TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If Alabama is to lose a home football game this November, it will have to be administered by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
After dropping late-season games at Bryant-Denny Stadium to Auburn in 2010, LSU in 2011 and to Texas A&M last season, the Crimson Tide managed to wear down LSU 38-17 Saturday night before a frenzied, sold-out crowd of 101,821. Alabama improved to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in Southeastern Conference play, and the Crimson Tide are certain to retain their top spot tonight in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
The 10th-ranked Tigers dropped to 7-3 overall and have been eliminated from the SEC West race, which is now down to Alabama and Auburn, who meet in Auburn on Nov. 30.
Alabama went ahead 24-17 on a 4-yard T.J. Yeldon touchdown run with 4:11 left in the third quarter to cap a 14-play, 79-yard drive that gobbled up seven minutes and 50 seconds. The Crimson Tide faced a fourth-and-2 at their 41-yard line when Nick Saban called for a fake that worked when Jarrick Williams gained 6 yards.
"We've been working on that a lot," Saban said. "Initially we didn't call a fake. When we called a timeout, they put their defense back on the field, which is really what we had worked the fake against."
Said Williams: "I'm still mad I didn't break it."
LSU got to midfield on its ensuing possession before stalling, and the Crimson Tide took a two-touchdown lead on a 10-play, 71-yard drive that culminated with another Yeldon 1-yard run with 10:31 remaining. The Tigers got a brief spark down 31-17 when Odell Beckham returned the kickoff 82 yards to Alabama's 18-yard line, but four downs resulted in a loss of 3 yards.
After a sluggish first quarter in which Alabama managed just 42 yards, including 12 through the air, the Crimson Tide got a 52-yard scoring strike from AJ McCarron to tight end O.J. Howard and a 9-yard score from McCarron to Kevin Norwood to take a 17-7 lead. That deficit didn't faze the Tigers, who responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive and got within 17-14 on a 6-yard pass from Zach Mettenberger to Travin Dural with 43 seconds left in the half.
The touchdown to Dural was the third third-and-6 that Mettenberger converted on that drive, and it enabled LSU to finish the first half with a healthy 232 yards.
"This was a tremendous atmosphere for a college football game tonight," Saban said. "I was really proud of our players in the second half. I thought they did a fantastic job and probably played their best half of football."
Mettenberger passed to Jarvis Landry for 45 yards to the Alabama 31 on LSU's opening possession, and two Terrence Magee carries got the Tigers inside the 10. On second-and-goal from the 3, Tigers fullback J.C. Copeland was headed for a touchdown when Tide linebacker Tana Patrick stripped him at the 1, causing a fumble that Alabama recovered at its 10.
It was the first career forced fumble for Patrick, a fifth-year senior from North Jackson.
"That was big," Saban said. "We got two turnovers in the first half that were drive-stoppers. We were not getting off the field on third down. If it wasn't for the turnovers, I think they would have scored a lot more points, and the game would have been a little different."
LSU's second possession ended in disaster as well when an unsuspecting Mettenberger received a shotgun snap from Elliot Porter, resulting in a fumble that Trey DePriest recovered at LSU's 27. The Crimson Tide failed to get a first down but took a 3-0 lead on Cade Foster's 41-yard field goal at the 3:54 mark of the opening quarter.
There would be no such stumble on LSU's third possession, as the Tigers marched 57 yards in eight plays and took a 7-3 lead on Jeremy Hill's 3-yard run. Mettenberger had a 17-yard completion to Beckham and a 14-yarder to Landry to set up the score.
Alabama will travel to Mississippi State this week, while LSU will have its second open date in three weeks. The Crimson Tide will host UTC on Nov. 23.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...