TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For three quarters and change, well before No. 3 Alabama would put away LSU 24-15, clinch the SEC West and remain at the front of the teams behind the BCS’s velvet ropes, the Crimson Tide gave the same frustrating performance it had in its previous three games.
The offense still looked like its best play began when place-kicker Leigh Tiffin ran onto the field. Against Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee, field goals had been enough. Against LSU, no. The Tigers held a 15-13 lead, and the Crimson Tide had a lengthening list of offensive misfires.
Tension hung over Bryant-Denny Stadium, tension borne of frustration. Head coach Nick Saban couldn’t take it anymore. The Tide trailed by two points because wide receiver Julio Jones failed to come off the field for a goal-line offense. Instead of third-and-goal at the LSU 2, Alabama got penalized 5 yards for having 12 men in the huddle, and Saban erupted. Who knew an AT&T headset could be slammed into the turf and still work?
That mental mistake resulted in Tiffin’s kicking a 20-yard field goal, which is how Alabama arrived at that 15-13 deficit. So much at stake, and so much wasn’t happening.
The Alabama defense had played its usual physical game. The Tigers’ starting quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, and starting tailback, Charles Scott, both had been knocked out of the game.
Lord knows, the Tide offense had tried to change its ways. Quarterback Greg McElroy, who went from poster boy to whipping boy over the course of October, had come out firing.