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November 4, 2012BATON ROUGE, La. | Damion Square said earlier this week he was letting Alabama's Death Valley first-timers know early: He'll be to your left coming out of the tunnel.
Mike the Tiger, that is.
And whether it was Square's doing or not, every player on the Crimson Tide's travel roster ran past LSU's menacing live mascot without a single turn of the head. For many, it was surely their first time getting within just a few feet of a live Tiger.
Yet they looked like they'd done it 100 times.
And so began the Crimson Tide's cool handling of the most hostile road trip on its schedule, resulting in a 21-17 win in front of a record Tiger Stadium crowd that left stunned in the disbelief of late defeat.
In the house where LSU coach Les Miles entered 36-1 in Saturday night games, Alabama looked undaunted not just from the kickoff, but from their stadium entry for warmups.
And it translated to the game - especially when it mattered most.
In the first half, Alabama's defense turned the Tigers away on several potential scoring drives, and allowed just three points entering halftime.
And perhaps the biggest statement came when Alabama's defense turned LSU away on a short field after Cyrus Jones' mishandled punt return set the Tigers up on the UA 32. With help from a personal foul on LSU fullback J.C. Copeland that largely negated a 19-yard run by Jeremy Hill, UA spoiled LSU's best scoring opportunity of the half when Nico Johnson sniffed out a fake field goal play.
In the second half, LSU began converting third downs time and time again. And just when it appeared Alabama's defense had been broken by more third-down conversions than it could survive, UA stiffened just in time to get the ball back to the offense for one desperation drive.
Offensively, Alabama struggled for much of the night.
But two touchdown drives in the final minutes of each half spelled the difference for the Crimson Tide.
"We scored two touchdowns in two-minute tonight," UA coach Nick Saban said.
With 1:08 left in the first half, it was the Alabama offense's turn to show it didn't notice that live tiger, either. AJ McCarron calmly engineered a 63-yard touchdown drive to take a lead, needing just 57 seconds of game clock to do it.
McCarron repeated the feat to close out the game, needing just 43 seconds for the game-winning series, capped by a 28-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Yeldon on a screen play.
Tigers hold the ball early
Thanks in part to its defense forcing a three-and-out on Alabama's initial possession, LSU held a 10:38-4:22 advantage in time of possession after the first quarter. The Tigers took 11 snaps in Alabama territory but could muster only three first-quarter points. In the second quarter, UA managed to square the discrepancy somewhat, holding the ball for 7:55 for a halftime possession total of 12:17.
"We're just not stopping the run well enough and they're breaking some runs on us. We've got to play better on the edges. We need to settle down. We're making a lot of mistakes in run support."
- UA coach Nick Saban at halftime
Alabama defensive end Ed Stinson started the game but came up limping on his right leg after a play and was quickly replaced by senior Quinton Dial. Stinson returned soon after. ... Alabama kicker Jeremy Shelley entered Saturday night's game perfect on field goal tries this season at 9 for 9. The longest of those was 38 yards, with Cade Foster handling attempts longer than that. ... Alabama's 92-yard touchdown drive in the first half was the longest drive allowed by the LSU defense this season. ... An early 3-0 deficit to LSU was the first sustained lead by an Alabama opponent this season. UA had trailed for only 15 seconds this season prior to Saturday night. LSU closed the first quarter with a 3-0 lead, the first time Alabama has trailed after the first quarter since trailing LSU by the same score in Baton Rouge in 2010. ... A second-half onside kick by LSU that failed on a penalty gave Alabama an ideal scoring opportunity with a first down on the LSU 45, but after driving to the Tigers' 10, UA was turned away without points when LSU recovered a fumbled exchange between McCarron and Yeldon. ... LSU entered Saturday night's game 36-1 in home night games under Les Miles. ... Alabama has not been shut out in 151 consecutive games, a school record. ... Game captains for the Crimson Tide in Death Valley were seniors Damion Square, Robert Lester and Chance Warmack.
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0196.