like LSU.
Alabama’s two-minute offense—which provided scoring drives at the end of the first half and before the end of the game—produced two touchdowns that each took less than a minute to complete.
That stat is more impressive considering that Alabama’s final drive was the first time it faced a late game deficit this season, and the offense responded in a manner that resembled a team that is used to coming from behind.
LSU came into the game against Alabama worrying about how to stop true freshman receiver Amari Cooper, but it was a familiar face that tormented them on Alabama’s game-winning drive.
Junior Kevin Norwood—who had a monster effort in Alabama’s BCS title-clinching win over the Tigers in January—hauled in three receptions for 44 yards on the final drive to setup up McCarron and Yeldon’s game-winning connection.
While Cooper was held without a catch, Norwood led the Tide in receiving with five catches for 62 yards.
Perhaps more importantly, he delivered once again when his number was called.
As I noted above, Alabama managed only one sustained scoring drive against the Tigers.
The Tide’s offense was held to just 331 yards of total offense (nearly 100 yards off their season average), with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier struggling to get his team in a rhythm.
Before the Tide’s game-winning drive, the Tide’s five possessions in the second half resulted in a fumble and four three-and-outs.
Additionally, Alabama converted only one of its nine attempts on third down.
Despite the rough numbers, Nussmeier dialed up the perfect call for a screen pass when LSU brought an all out blitz with the game on the line.
Another segment that came up big in the game’s clutch moments was the offensive line.
Facing perhaps the nation’s most talented defensive line, Alabama’s veteran front wall protected McCarron from the Tigers’ menacing defensive end duo of Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.
LSU registered only one sack, and was unable to get to McCarron when it mattered most.
Facing perhaps the most hostile environment it has seen in recent memory—plus with 92,000-plus purple-and-gold clad fans roaring with an upset victory close enough to taste—Alabama kept fighting and found a way to win a game it had no business winning.
Most teams would have folded after LSU surged ahead, but then again, most teams are not built like Alabama.
Their response proved this team’s championship mettle and helped insure that the Tide’s title dreams left Death Valley in tact.
All that has been lacking from A.J. McCarron’s banner 2012 season is a signature moment—but that feat seemed nearly impossible considering his struggles in the second half against the Tigers.
In fact, his play had been part of the reason the Tide had relinquished a double-digit halftime lead.
Through 58-plus minutes of play, McCarron had gone 10-of-22 for 102 yards and a rushing touchdown.
Four completions, 43 seconds and 72 yards later, McCarron led his team on a drive that will surely be remembered by Tide fans for years to come.