Afterward, McCarron's father remembered something he'd told his son at the team hotel before the game. "There's 100,000 people there to party," Tony McCarron said. ".... 'em off." All those Tigers did look ticked as AJ McCarron ran and jumped the railing to hug his father, mother and stepfather after a drive that, if the rest of the season goes as planned, will go down in Alabama history. As he hugged his family and blinked away tears in his eyes, McCarron knew he had done something amazing. His entire life, he had imagined leading Alabama to a last-minute win in one of the SEC's holy houses. Now, he had done just that. McCarron had gone into the place where opponents' dreams come to die and made his own dream come true.
The Tide sacked LSU's Zach Mettenberger three times. Dee Milliner and Damion Square each had a sack. Hubbard and C.J. Mosley combined on another sack. Alabama had a total of 10 tackles or a loss, with Hubbard leading the way (2.5). On offense, the Tide allowed only one sack, by Sam Montgomery. The Tigers had only two other tackles behind the line.
LSU carried the fight to Alabama in the first quarter but managed only a field goal in the period, taking a 3-0 lead on Alleman's 38-yarder. The Crimson Tide seemed to right the ship in the second quarter. First, it went on its most impressive march of the season, a 92-yard drive capped by a 7-yard Eddie Lacy touchdown run. Alabama then benefited from a questionable decision by LSU coach Les Miles. The Tigers attempted an unlikely 54-yard field goal by Alleman that fell far short and gave UA possession at its 37 with 1:08 left in the first half. UA covered the 63 yards in less than a minute, with McCarron scoring on a 9-yard run to push the lead to 14-3. Even with the lead, Alabama coach Nick Saban cautioned that his team was "not stopping the run well enough," words that proved prophetic in the second half. Instead of fading, LSU came back strong on both sides of the ball, stifling the Crimson Tide offense and showing unexpected offensive spark. With McCarron enduring the worst half of his career, Alabama could not move the ball. His opposite number, Mettenberger, finished 24 of 35 for 298 yards, while McCarron was 14 for 27 for 165 yards. But McCarron got the yards that mattered most.
The narrative of the last two Alabama-LSU match-ups had become powerful stuff, as much a struggle about the different ways that football can be played as it was a debate over the merits of the teams playing the games. These were the kind of games that caused fans in other parts of the country to grow drowsy, but the very kinds of battles that SEC fans saw as titanic defensive showdowns, the stuff that the history of the league was built on. On Saturday, Alabama and LSU finally found a happy medium, a 21-17 Alabama win that was as notable for the electricity that it generated in the second half as for the fact that it kept the Tide's and the SEC's national championship hopes alive. For once, the two teams produced a game worthy of the build-up, and the kind of game that rewarded those who pushed past the narrative to tune in anyway.
McCarron had played his way into contention for the Heisman Trophy with the efficient way he ran the Crimson Tideís offense. Only recently, as Alabama rolled through its schedule, had McCarronís brilliance ó he had 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions entering Saturday ó been appreciated. In all but two drives, McCarron was not brilliant Saturday. But as halftime approached, McCarron led the Crimson Tide on a 6-play, 63-yard drive, in under a minute, punctuated by his touchdown scamper. He played with similar touch and precision on the final drive, and afterward he said he had studied L.S.U.ís two-minute defense and found areas he could exploit. "He was locked in," Lacy said. "Heís always locked in every game, but it was something different this time, this drive."
"Iíll take T.J. one-on-one against anybody," McCarron said. "That kidís a freak of nature, man." Yeldon made one sharp cut, Loston flailed and fell. Defensive end Barkevious Mingo made one vain, diving attempt at the tackle and that was it. Touchdown. Crowd in shock. "It was a surreal feeling watching him," Jones said. "I was looking around for flags. I didnít want to get too excited until I was sure." There were no flags. And there was no joy for the home team, which had played the Tide off their feet and to the brink of defeat. "This one hurt," LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. "We put our heart and soul into it. We had the game in our hands and little mistakes cost us the game."
"(Nussmeier) made a great play call. He felt like they were going to bring pressure, and they did," McCarron said. "I felt like it was going to be a good play, I just had to kind of jump off my back foot and get it high and give (Yeldon) a chance." Said Tony McCarron: "(A.J.) said all year long that T.J. is unbelievable, they just have to get him in the right situation. That was the right situation."
He found them in that mosh pit of Crimson in the southeast corner of Tiger Stadium. They ran down the aluminum steps to see him; he reached up into the crisp, cool air to grab them. And the tears flowed as AJ McCarron squeezed the last bit of emotion from this game into the outstretched arms of his parents. "So emotional," McCarron said. "So many thoughts going through my head." Only one really mattered: Alabama survived.
Tide rolls when it counts: For the majority of the game, the Crimson Tide couldn't get anything going against the Tigers' defense. But when it mattered, A.J. McCarron and the Alabama offense looked unstoppable. On its three scoring drives, Alabama racked up 227 yards, including a 92-yarder that started from its own 8-yard line with its backs against the LSU student section. The Tide managed only 104 yards of offense on every other drive.
Les Miles just got be-hatted. The "Mad Hatter" coach went 0-for on fakes and fourth downs for the first time in his LSU career, and No. 1 Alabama came from behind in the final moments for a 21-17 victory in front of 93,374 - the largest crowd in Tiger Stadium history Ė Saturday night. No. 5 LSU led 17-14 with just 1:34 to play in the game, but Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron threw a short pass to tailback T.J. Yeldon, who shredded LSUís defense for a 28-yard touchdown and the lead with 51 seconds to play. The score capped a 72-yard drive by Alabama (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) in just five plays and 43 seconds to end the nationís longest home winning streak at 22 games. Alabama coach Nick Saban also handed Miles just his second Saturday night loss through 38 games and eight years at LSU. "That was obviously and impressive drive," Saban said. "It's something I'll never forget." Neither will LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan. "We dominated the second half," he said. "One play cost us the game."
"We showed the players this week the SEAL Team going in to get Bin Laden, and the adaptability they had to have when the helicopter landed on the fence instead of the porch," Saban said. Actually one of the Chinook helicopters crash-landed outside Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, but the coach can be forgiven a few historical liberties. That wasn't his point. "(The SEALs) had been trained to be adaptable in case something like that happened, so they were still successful," Saban said. "I think there was a lot of that out there from us (on Saturday)."
But before that, LSU lost the game the first time by failing to get one more first down. The Tigers, leading 17-14 with 7:20 to play in the game, drove from their 18-yard line to the Alabama 32 while collecting three first downs and making Alabama use all of its timeouts by the 2:28 mark. After quarterback Zach Mettenberger topped off the best game of his career with a 22-yard completion to wide receiver Odell Beckham for that last first down, though, LSU coach Les Miles went to the ground game exclusively. Only then did Alabama stop the drive, forcing a field goal attempt on fourth and six from the Tide's 28. Drew Alleman missed it. Alabama took over with 1:34 left and drove 72 yards in five plays and 49 seconds for the win. "It's still killing me that we didn't finish that last drive getting the first down when we needed it," LSU offensive tackle Josh Dworaczyk said. "To give the ball back to Alabama's offense with the things that they were capable of doing on that last drive, I think those are the kinds of things they've been doing all year long. It's a huge emotional swing. We wanted to close off that last drive."
What we learned That Alabama could respond when finally pushed to the brink. The Crimson Tide hadnít trailed but 15 seconds in its first eight games, but faced with a do-or-die situation with 1:34 remaining down 17-14, Bama drove 72 yards for the game-winning score. The Tideís BCS championship dreams didnít die on this night.