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November 8, 2009

Upon Further Review: LSU at Alabama

There were so many notable and different aspects of the University of Alabama's football game against LSU on Saturday night that Nick Saban's decision to go for it on fourth-and-inches at the Tigers' 45 in the fourth quarter went largely overlooked.

At the time, Alabama was only ahead 21-15, but LSU's offense had gone three-and-out on its two previous possessions and managed just 17 yards.

The Tide had already been in a similar situation earlier in the fourth quarter when down 15-10 had fourth-and-goal from the 2, but with two field goals potentially winning the game the coach decided to play it safe.

This time, Saban elected not to after senior punter P.J. Fitzgerald had drawn a penalty, running into the kicker. with 5:54 remaining.

"I had confidence in our defense and I think that makes it easier to do things like that, but when you're inside of one yard, we're on the 50-yard line, it was a one-score game, I felt like when it's inside of one yard you have to confidence in your players that they can get it," Saban said. "I think two things, we needed a field goal to make it a two-score game and it was just all about being aggressive and we were and we made it. Those are only good decisions when they work. If they didn't work, it would have been a horrible one."

The call was for a run through the left side by sophomore running back Mark Ingram out of the wildcat formation, two yards for a first down.

"I think he's a good back," LSU coach Les Miles said. "He plays toughly in games, something that we'd understand. I think given a similar situation we'd have run the football better late in the game as well."

Meanwhile, on the flip side Miles went for a two-point conversion late in the third quarter when the extra point would have given the Tigers a 16-10 lead. Consequently, even after senior kicker Leigh Tiffin's final field goal LSU could have still been within striking distance at 24-16.

Here are this week's awards:

Play of the game: Sophomore wide receiver Julio Jones' 73-yard screen pass for a touchdown gave Alabama a 21-15 lead with 10:24 remaining. Not only was it the longest play of his career, but longer than his total yards in any game this season.

Player of the game: Ingram and the offensive line took control after the break. In the third quarter he had 85 rushing yards on eight carries for a 10.6 average and six of the nine times he touched the ball resulted in a first down. He finished with 144 rushing yards on 22 carries (6.5 average) and five catches for 30 yards.

Statistic of the game: Alabama outscored LSU 14-0 in the fourth quarter, had the ball for 10 minutes and 56 seconds, and outgained the Tigers 106-9.

Hit of the game: LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson wasn't quite the same after the play he got drilled when senior cornerback Javier Arenas got to him followed by senior end Brandon Deaderick. By the end of the drive he was on the sideline after spraining an ankle on freshman linebacker Nico Johnson's sack and the Tigers were already out of time outs. Jefferson's ankle couldn't have been too bad because when LSU scored a touchdown on its next possession he was one of the first players to run down to the end zone to celebrate.

Did you notice? Junior quarterback Greg McElroy's end zone drought ended after 113 attempts when he connected with junior Darius Hanks on a 21-yard pass early in the third quarter. His last touchdown pass before that was the 7-yard toss to Hanks in the third quarter against Kentucky on Oct. 3.

Here are 10 other notable things from Saturday's game:

1. Strength of schedule: If it seems like Alabama has played some really good defenses this season, that's because it has. The last four opponents (South Carolina, Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU) were all ranked in the top 20 nationally in total defense before facing the Tide. Also, according to the current NCAA statistics, Alabama has faced five defenses ranked in the top 30 this season. The only other team ranked in the Associated Press poll to have played that many is Virginia Tech, followed by Georgia Tech with four, and Iowa and Miami with three. No. 1 Florida has faced two defenses ranked in the top 30 (LSU and Tennessee), and No. 2 Texas just one (Oklahoma).

2. Julio's day: Jones wasn't having the best day until his 73-yard touchdown. He was the extra man when senior Terrence Cody came on the field for the short-yardage package, the safety came the play after his drop and McElroy missed him on what should have been a touchdown pass when LSU blew the coverage. However, the screen pass came with sophomore cornerback Patrick Peterson out of the game (for the third time), when sophomore safety Brandon Taylor (a converted cornerback) played way off him at the line and the nearest linebacker turned to the interior to follow freshman tight end Michael Williams in motion. Although linemen James Carpenter, William Vlachos and Barrett Jones all got into position to make blocks, the receiver only needed to fake out Taylor to break into open field. There were two defenders with two yards of him at the 40, but the distance grew the further he went.

3. Ingram's day: Alabama ran right at undersized end Rahim Alem, and all of the 10-plus-yard gains were either up the middle or to the left except one. Alabama ran the ball just 11 times in the first half compared to 27 in the second half. He keyed the touchdown drive to open the second half with a 12-yard reception followed by carries of 4, 12, 12 and 18 yards, which combined exceeded his first-half output. Ingram has averaged 178.0 yards against ranked opponents and 156 yards in SEC road games.

4. The controversial call/replay: Alabama got a break on the controversial call in the fourth quarter when McElroy tried to force a pass to Jones and Peterson nearly picked it off. Although the cornerback probably did make the interception, the replay official was handcuffed by the initial call of an incompletion. It's difficult to tell if he had possession while his dragging foot was still down, which means the call comes down to the toe he put down before stepping out of bounds. Although Peterson kicked up some grass (which wasn't painted white), it's impossible to tell if any of his foot is out-of-bounds. Had the initial call been an interception it would have stood, but tough to overrule because of the limitations of the available angles.

5. McElroy's performance: It was sort of a roller-coaster performance for the quarterback. The lows included his bad decision on the interception and the near-interception, missing Jones in the end zone and sophomore tight end Brad Smelley on the reverse out of the wildcat formation. When McElroy missed Jones for a touchdown it began a 1-for-5 stretch, but he came out of that nicely with five straight completions in the two-minute offense before the interception when senior tight end Colin Peek didn't know the ball was coming his way. What really hurt on that play was that sophomore Marquis Maze was open over the middle. However, his 276 passing yards were the second-most this season, and his 137.6 passer rating was the fourth-best. One notable area of improvement was third downs, he was 5-for-6 with three for first downs. He had two passes dropped, threw one away and had four incompletions due to defenders making plays.

6. Penalties: Alabama only had four penalties in the game. Smelley was flagged for a block to the back on a punt return (and the player he hit still made the tackle), McElroy was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety (which was the correct call), Deaderick was called for being offsides, and Alabama had too many men on the field. However, Alabama came close to some other penalties. For example, sophomore safety Robby Green would have been called for a face mask, but the play was considered dead due to a false start. Alabama had 12 men on the field when LSU called time out to avoid a delay-of-game penalty. Arenas would have been called for pass interference on LSU's final possession had Jarrett Lee's pass been anywhere near the receiver.

7. Special teams: Although it didn't necessarily show statistically, the Tide had its best kick coverage of the season, aided by some good directional kicking that helped keep dangerous return man Trindon Holliday bottled up. It began with the opening kickoff, when senior Tyrone King stopped Ron Brooks and sophomore Jerrell Harris promptly drilled him. LSU's longest return was 29 yards and the Tigers averaged 21.2 yards per return. Previously, opponents averaged 25.0 yards per return. Also, when senior nose tackle Terrence Cody was in on the punt-coverage unit he was able to run up and crash into the punter's protectors.

8. Who was thrown at: LSU went at senior linebacker Cory Reamer a bit, but the Tigers really didn't attack any defensive back in particular. Junior cornerback Kareem Jackson slipped on the 41-yard gain by Terrance Toliver, the only completion against him, and sophomore safety Mark Barron was defending on the Deangelo Peterson's 28-yard gain. Overall, the 158 passing yards allowed were the fourth fewest this season behind Virginia Tech's 91, North Texas' 126 and Ole Miss' 140.

9. Red zone: Alabama reached the red zone three times and had to settle for three field goals. Inside the 20, McElroy was 1-of-3 with the completion for 5 yards coming on third-and-goal from the LSU 7. For the season, McElroy is 9-for-34 in the red zone.

10. Here's a trivia question for you to stump your friends this week, name the player who leads the Southeastern Conference in average per game tackles for a loss. It's Arenas, who with two more Saturday has 10.5 for the season and a 1.31 average. Similarly, with two sacks against LSU, sophomore Marcell Dareus has 6.5 for the season and his .72 average tops the conference.


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