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November 3, 2012

Tide makes right calls, LSU doesn't

BATON ROUGE, La. | Five coaching decisions that shaped the University of Alabama's 21-17 win over LSU on Saturday night:

1. Screen pass to Yeldon

With time winding down, the Alabama coaching staff called a screen pass to T.J. Yeldon for the winning touchdown with less than a minute to play. The 28-yard completion capped a five-play, 72-yard drive in just 43 seconds for the game-winning points. UA coach Nick Saban said UA assistants were saying on the headset before the play that they hoped LSU would blitz, which would leave Yeldon open. "They blitzed," Saban said. The play call secured a continued undefeated season for the 9-0 Crimson Tide.

2. Miles goes for three

After a fake field goal from the UA 30 went awry for LSU coach Les Miles, he tried to get those three points back with a 54-yard attempt with 1:08 left in the first half. Drew Alleman's kick fell well short and gave Alabama solid field position on its own 37. Why was this decision a critical one? Because a punt might have pinned the Crimson Tide deep in its own territory. Instead, the Crimson Tide managed to snatch seven more crucial points before the teams hit the locker room. Alabama drove 63 yards on six plays in just 57 seconds for a 14-3 lead that changed the entire complexion of the second half.

Had LSU punted and buried UA inside its 20, it would have made a scoring drive for the Crimson Tide far more difficult. In fact, one wonders if Saban would have simply run the clock out, content to go to the half up 7-3.

3. Screen pass sets up touchdown

In what was the most critical offensive play call for Alabama to that point, on a third-and-6 from the LSU 18 in the second quarter, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier dialed up a tunnel screen pass to Christion Jones, trailing 3-0. After a ball fake to Eddie Lacy, quarterback AJ McCarron connected with Jones to the right side. He promptly cut back across the field to the only open space available for 11 yards and a first-and-goal situation. One play later, Lacy went through the heart of the Tigers' defense for a 7-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead.

4. Miles hands the reins to Jeremy Hill

What a moment for the latest dynamic rusher in purple and gold to make his first career start. To this point in the season, Hill had been just one of several effective rushers for the Tigers - five of them entered the game with 250 yards or more - but his role of late had been to finish games, not start them.

Hill wasted no time taking advantage of the chance, leading LSU on its first scoring drive with a couple of strong runs.

The sort of confidence Miles placed in a true freshman was pretty rare for a game of this magnitude, particularly at a position that feels the heat of the Death Valley night lights more than most.

Hill finished with 107 yards.

5. Fake field goal goes awry

It was almost a given that the coach known as the "Mad Hatter" would dig into the trick bag a time or two, particularly with LSU's Southeastern Conference title hopes facing a nothing-to-lose proposition. In the second quarter, Miles didn't disappoint, trying a fake field goal when holder Brad Wing took a snap and flared a pass into the flat to Alleman. UA linebacker Nico Johnson sniffed out the trickery immediately, and dropped Alleman for a loss and a turnover on downs.

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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