TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - No, hard-running Trent Richardson couldn’t dominate LSU’s defense the way he has so many others. But Alabama’s 9-6 loss Saturday night was less about legs than it was about feet - which turned out to be the Crimson Tide’s Achilles’ heel.
Special teams hadn’t mattered much in Bama’s first eight games, all won by 16 or more points. But when pressed in a matchup with No. 1 LSU, the No. 2 Tide left Bryant-Denny Stadium kicking themselves.
“We had lots of opportunities in the game that we didn’t take advantage of,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
“I can’t really say that I’m not proud of the way our players competed in the game and played in the game. We just didn’t probably execute well enough in certain situations in the game and did not take advantage of some of the opportunities that we had.”
Three field goals went wide or short. Another was blocked. And with LSU backed up at its 9-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, the Southeastern Conference’s second-leading punt returner, Marquis Maze, failed to field Brad Wing’s punt, turning it into a field-position-flipping 73-yarder.
Cade Foster, the long field-goal specialist, entered the game 1-of-3 on the year, and he was wide right on his first two attempts against LSU from 44 and 50 yards.
Jeremy Shelley’s 49-yard try in the second quarter was blocked by LSU’s Bennie Logan.
Shelley was good on a 34-yarder in the second quarter, and Foster was true from 46 yards out in the third for Bama’s only points. But in overtime, when Alabama lost 10 yards on its only possession, Foster badly hooked a 52-yarder to the left.
Saban, however, didn’t turn his wrath on the kickers.
“Some of that had to do with field position, but those weren’t easy kicks, so I don’t put that all on the kicking game necessarily,” Saban said. “You’ve got to say something about what did you do offensively when you stalled at that point that we couldn’t get in a better position to kick a field goal or score a touchdown.”
One of the biggest field position issues came in a terrible two-play sequence for Maze, who was quarterback AJ McCarron’s (16-of-28, 199 yards, 1 interception) most frequent target with six catches for 61 yards. But after Alabama got a first down at the LSU 28 in the fourth quarter, Maze came in for what appeared to be a “wildcat” running play, taking a direct snap from center and rolling to his right before throwing toward tight end Michael Williams at the 1-yard line. Tiger safety Eric Reid wrestled the ball from Williams before both hit the ground for an interception.
“I got a little pressure, so I had to get it up,” Maze said. “I thought he came down with it. ? It’s a hurtful feeling committing a turnover.”
LSU couldn’t advance past the 9-yard line, but Wing’s punt sailed past Maze, the deep return man, and rolled dead at the Bama 19.
Maze claimed the punt hit one of the wires to the camera that is suspended over the field. No other Alabama player or coach made that observation after the game.
Plays like that helped neutralize the effort of Richardson, whose 89 yards on 23 carries were well below his SEC-leading 123.6-yard rushing average entering the game. The Bama runner also was a dangerous receiving target, getting a game-high 80 yards on five catches, including a 39-yard catch-and-run that set up Alabama’s first field goal, and a 24-yard play that preceded Maze’s ill-fated throw.
“We were a little inconsistent in getting a hat on a hat and probably had a few too many negative plays, which certainly takes you out of drives sometimes,” Saban said. “But Trent did a fantastic job.”
“The defensive front for LSU did a tremendous job out there,” Richardson said. “They’ve probably got the most speed on defensive line other than ours. Our offensive line played a good ball. You’ve got to give an ?A’ to them on their test. You can’t take nothing from LSU’s defense.”
The result left Alabama players hoping that, if they win the rest of their games, they might be in position to earn their way into the BCS title game in a presumed rematch with LSU, which is in the driver’s seat for that contest.
“A game like this, you can’t get back,” Richardson said. “But hopefully, we will get a chance to play them again.”