By Scott Latta
UA Media Relations
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. ?? In a game that featured five lead changes and five turnovers between the two teams, a late Alabama fumble made the difference as the No. 3 LSU Tigers defeated the No. 17 Crimson Tide 41-34 Saturday in front of a sold-out Bryant-Denny Stadium.
With the game tied at 34-34 and Alabama facing third-and-12 at its own 30, LSU safety Chad Jones broke through on a blitz and forced an Alabama fumble, which the Tigers recovered at the Alabama three-yard line. Two plays later, LSU tailback Jacob Hester broke through the goal line for the game-winning touchdown.
"I was proud of the way our players competed," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "LSU has a good football team, especially defensively.
They had seven sacks in the game and a lot of pressures...They have an outstanding team, but we didn't do as good of a job at executing the way we needed to, to be able to have success at what we need to do to get the job done."
LSU had tied the game before the turnover after a 61-yard punt return for a touchdown from Alabama sophomore Javier Arenas gave Alabama a
34-27 lead. The return tied the Alabama career record for punt returns for a touchdown at three, equalling the total achieved by former Alabama player Harry Gilmer (1944-46). It was the sixth time this season Arenas broke a punt or kick return for more than 45 yards.
"Javy works hard every game," said Saban on Arenas, who also played significant time in the Alabama secondary. "It's important to him.
We're going to reinforce that with more playing time."
After Alabama took a 20-17 lead into the locker room at halftime, the teams traded five punts before Wilson orchestrated a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass to senior Keith Brown. The score gave Alabama a 27-17 lead with 1:19 left in the third quarter.
Two plays later, however, LSU quarterback Matt Flynn hit Demetrius Byrd on the left sideline for a 61-yard touchdown pass to pull to within three at 27-24, and after an Alabama punt, Flynn led LSU on a five-play drive that kicker Colt David capped with a 49-yard game-tying field goal to pull the Tigers even at 27-27 with just over
11 minutes left in the game.
Most of the damage on offense for Alabama came through the air, with Wilson going 14-of-40 for 234 yards and three touchdowns. Senior DJ Hall caught two passes for 76 yards and a touchdown, Brown caught two passes for 43 yards and two touchdowns, and senior Matt Caddell had three catches for 55 yards.
On the ground, senior Jonathan Lowe had 10 carries for 31 yards and freshman Terry Grant had 13 carries for 23 yards.
"We play one play at a time," Brown said. "Every play has its own history. We just play our game. We just have to execute. Those guys made great plays. We have great receivers who can make great plays.
That was our thought the whole game.
"They would get up and it was like 'Let's go answer the phone and go back out there and do what we do best.' It was just a great game all around."
After Alabama took the opening drive of the game 44 yards and capped it with a 36-yard Leigh Tiffin field goal, LSU scored 17 unanswered points to take a 14-point lead in the second quarter.
Alabama then closed out the first half with 17 unanswered points of its own, getting a 67-yard touchdown from Wilson to Hall to draw within seven at 17-10 before the Alabama defense picked off Flynn passes on three consecutive drives. An interception by junior Ezekial Knight at the LSU five led to a 21-yard field goal from Tiffin to pull the Tide to within four at 17-13, before an interception from freshman Kareem Jackson set up a touchdown from Wilson to Brown to give Alabama a three-point lead with 46 seconds left.
After LSU moved the ball deep into Alabama territory, Jackson then blocked a 46-yard field goal attempt from David as time expired in the second quarter. Johnson led the Alabama defense with nine tackles, including one for loss. Senior Wallace Gilberry had eight tackles and three sacks and forced one fumble.
"We just couldn't finish the little things," senior Darren Mustin said. "It hurts pretty bad but you can't have a hangover from this for the whole season. We have to get our stuff together and learn from this over the next 24 hours and get ready for the next few games we have."
Alabama travels to Starkville, Miss. next Saturday to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs (5-4, 2-3 SEC) at Davis Wade Stadium.
Kickoff is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and will be broadcast on Lincoln Financial Sports.