Tigers come up empty

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Bennie Logan almost snarled with frustration.

Alabama, he said after the top-ranked Tide survived a 21-17 war against No. 5 LSU at Tiger Stadium, wasn't what some have made them out to be.

"They're a good team, don't get me wrong," Logan said. "But to go against a team that everybody is comparing to, you know, an NFL team ... we dominated them from snap to snap. There was just that one play that cost us."

Actually, one might call it one costly drive. Alabama, out of timeouts, went 72 yards on five plays to score the winning touchdown on a 28-yard AJ McCarron-to-T.J. Yeldon screen pass with 51 seconds left.

There was a blown assignment on the wide-open screen, though Tigers who were asked didn't know who was at fault or, more likely, didn't care to throw the culprit under a bus.

Didn't matter. Whoever the guilty party might have been was part of what was otherwise a near-flawless effort by what was probably the better of the two defenses most of the night.

Against a team that some were thinking was unbeatable and was indeed compared to an NFL team by South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, LSU was, for most of the night, the team that controlled the game.

Before the final drive, the Tigers' defense had held the Crimson Tide to a mere 49 second-half yards. McCarron, the latest name to enter the Heisman Trophy race, had zero second-half passing yards and just one meaningless completion.

Coupled with a breakout performance by Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger, it added up to an LSU team that more than at any point this season looked like a national-title contender. The Tigers outgained the Tide 435-331. They outrushed them, outpassed them and outdefended them.

The irony is, at the end of it, LSU was out of the BCS title race and, by extension, the SEC and SEC West races. Championships are now out of the question.

"I was mad right when it ended," defensive end Sam Montgomery said. "But I calmed down, respected the opponent, and now we go forward."

After all, Alabama deserved its share of respect. After Drew Alleman missed a 45-yard field goal that would have given LSU a six-point lead with 1:34 left, McCarron completed three consecutive passes to Kevin Norwood, all for first downs, the last two out of bounds, saving crucial seconds for a team out of timeouts.

"He's always been very efficient," LSU safety Eric Reid said of McCarron.

Not so much for most of the night. Even after a 4-for-5 final drive, McCarron was only 14-for-27 for 165 yards and one touchdown. He again avoided turnovers, but also headed six three-and-out possessions.

By comparison, Mettenberger, 12th in the SEC in pass efficiency coming into the night, was 24-for-35 for 298 yards against what was the nation's top pass defense entering the game.

Yet, McCarron walked away with his Heisman candidacy strengthened and the road to the national championship ending at his front door.

LSU dominated so much, so how in the world did that happen?

Aside from the one drive, the one characteristic of LSU that was off its game Saturday was that famous Mad Hat of coach Les Miles.

Miles, conservative with play calls most of the season, saved his best gambles for Alabama. Each blew up in his face.

He called for a fake 47-yard field goal in the second quarter that was snuffed out. He later gambled just before halftime by trying a 55-yard field goal that Alleman missed well short, giving the Tide the field position it needed to drive 63 yards to push their lead to 14-3 at intermission.

In the second half, it was a failed onsides kick after Jeremy Hill's touchdown pulled LSU within 14-10. Then, rather than attempt a 41-yard field goal that would have given the Tigers a 20-14 lead with about 8:40 left, Miles opted to go for it on a fourth-and-1 at the Tide 24, and Spencer Ware was stuffed.

"I wish," Miles said, "that I could have a couple of calls back."

Truth be told, if one gave the scenario to most sane college football observers that an LSU game -- even against mighty Alabama -- would come down to a handful of Miles gambles and one defensive possession with the opponent having to go 72 yards in under two minutes against a John Chavis defense, reasonable people would bet on the Tigers.

Instead, LSU walked away looking like a champion, but facing a future where a title, at least for this season, is out of reach.