Alabama has delivered some nasty, heart-wrenching knockout punches to LSU over the past three years.
This one might leave the biggest mark of them all.
Coach Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide beat the Tigers 20-13 in overtime Saturday night at an electric Tiger Stadium, storming back in the final minute to force the extra period and then eventually sealing a fourth straight win in this hotly contested series.
“That,” coach Les Miles said, “was a tough one.”
No. 14 LSU (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern) had its three-game winning streak end in the most revolting of ways — in a loss to its old coach after a late collapse from a defense that had played so well against No. 4 Alabama (8-1, 5-1).
LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye hit a 39-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 13-10 lead with 50 seconds left before Bama’s comeback began.
The Tide went 55 yards on nine plays, and Adam Griffith’s 27-yard field goal with 3 seconds left sent the game to overtime. Tide quarterback Blake Sims then hit a wide-open DeAndre White for a 6-yard touchdown on the Tide’s overtime possession.
LSU flopped on its overtime series, failing to pick up a first down on four plays. Quarterback Anthony Jennings threw the ball on all four downs — including a first-down dropped pass by fullback Melvin Jones. On fourth-and-10, Jennings decided to heave a ball to a covered Malachi Dupre in the end zone instead of running.
Rolling out, Jennings appeared to have plenty of room to run for the first down.
“I saw Malachi one-on-one in the end zone, and I wanted to give him a chance to catch the ball,” Jennings said. “Looking back at it and seeing I had the chance to run, I should have thought we just needed the first down.”
Bama tipped Jennings’ pass to Dupre into the air, and it dropped in the back of the end zone, sparking an explosive roar from the visiting section. Alabama players flooded the field, celebrating wildly, as LSU immediately headed for the tunnel, disheartened and distraught.
Alabama had done it again. The Tide hasn’t loss to the Tigers since that 9-6 overtime game in Tuscaloosa in 2011, a run that includes a couple of blowout debacles — 21-0 in the BCS title game after the 2011 season, and 38-17 last year — and, now a pair of heart-pounders in Tiger Stadium. Alabama won 21-17 in 2012 after scoring on its final drive to stick the Tigers with a sour loss.
This one probably tasted worse.
“We’re hurting,” Jennings said, “and I know it’s very painful for Les to take this loss, but we’ll bounce back next week.”
Up next is an Arkansas team that hasn’t won an SEC game since October 2012 — a 17-game conference losing streak. The Hogs and Tigers meet in a night game in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in what’s forecasted to be a wintry mix with lows in the 20s.
“Our football team has too much character to let down now,” Miles said.
The Tigers won’t long forget this one, though.
LSU appeared to have the game won after a late fumble from Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon. With the score tied at 10, Lamar Louis forced the fumble, and LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith recovered at the Tide 6-yard line with 1:13 left.
On the next play, LSU left guard Vadal Alexander was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, a penalty that backed the Tigers up to the 21-yard line.
It was a call Miles seemed to disagree with after the game and said he’d “investigate” the personal foul — one he said “changed the complexion of the game.”
“If we don’t get the 15-yard penalty there, we are on the (5-yard line). We are talking about driving it in for a seven-pointer,” Miles said.
A few plays after the flag, Delahoussaye hit his 39-yarder to put LSU up 13-10 with just 50 ticks left. It only set up the Tide’s game-tying march. Kickoff specialist Trent Domingue booted the kickoff out of bounds to give the Tide possession at the 35.
Without any timeouts and behind a quarterback who had struggled for much of the game, Alabama went 55 yards — a stake in the heart of a Tigers team that hadn’t lost in a month.
“We were not very effective at putting pressure on them at the end,” Miles said. “I would never characterize us as giving this game away.”
Sims completed passes of 22 and 16 yards to Christian Jones and White to get the Tide into field goal position on that drive. He scrambled for 5 yards on a third down, too, and Bama overcame a sluggish outing against a stiff LSU defense.
The Tigers forced Bama into a whopping seven three-and-outs and shut out Saban’s crew in the second half.
Bama had just three second-half possessions before its 55-yard game-tying march. LSU controlled the clock, finishing with 183 rushing yards and holding a 38:13 to 21:47 minute time of possession advantage over the Tide.
Leonard Fournette led LSU with 79 rushing yards, and Jennings had 40 yards on the ground. He struggled through the air, though, and he couldn’t hook up with receivers on key third downs late in the game that could have continued drives.
The quarterback started 2-of-10 passing and finished 8-of-26 for 76 yards — his highlight a first-quarter TD pass to Dupre to give the Tigers an early 7-0 lead.
In the end, though, it was the Tide’s day in a series the continued to wow the nation.
LSU and Alabama met for the seventh consecutive year with both ranked in the top 15. The squads have met each season with one or both in the top five since 2008.
The programs continuously battle for the nation’s best recruits — there were a whopping 20 five-star prospects at Saturday’s game.
The annual clash has become synonymous with a close, heart-pounding, defensive-centric battle between squads fighting for championships.
That didn’t change Saturday — and neither did the victor. Alabama landed its punch, and it didn’t feel good for the Tigers.
“I’ve got a team hurting right now,” Miles said.
Said center Elliott Porter: “We’re going to push and push and push and push until we can’t push no more. Keep on fighting.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv