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November 10, 2013
Alabama defense steps up in second half
The night began with an LSU offense piling up yards and an Alabama defense searching for answers.
The night ended with the Tigers driven into the turf, an embattled, dirt-stained quarterback a symbol of something close to surrender.
After a shaky first half, Alabama's defense clamped down on a talented LSU attack in the 38-17 win at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night.
An LSU field goal early in the third quarter tied the game at 17, but Alabama scored the final 21 points to win it.
The exclamation point came on LSU's desperate final possession when its quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, was sacked three straight times by three different Crimson Tide defenders for a combined loss of 26 yards.
Despite the 42-point effort led by a Heisman Trophy quarterback in a Texas shootout two months ago, it was LSU, Saban maintained all week, that was the best offense his team would see this season.
His words rang true early.
LSU (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) gashed Alabama (9-0, 6-0) for 129 yards on its first 18 plays. Six of those plays went for 10 yards or more. The only resistance was self-inflicted: LSU fumbled twice in the first quarter.
Alabama reserve linebacker Tana Patrick thwarted LSU's first productive possession by forcing fullback J.C. Copeland to fumble inside the Alabama 5. Patrick, with just eight tackles on the year entering Saturday, reached his right arm across Copeland's body and poked the football out to end what would have been a statement touchdown drive.
The Tigers had 15 plays for 103 yards on two second-quarter possessions, the second cashed in with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Mettenberger to Travin Dural to cut the Crimson Tide's lead to 17-14.
At halftime, LSU had totaled 232 yards, 39 more than Alabama.
"We didn't do a very good job in the first half," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "We mis-executed a couple of pressures, we busted a couple things, we played not loose. I told them at halftime, 'Look guys, you've got to cover them.' "
LSU added the early field goal to open the second half, but the offense ended there. From there, the Tigers' final three possessions were a punt and two turnovers on downs.
All of a sudden, the Tigers' star-studded offense, filled with skill players - running back Jeremy Hill and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. - that ranked among the top four in the SEC in yardage at their respective positions, LSU was held to 52 yards on 22 plays in the second half.
Beckham, who entered with more than 1,000 yards receiving in the first nine games, was limited to three catches and 42 yards.
Illustrating the turn of events most was LSU posting minus-9 yards in the fourth quarter.
"I thought we played a lot better in the second half, played the run better as well," Saban said.
"I thought (defensive coordinator) Kirby (Smart) did a really good job of mixing it up in the second half, and the players did a better job of covering."
Reach D.C. Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.