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November 4, 2012

Defense comes through when it matters

BATON ROUGE, La. | The best defense in the land found itself tested Saturday in a 21-17 win at LSU.

The University of Alabama, ranked tops in the nation in every major defensive category coming into the weekend, gave up uncharacteristic big plays and found itself pushed around by the headstrong Tigers.

LSU put together two consecutive scoring drives in the second half and methodically broke down the Crimson Tide's defense. The Tigers were able to pound the ball steadily down the field on the ground and passed for nearly 300 yards. They converted on third down and held onto the ball for nearly 40 minutes.

In the final minutes, instead of giving in to fatigue or lamenting its earlier shortcomings, the Crimson Tide came up with the two crucial stops needed in to beat the fifth-ranked Tigers.

LSU, leading by a field goal, took over at its own 19-yard line with 7:20 to go and the chance to run out the clock on what would have been an upset victory. Alabama would get stops on first and second down, but the Tigers managed to convert on third downs to keep the clock running and keep the UA offense on the sideline.

"They did a great job of executing their game plan, and their quarterback did a great job of throwing the ball," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "We couldn't get off the field on third down."

Finally, after 14 plays and with only 94 seconds to go, Alabama made a stop to force a field-goal attempt when LSU coach Les Miles elected to go with a safe handoff on third-and-10. LSU kicker Drew Alleman missed from 45 yards out, giving the Crimson Tide the first crucial stop it would need.

AJ McCarron promptly drove Alabama down the field to take the lead with 51 seconds to go.

LSU, however, still had one last chance. Zach Mettenberger, who came in much maligned as the Tigers' first-year quarterback, had one last chance, but Alabama's defense didn't even let him get started.

On first down, Mettenberger was forced to throw underneath for a short gain as the clock kept running. On second down, he had to dump the ball off to a running back who was unable to get out of bounds.

And on the game's final play, Mettenberger was buried by UA defensive lineman Damion Square, sacked for a 6-yard loss that allowed the final seconds to tick off the clock.

Those late-game stops gave a happy ending to an Alabama defense that struggled to contain the Tigers.

Mettenberger went 24 for 35 for 298 yards with a touchdown and the Tigers converted successfully on 10 of 20 third-down situations.

Not only was LSU able to control the clock by grinding out first downs with shorter runs and passes, the Tigers repeatedly were able to strike for big gains. Alabama allowed two runs and no less than six pass plays of more than 15 yards.

The Crimson Tide was also unable to force a turnover but did manage to make LSU move backward enough to offset some of the big plays and keep the Tigers from scoring enough points to win. Alabama made 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, with Dee Milliner and Adrian Hubbard each making two tackles for loss.

While Alabama was able to sack Mettenberger three times, UA struggled in pass defense and broke up only two passes. UA pass-rushers were not credited with a single quarterback hurry.

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

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