Nov. 8, 2008
Box Score |
BATON ROUGE, La. -
No. 1 Alabama (10-0, 6-0) got three interceptions from Rashad Johnson and a 1-yard quarterback sneak in overtime by John Parker Wilson Saturday to win 27-21 over No. 15 LSU (6-3, 3-3) at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
The win clinches Alabama's first SEC Western Division title since 1999 and secures a berth in the 2008 SEC Championship Game.
"It was a great college football game," said Alabama coach Nick Saban. "The players on both sides played their hearts out. LSU's team played an outstanding game. Our players played hard in the game with a lot of tenacity and overcame a lot of adversity."
Alabama had a chance to win the game in regulation after a 23-yard punt return by Javier Arenas gave the Tide possession in LSU territory with the game tied at 21 and less than two minutes to play. Four plays for positive yardage and a 15-yard face mask penalty then pushed the ball even closer for Alabama, eventually setting up a 29-yard field goal attempt that was blocked by LSU's Ricky-Jean Francois as time expired.
LSU took possession of the ball first in the extra period, but quarterback Jarrett Lee was picked off in the end zone by Johnson on third down, giving Alabama the ball with another chance to win. On the Tide's first play from scrimmage, Wilson hit freshman receiver Julio Jones for 23 yards to the Tigers' 2-yard line, and two plays later Wilson snuck the ball over the goal line for the game-winner.
"For the first time this season we've had to come from behind, play the whole game and win in overtime," Wilson said. "I think it was great for our team."
Johnson's interception in overtime was his third interception of Lee on the day. In the first quarter, he picked off a deflected pass and returned it to the 15-yard line, which set up Alabama's first score of the game. In the second quarter, with Alabama trailing 14-7, Johnson picked off Lee at the Alabama 46 and returned the ball 54 yards for the game-tying touchdown.
Johnson's three interceptions, a career high for the Sulligent native, were part of a four-interception performance for the Alabama defense, which also recorded seven tackles-for-loss and four pass break-ups in the game.
"My mindset before the game was just to focus on the things we prepared for all week and to make sure I was set up for different motions and looks they would give us," Johnson said. "My mindset was just to have my mind ready for the worst case scenario so I could recognize it on the field and get the right play in to the rest of the defense."
Alabama's chance to win the game in regulation came after a 14-play, 74-yard scoring drive from LSU knotted the game at 21 with just over six minutes to play. The Tigers had been trailing 21-14 for much of the second half after a 3-yard touchdown run by junior Glen Coffee put the Tide up by a score midway through the third.
Coffee finished the game with 26 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown, giving him 1,010 rushing yards on the season. Wilson added a pair of touchdowns on the ground and was 15-of-31 for 215 yards through the air. His main receiving target on the afternoon was Jones, who finished a career game with seven catches for 128 yards.
Alabama's defense, which held Lee to 181 passing yards on the afternoon, was led by freshman Dont'a Hightower, who finished with 11 tackles and 1.5 tackles-for-loss. Arenas finished with nine tackles and sophomore Rolando McClain, who had Alabama's other interception on the day, added eight tackles and 2.5 tackles-for-loss.
Having trailed for a total of only 1 minute, 15 seconds in its first nine games, Alabama found itself playing from behind for much of the first half due, largely, to three turnovers. After the Tide jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, LSU scored twice in less than a minute, getting 14 points on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Lee to Demetrius Byrd and a 30-yard run from Charles Scott.
With LSU driving to increase its lead before the half, however, Johnson picked off an overthrown pass near midfield and took it back 54 yards to tie the game at 14. The interception was Alabama's seventh non-offensive touchdown of the year and fourth interception return for a score.
"He was sitting in the pocket and I think got a little pressure and left it up a little too high and I was in the area to pick it off and run up the field," Johnson said. "My teammates made some great blocks for me down field."
Alabama returns to Tuscaloosa next Saturday, Nov. 15, to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs (3-6, 1-4) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Kickoff has yet to be determined.