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November 4, 2012

Tide offense comes to life on final drive

BATON ROUGE, La. | With everything - an undefeated season and a chance to win the Southeastern Conference and stay alive for an opportunity to play for a national championship - AJ McCarron shook off a miserable second half to put together a miracle drive to lift the top-ranked University of Alabama to a 21-17 victory over No. 5 LSU on Saturday night.

McCarron had completed just 1 of 7 pass attempts in the second half, with the one completion going for no gain, when he trotted onto the field with 1:34 to go down by three points with the end zone a long 72 yards away.

The Crimson Tide's junior quarterback lasered in and carved up an LSU defense that had kept Alabama stuffed for the entire second half. McCarron locked onto junior wideout Kevin Norwood, who worked the right sideline for receptions of 18, 15 and 11 yards to take UA to the LSU 28, and Alabama suddenly had life with still more than a minute showing on the clock.

McCarron took a shot into the end zone, moving in the pocket and directing Norwood to turn into the far right corner of the field. That play could have been the game-winner, but Norwood got tangled up with an LSU defender and stumbled to the turf as the pass sailed incomplete right where Norwood would have been had he kept his feet.

McCarron, who finished the game 14-for-27 for 165 yards, remained undaunted. He promptly swung the ball to freshman running back T.J. Yeldon on the next play and Yeldon sprinted for a 28-yard touchdown reception with 51 seconds left to give Alabama the lead to seal the win.

"That last drive was something I'll never forget," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

That drive wouldn't have meant as much, of course, had it not been for two very different drives in the first half.

The Crimson Tide offense, on the field for all of 10 plays in the first quarter, took over at its own 8 with less than a minute gone in the second quarter after an LSU punt. UA eyed the LSU defense and determined to go right at it.

Yeldon kick-started the march with a 15-yard run around left end. McCaron followed with a 10-yard play-action pass to Kelly Johnson.

Yeldon had runs of 5, 6, 12 and 2 yards and McCarron hit a couple of throws to move the Crimson Tide inside the LSU 20 before Eddie Lacy brought in fresh legs to finish it off with a 7-yard touchdown run to put Alabama up 7-3.

UA's next touchdown drive was more a matter of urgency. Alabama took over at its own 37 with 1:08 remaining in the first half after a long missed field goal attempt by the Tigers and zipped down the field mostly on McCarron's arm.

A pass interference call against LSU set Alabama up at the LSU 17, and McCarron rolled to his right to connect with Norwood for an 8-yard gain.

McCarron looked to pass again on the next play, but saw the middle of the LSU defense part before him. UA's quarterback stepped up between blockers Barrett Jones and Anthony Steen, who sealed off two pass rushers as McCarron skipped into the end zone.

Reach Tommy Deas at tommy@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0224.

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