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Saturday, November 8, 2008
Without its best stuff, Alabama finds a way to win


Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

 
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 Nick Saban returned to the school he once coached and guided Alabama to a 27-21 overtime victory over LSU.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Somewhere along the way in every championship season, you stumble across a game like this.

The components are the kind all coaches fear: Uncharacteristic mistakes, the other team coming out with more intensity, a disastrous play in the kicking game and a hostile crowd that can smell the upset.

"We had a lot of things go against us, and a lot of it was our fault," Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain said. "But when we had to get it done, we got it done. That's all we care about. We don't care about how it looked, what anybody says or anything else.

"We care about winning and moving on."

Not only did the No. 1 Crimson Tide (10-0, 6-0 SEC) move on Saturday night thanks to a 27-21 overtime win against LSU, but they moved into their first SEC Championship Game appearance since 1999.

And they did it without playing their best football.

"This team is a special team," Alabama senior center Antoine Caldwell said. "This game had a little bit of everything in it. We led. We were behind. We had a blocked field goal, (three) turnovers, but we still found a way to come back and win.

"That tells you the fight this team has. That's why I think we have a special team."

Alabama coach Nick Saban may be a perfectionist, but he's also a realist.

He's been down this road before.

During the 2003 national championship season at LSU, the Tigers won a game 17-14 at Ole Miss about this same date on the calendar. It was a game they probably didn't deserve to win.

Yet, they found a way to win.

As Saban made his way through the mass of humanity (mostly the dozen or so police officers following his every move) to get off the Tiger Stadium field, you wonder if his mind drifted back to that Ole Miss game.

Was this that game for Alabama?

"For the first time this season, we had to come from behind, play the whole game and win in overtime," said Alabama senior quarterback John Parker Wilson, whose 1-yard touchdown run in overtime won it for the Tide.

"I think it was great for our team. Offensively, we didn't play very well the whole game. We missed some shots and opportunities. The defense played great, and we were able to win the game."

Alabama has home games remaining against Mississippi State next week and Auburn on Nov. 29. But regardless of what the Crimson Tide do in those two games, they've clinched a trip to Atlanta to play in the SEC Championship Game.

Florida is routing Vanderbilt and well on its way to locking up the Eastern Division title, which would mark the earliest the SEC Championship Game matchup has been set since its inception in 1992.

"It feels great to win the West, but we're not going to stop there," McClain said. "We're not going to worry about the SEC championship.

"We're going to worry about Mississippi State."

Playing for Saban, that's all they better worry about.