SEC: Tigers-Tide 110709

Resilient Alabama gets it done ... again

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
11:30
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire
Nick Saban and Alabama are in control after clinching the Western Division title Saturday.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- This is Alabama’s last shot.

That is, the Crimson Tide’s last shot to do something that nobody else in the SEC has done -- win at least one SEC championship in every decade since the league was formed in 1933.

Go back and check the records. Alabama won two in the 1930s, one in the 1940s, one in the 1950s, four in the 1960s, eight in the 1970s, two in the 1980s, two in the 1990s and … well, you get the idea.

After Saturday’s 24-15 win over LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium, we now know the Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0) will get their chance to extend that streak in the 2000s. They clinched the Western Division title and will get another shot at Florida in the SEC championship game on Dec. 5.

It would be a stretch to call this a great Alabama team, and there have been games this season where the Crimson Tide looked like a flawed team.

But as they roll along (sometimes plod along) toward a rematch with the Gators, there’s no debating the fact that they’re a resilient team.

And this time of year, the combination of resilience, perseverance and a little luck can go a long way.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes,” Alabama running back Mark Ingram said. “We’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and we don’t want to let anything get in the way. We’re focused. We have each other’s backs, and we’ve overcome adversity.

“We just have to keep doing that, keep getting better as a team and finish strong.”

Finishing wasn't a problem Saturday.

Trailing in a game for the first time since the Florida International contest in the second week of the season, Alabama responded like a champ.

The Crimson Tide dominated the fourth quarter, leaning on their offensive line, leaning on Ingram and getting a 73-yard touchdown catch from Julio Jones to take the lead for good.

Alabama kept the ball for just under 11 minutes in the fourth quarter and scored 14 unanswered points to prove yet again that this team has cornered the market on winning.

Ugly. Pretty. Lucky. It doesn’t matter.

They just keep winning.

Two weeks ago, they needed a last-second block of a Tennessee field goal attempt to hold on.

On Saturday, they got what appeared to be a break from the officials. Replays showed that LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson got a foot down inbounds after intercepting a pass with 5:54 to play and Alabama trying to protect a 21-15 lead.

The play was called an incompletion on the field and turned over to the replay official in the booth. After a lengthy review, it was determined that there wasn’t sufficient video evidence to overturn the play and the call on the field stood.

The Crimson Tide took full advantage of their new life and promptly moved into position for a Leigh Tiffin 40-yard field goal that iced the game.

The call was clearly a dicey one, and given all the controversy this season in the SEC about officiating, it’s one of those things that you almost go into a game now expecting some drama.

But before the conspiracy theorists get too loud, keep in mind that the Tigers mustered all of nine yards of total offense in the fourth quarter.

“No matter what it is, this team steps up,” Alabama senior linebacker Cory Reamer said. “That’s our motto. We’ve tried to establish that as our identity, and we’ve done a good job of that throughout the season.”

And back to the lucky part of that equation, when’s the last time a championship team hasn’t had a little luck along the way?

The Tigers played a large chunk of the second half without starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who left the game with an ankle injury, and starting running back Charles Scott, who broke his collarbone on the tail end of his 34-yard run in the third quarter and had to leave the game.

If that’s not enough, the Tigers’ best cornerback, Patrick Peterson, battled cramps all day and wasn’t on the field when Jones broke loose on his 73-yard touchdown.

But it was that kind of game, one of those physical, bone-crunching affairs that saw LSU players limping to the sideline one after another.

“We’re extremely pleased that we won the West and now control our own destiny in terms of what else we can accomplish and what else we can do,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “It was a tough, physical game, and man, those games are fun to be a part of.”

Especially when the winning part of it becomes contagious.

“We’re going to keep grinding, keep grinding and keep working,” Jones said.

So far, that’s been good enough.

Never one to sweat, Jones delivers for Tide

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
10:06
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Julio Jones finished with four catches for 102 yards.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The sweat beads on Julio Jones’ forehead Saturday night made it look like he’d just hopped out of the shower.

So as cool a customer as he is -- both on and off the field -- we know this about him: The guy does sweat.

In this instance, it was because of all the lights from the television cameras beaming down on him as he quietly explained for the 1,000th time that he’s about one thing.

Winning.

“It’s never been about me. It’s about this team,” Jones said. “My role on this team is to do whatever I can to help us win.”

On Saturday, he made the play they’ll be talking about for a long time around here if the Crimson Tide go on to win a championship. His 73-yard catch and run for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter of Alabama’s 24-15 win over LSU broke the Tigers’ spirit, raised the decibel level in Bryant-Denny Stadium to AC/DC-like proportions and announced to the college football world that Jones is alive and well.

The LSU defenders that saw him leave a vapor trail down the left sideline would certainly agree.

And so would Jones’ teammates, who’d been saying it was just a matter of time.

“He was gone. He was pulling away from people, and that just shows how explosive he is. All it takes is one touch, and he took it (73) yards,” said Alabama running back Mark Ingram, who didn’t have a shabby game himself with 144 yards rushing on 22 carries.

“That’s just Julio. We needed somebody in this game particularly to make a play, and he stepped up and made a huge play. That gave us the momentum we needed to help us finish off the game.”

Jones finished with four catches for 102 yards, and 92 of those yards came after the catch. In his last two games, he has 11 catches for 156 yards.

“Julio is an outstanding player, and I think probably last week, the Tennessee game, is where he looked like his old self in terms of having the juice and the burst, and he played a good game tonight and a good game then,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We want to continue to feature him, but I’m really pleased with the way the rest of our receivers played in the game.

“They all made some big plays. (Darius) Hanks made a big catch. Marquis Maze made some big plays, and that’s what we need. We need that kind of balance. We need the ball distributed where it’s supposed to go, and I think Greg (McElroy) did a great job of that tonight.”

In addition to Jones’ 73-yard streak, Maze had a 37-yard catch and Hanks a 21-yard grab.

Prior to Saturday’s contest, Alabama wide receivers had combined for just two catches of longer than 15 yards in their previous three games.

“We had to step up because we knew they were going to load the box,” said Jones, who showed about as much emotion as he’s ever going to right after the game while celebrating with a few of his teammates.

Jones shrugs it off, but his teammates say the biggest difference with him now is that he’s healthy, especially coming off the bye week. He had an ankle injury coming into the season and then bruised his knee in the second game.

“Everybody has injuries. You just have to get over them,” Jones said. “I did all right. I could have done better.

“I expect to make plays. That’s the kind of player I am.”

The Crimson Tide are thrilled to have him back.

Final: Alabama 24, LSU 15

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
7:13
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- No. 3 Alabama remained unbeaten Saturday with a come-from behind 24-15 victory over No. 9 LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Here’s a quick analysis of the game:

How the game was won: Trailing 15-10 entering the fourth quarter, Alabama scored 14 unanswered points in the final 15 minutes to send LSU packing. Julio Jones had the big play offensively on a 73-yard touchdown catch, and Alabama’s defense was stifling. The Tigers played much of the second half without starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson and starting running back Charles Scott, both of whom were injured.

Turning point: Jones’ 73-yard touchdown catch came on a wide receiver screen, a one-play drive that put the Crimson Tide ahead 21-15 with 10:24 to play and whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

Stat of the game: Alabama running back Mark Ingram had just six carries in the first half for 38 yards, but ended the game with 144 yards rushing. He carried the offense coming out of halftime.

What it means: Alabama clinches the Western Division title and will make its second straight trip to the SEC championship game to face Florida on Dec. 5. The Tide also remain in the middle of the BCS national championship picture.

Best call: After a running into the kicker penalty on LSU moved the ball within a half-yard of the first down in the fourth quarter, Alabama coach Nick Saban elected to go for it. Ingram picked up the first down, and Alabama iced the game with a Leigh Tiffin field goal.

Jones finds the end zone

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
6:48
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- LSU's bend-but-don't break defense had been working all night.

But then Julio Jones decided to take matters into his own hands with a 73-yard touchdown catch on a wide receiver screen that popped wide open down the left sideline.

LSU's top cornerback, Patrick Peterson, wasn't on the field for the play. He'd been shaken up several times Saturday night and wasn't in the game when Jones broke LSU safety Brandon Taylor's tackle attempt and reached the end zone for only the second time in his last 17 games.

It's just the kind of play Alabama needed to take control of this game. It's also the kind of play the Crimson Tide are going to need the rest of the way from their most talented offensive player if they're going to win a championship this season.

LSU's Scott injured

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
6:15
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- LSU is showing some serious resolve, taking a 15-10 lead in the third quarter without starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson and starting running back Charles Scott on the field.

Jefferson limped off the field earlier in the quarter and was replaced by Jarrett Lee, and then Scott was hurt (it looked like his shoulder) on the tail end of a 34-yard run.

And then illustrating what kind of depth LSU has in its offensive backfield, sophomore Stevan Ridley entered the game, bouncing off a couple of Alabama defenders and scoring on an 8-yard touchdown run.

Lee in at quarterback for LSU

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
5:58
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson limped off the field in the third quarter, giving way to Jarrett Lee.

Jefferson also took a helmet to the chest in the first half.

Lee completed a fourth-down pass that would have gone for a first down inside the Alabama 30. But a late flag came in, and the play was nullified by a false start penalty.

Alabama's offense finally punches one in

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
5:44
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - That Alabama offense that took turns running and passing for big plays earlier in the season reappeared Saturday in the third quarter.

After carrying the ball just six times in the first half, Mark Ingram was a force in Alabama's touchdown drive coming out of the half. He got the ball four times in the Tide's 81-yard scoring drive and gained at least 12 yards on three of his carries.

But it was Greg McElroy who finally ended Alabama's red zone woes when he threw his best pass of the day on a 21-yard touchdown strike to Darius Hanks while rolling right.

Halftime analysis: LSU 7, Alabama 3

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
5:14
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- LSU has a 7-3 halftime lead over Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium. As expected, the two defenses have dominated.

LSU ended an Alabama threat right before the end of the half when linebacker Kelvin Sheppard intercepted a Greg McElroy pass inside the 10.

Here’s a first-half analysis:

Turning point: Alabama appeared to have LSU running back Charles Scott stopped on a third-and-2 play from the Alabama 45 early in the second quarter. But Scott kept his legs churning and powered his way for 4 yards and a first down to keep the drive alive. Five plays later, the Tigers scored the only touchdown of the first half on Jordan Jefferson’s 12-yard pass to Deangelo Peterson.

Stat of the half: Alabama opened with seven straight pass attempts and threw the ball on nine of its first 10 plays from scrimmage to start the game.

Player of the half: Jefferson was able to avoid the Alabama pressure and make some plays passing and running. He had a 15-yard scramble on a third-and-7 play to keep alive the Tigers’ touchdown drive. He was also 8-of-14 passing with the touchdown and made all the right decisions.

Jefferson's decision-making much better

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
4:36
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Who is this guy playing quarterback for LSU?

Jordan Jefferson looks like a completely different quarterback than he did last month against Florida. He's decisive with the ball, stepping up in the pocket and throwing the ball with confidence and making all the right decisions.

On LSU's touchdown drive, he twice made exactly the right decision, once on a scramble and another time pitching the ball at just the last second on an option play. His 12-yard touchdown pass to Deangelo Peterson was right on the money, too.

LSU's Riley rolls his ankle

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
4:18
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- LSU linebacker Perry Riley rolled his ankle and left the game late in the first quarter.

He was on the sideline trying to run for the Tigers' medical staff, but it was obvious he was favoring his ankle a little bit.

LSU's linebacker corps has played some of its best football these last three games, and Riley has been a big part of the Tigers' defensive success.

Alabama waiting for Shepard

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
4:12
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- You knew LSU was going to attempt to get freshman Russell Shepard involved Saturday, hoping to pop him on a big play.

The Alabama defense was laying in wait on his first touch. Shepard lined up as a tailback and took an option pitch, but Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas was on top of him about the time he got the pitch.

The Tigers will surely come back to Shepard in some capacity. They're going to need some big plays to budge this Alabama defense.

Crimson Tide, Tigers both going deep

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
4:05
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There was some chatter that Alabama was going to come out throwing Saturday, and the Crimson Tide did just that with seven straight pass attempts.

Greg McElroy has looked down the field a couple of different times already for Julio Jones, but the Tigers are doing a nice job in coverage. LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson has been looking forward to this matchup with Jones ever since last season.

The Tigers are chucking the ball down the field, too. A couple of different times, Jordan Jefferson has stepped up in the pocket and tried to go deep. He completed one to Brandon LaFell for 30-plus yards, but it was called back because of an illegal formation.

At this point, it looks like neither team believes it can run on the other.

Alabama's Peek dressed and warming up

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
3:19
PM ET
Posted by ESPN's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama tight end Colin Peek was dressed and warming up with the first unit Saturday.

He's wearing a brace on his left knee, and the Crimson Tide hope he can play some against LSU. Peek sprained his MCL while warming up for the Tennessee game two weeks ago and didn't play in that game. He seemed to be moving OK in warmups and caught several passes from Greg McElroy and then cut and turned upfield.

Alabama's Grant not expected to play

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
2:56
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Terry Grant, one of the guys who's returned kickoffs for Alabama this season, isn't expected to dress and won't play Saturday against LSU.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said Grant pulled a muscle. With Grant out, that means any combination of Trent Richardson, Mike McCoy and Javier Arenas could return kickoffs for the Crimson Tide against the Tigers.

Welcome from sunny Tuscaloosa

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
2:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- What a gorgeous day for football at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The sun's out. There's a slight breeze, and the anticipation is what you'd think it would be for Alabama vs. LSU.

The Crimson Tide can lock up the Western Division title with a win, and the Tigers can put themselves in great shape for the division title by winning. Florida has already clinched the East crown.

It's always a treat when I come to Tuscaloosa for a game to hang out at the Walk of Champions. The statues of the Alabama national championship coaches line the walk, and not surprisingly, Bear Bryant's statue always draws the most people.

At the end of the walk, closest to the stadium, there's an empty spot right beside the statue of Gene Stallings.

I overheard two guys discussing Saturday morning what all Alabama fans are hoping and thinking.

"Yep, there it is. We know who that spot's reserved for," said one of the fans.

His buddy responded, "The Man ... I hope they're already working on his statue."

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