Even though top-ranked Alabama hasn’t had to come up with a two-minute drive this season, the Crimson Tide offense was ready when it needed it Saturday night — twice.
Alabama came up with a 63-yard touchdown drive to end the first half and added another in the closing minutes of its game with fifth-ranked LSU to shock the Tigers and a record crowd in Tiger Stadium.
The final drive, a five-play, 72-yard march that ended with AJ McCarron’s 28-yard scoring pass to running back T.J. Yeldon with 51 seconds to play, lifted Alabama to a 21-17 victory after an uncharacteristically uneven second-half performance on both sides of the ball.
“That last drive was something I’ll never forget,” a relieved Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “The offense did a great job of executing it.”
McCarron, who had a quiet second half after scoring on a 9-yard run with 11 seconds to play in the first half to give his team a 14-3 halftime lead, and his offense took over after LSU’s Drew Alleman missed a 45-yard field-goal attempt with 1:34 remaining.
McCarron quickly completed three straight passes of 18, 15 and 11 yards to wide receiver Kevin Norwood get the Tide to the Tigers’ 28.
After an incompletion, Alabama called a throwback screen to Yeldon — which excited the Tide’s coaching staff.
“They blitzed,” Saban said. “When we called it, everybody was saying on the headset, ‘I hope they pressure us.’ If we block them, everybody else is playing man-to-man. So they blitzed.”
Yeldon took the pass from McCarron, who was just 5 of 12 for 72 yards in the second half, and raced to the end zone to save the day after he had a crucial fumble in the third quarter that ended an Alabama scoring threat.
When asked what made him confident the Tide could come back after LSU rallied with two straight touchdown drives in the second half — a rarity against Alabama’s top-ranked and defense — Saban pointed to McCarron.
“A.J. is a confident guy,” Saban said. “We missed some throws in the second half and we weren’t very good on third-down conversions. Then, LSU converted the ones that we didn’t (on third down).
“We overcame a lot of adversity,” he said.
But after seemingly going to the locker room with a 14-3 lead as LSU continued to struggle to get points against Alabama — stretching their streak without a touchdown to 10 quarters — the Tide started a downturn.
After Jeremy Hill had a 1-yard TD run in the third quarter and Zach Mettenberger threw a 14-yard scoring pass to Jarvis Landry with 12:58 to play in the game to cap a 90-yard drive, the Tide looked to be in trouble in trailing in the second half for the first time in two years.
Alabama had two straight three-and-outs on offense when LSU got the ball back with 7:20 to play. But after reaching the Crimson Tide 28, Alleman missed his 45-yarder that would have stretched the lead to six points.
It didn’t take long for the Alabama offense to seize the opportunity its defense, which allowed 435 total yards — more than 150 more than it had given up in any game this season —gave them.
“It was a quick drive, real fast,” said Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, a former Dutchtown High School star who scored the Tide’s first touchdown on a 7-yard run in the second quarter. “Norwood came up with big plays, and T.J. finished with a big play.”
Lacy credited McCarron with shaking off the poor second half to lead the drive that gave Alabama the victory.
“He was locked in,” Lacy said. “He’s always locked in every game, but it was something different this time ... this drive. He knew he had to make plays.
“He got the plays in and did exactly what he was supposed to do. He made the right reads and made the right passes. You couldn’t ask for any more from AJ.”
It wouldn’t have been possible, however, if the Alabama defense hadn’t come up with a stop after an 11-play LSU drive.
“Their skill guys were making great plays,” Tide cornerback Dee Milliner said. “They used some formations that we hadn’t seen yet and Mettenberger made some great plays. The receivers got open and made great plays on the ball.
“You just have to overcome it.”
And they did.
“We told our players, and it’s kind of ironic, that they would have to overcome a lot of adversity to win a game here,” Saban said. “When things went bad and the momentum of the game changes, that’s what we kept talking to them about. They kept their poise and they kept competing.”
“I’ve never been prouder of a bunch of guys for the way they competed in the game.”