TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - No. 1 LSU gained the inside track to the BCS title game, beating No. 2 Alabama 9-6 on Drew Alleman's 25-yard field goal in overtime after a fierce defensive struggle in which neither team reached the end zone Saturday night.
The Crimson Tide missed four field goals, including Cade Foster's 52-yard attempt after Alabama got the ball first in the extra period. LSU appeared to win the game on Michael Ford's run around left end after taking a pitch, but he stepped out of bounds at the 7.
After two plays gained nothing, LSU (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) sent on Alleman to attempt his third field goal of the game on third down. Alabama (8-1, 5-1) tried to freeze him by calling timeout, but he calmly knocked it through to set off a wild celebration by the visiting team.
The crowd of more than 100,000 at Bryant-Denny Stadium — most of them dressed in crimson — sat in stunned silence as LSU celebrated its victory in only the 23rd regular-season matchup between the top two teams in The Associated Press rankings.
LSU still must win its last three regular-season games — No. 8 Arkansas is the toughest test — and then would have to get through the SEC championship game. But the Tigers are the clear favorite after winning another huge game away from home, emerging with the victory in a matchup between the two teams generally considered the best in the land.
And what if the BCS formula pits LSU against Alabama again in the national championship game?
"I'd be honored to face that team again," Tigers coach Les Miles said.
Alabama will long be moaning about how this one got away. Foster missed two first-quarter field goals, and Jeremy Shelley had one blocked before Shelley finally made one from 34 yards. Alleman kicked a 19-yarder on the final play of the first half, leaving the teams tied at 3 even though the Crimson Tide clearly had the upper hand.
Interceptions set up both field goals in the second half. Foster made one from 46 yards after Jarrett Lee threw his second pick of the game, then Alleman connected from 30 yards after Alabama's AJ McCarron made an ill-timed throw.
Outside of the kicking woes, Marquis Maze was at the center of two decisive plays in the fourth quarter that helped finish off the Crimson Tide. First, with Alabama threatening at the LSU 28, he took a snap in the wildcat formation and tried to surprise LSU with a pass. Tight end Michael Williams broke into the clear near the goal line, but Eric Reid hustled back to snatch it away as both players tumbled to the ground at the 1.
Reid wound up with the ball, the officials ruled it an interception and a replay upheld the call.
LSU failed to pick up a first down, and it looked as though Alabama would get it back in good field position to take another crack at the LSU end zone. But a hobbling Maze, favoring a leg injury, couldn't catch the long line-drive punt. He turned away from it around his own 40 and the ball rolled all the way to the Alabama 19.
The Tiger got it out to around midfield on their final possession of regulation, then had to punt it away. Alabama took over with only 52 seconds left and settled for overtime.
"Our season was at stake," LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne said. "We knew where we want to be at the end of the season."
"When you get blown out, you've got lots of issues and problems," Saban said. "I don't think anybody could watch that game and say Alabama doesn't have a really good team and didn't play a really good game. We just didn't win."
Though even with extra time it will go down as the second-lowest scoring No. 1 vs. No. 2 game in the 75-year history of the AP poll. The fewest points in a 1-2 game is zero, the famous Army-Notre Dame scoreless tie in 1946.
The buildup to the game resembled a Super Bowl, especially with both teams getting a couple of weeks to prepare. More than 100,000 fans squeezed into Bryant-Denny Stadium. Tens of thousands more converged on Tuscaloosa without tickets, content to just tailgate, soak up the atmosphere and watch the game on televisions outside the stadium.
Two ferocious defenses lived up to their billing. Alabama came in allowing just 6.9 points and 44.9 yards rushing per game, leading the nation in both categories, and the second-fewest passing yards. LSU wasn't far behind in any of those categories.
The Crimson Tide finished with 295 yards, while the Tigers won with just 239.
"Defense wins ball games," said Claiborne, who had LSU's other interception, the one that set up a field goal. "That's all I've got to say about that. You come out and you prepare hard and play like we did tonight, and you come out on top."
The Game of the Century it wasn't, at least in the first half. Alabama missed three field goals. LSU was called for a pair of facemask penalties and Lee threw the first of his two interceptions. Both teams were flagged for silly penalties, such as substitution infractions and an offsides on Alabama that extended LSU's only decent drive of the first two quarters.
With the defenses dominating, it became clear the game would come down to which team could take advantage of its rare opportunities.
For all of Alabama's heralded recruiting classes under Nick Saban, it was clear the Crimson Tide didn't devote a lot of time to finding a kicker. Foster was wide right from 44 and 50 yards before Saban switched up. The coach sent in Shelley, his short kicking specialist, for a 49-yard try, but that didn't work out so well, either. He drove it low — right into the outstretched hands of the LSU defender Bennie Logan.
Finally, the Tide drove it close enough to actually make one.
Trent Richardson slipped out of the background to haul in his second long pass completion of the first half, a 39-yarder down to the LSU 19. The next three plays produced only 2 yards, so Shelley trotted out again to a few nervous groans from the crowd. Those turned to cheers of relief when he knocked it through, giving Alabama the lead with just under 4 minutes left in the half.
It didn't hold up.
Jordan Jefferson, who wound up taking most of the snap instead of Lee, guided the Tigers down the field, most notably on a 34-yard completion to Russell Shepard when Alabama botched its deep coverage and left only one guy to cover two receivers.
That gave LSU first-and-goal at the Alabama 8, its first serious scoring chance of the game. The Tide's defense stiffened, even after being called for holding, and LSU came uncomfortably close to running off too much time.
With 8 seconds left and one timeout remaining, the Tigers handed off to Spencer Ware from the 2. He powered into the middle of the line, tried to keep his legs going but was eventually whistled down while LSU frantically signaled for a timeout. The clock stopped with 1 second left, though the officials put an extra tick back on.
Alleman knocked through the chip shot to send the teams to the locker room tied at 3.
Richardson, a Heisman Trophy candidate, had a solid game with 23 carries for 89 yards and five catches for 80 yards. It wasn't enough. Jefferson did just enough, completing 6 of 10 passes for 67 yards and running 11 times for 43 yards.
Alabama no longer controls its own fate in the race to get to the title game.
LSU took care of that.
"Whoever the folks are who make those decisions will make those decisions based on the full body of work of every team in the country and choose which teams are the best," Saban said. "I really can't speculate on a hypothetical situation and it's really not our focus right now, anyway."