BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU has given up 61 points in its last three SEC games, but it would be much better if the Tigers' vaunted defense could just close games.
Almost half of the points -- 28 -- have come on four touchdown drives at the end of either the first half or the end of the game. The late defense cost the Tigers a win in Saturday's 21-17 loss to Alabama, a game where the Crimson Tide scored touchdowns in final minute of both halves, covering 135 yards on a mere 11 plays between the two drives.
The two-minute success might even have caught Alabama coach Nick Saban by surprise.
"We've never really had to use two-minute (offense)," Saban said.
If it was unusual for Alabama to have to rally late, it's absolutely perplexing that an LSU defense -- generally among the nation's best -- becomes porous in end-game situations.
"Defense gave up two big drives," LSU coach Les Miles said after the Alabama loss. "That is uncharacteristic of them."
Lately, it has been a characteristic.
Starting with a drive that allowed South Carolina to pull within 23-21 with 1:41 left in the Tigers' Oct. 13 win, LSU has allowed opponents to drive for touchdowns in hurry-up offense in the last two minutes of three consecutive games. Each score either pulled the opponent within one score of the lead, or, in the case of Alabama, allowed the Tide to deliver the winning touchdown on T.J. Yeldon's 28-yard touchdown reception from AJ McCarron with 51 seconds left Saturday.
That capped a five-play, 72-yard drive the Tide managed in a mere 43 seconds without the aid of a timeout. McCarron, held without a single second-half passing yard before the winning drive, completed 4 of 5 passes on the drive. Only once were the Tigers able to get the receiver down in bounds.
"That last drive was something that I'll never forget," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
There were warning signs that LSU's defense might be one to give up late-game heroics. Both the South Carolina touchdown drive and a late A&M drive that pulled the Aggies within 24-19 in LSU's Oct. 20 win had prevented the Tigers from closing out games with double-digit victory margins. Instead, both the Gamecocks and Aggies had the ball last with last-ditch chances to score a winning touchdown.
In both those games, LSU escaped. Against the Tide, the Tigers paid dearly.
What can LSU do to correct it?
Some of it, Miles suggested, was a failure to execute. Players and Miles said there was a blown assignment on the touchdown, a screen pass that caught the Tigers in a blitz. LSU cornerback Jalen Mills blitzed, and Yeldon faked a pass block then leaked out to the catch the pass with plenty of open space in front of him.
Perhaps it was Mills who should have maintained contact with the back to prevent the screen. Or perhaps it was something else.
But here's the problem with blaming the one blown assignment: Down 17-14, Alabama already had driven 44 yards to the Tigers' 28, meaning they were in range for a long field goal. McCarron hit Kevin Norwood for 18 yards on the first play. He didn't get out of bounds, but Bama was able to line up quickly, and McCarron hit Norwood again, for 15 yards to the LSU 39. One more 11-yard pass to Norwood, who again got out of bounds, had the Tide in field goal range.
"It was," LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery said, "a slow death."
And a quick end to LSU's BCS title hopes.