LSU would say the biggest play of the game was Marcus Spears hitting a scrambling Alabama quarterback Spencer Pennington, causing a fumble that was picked up and returned for a touchdown giving the Tigers a 13-10 lead late in the third quarter.
Alabama would beg to differ. Bama’s Mark Anderson had recovered an LSU fumble inside the LSU 10 a few minutes earlier and the Tide was trying to pass for a touchdown with a 10-6 lead. Bama receiver Keith Brown was the intended receiver and he was knocked down in the end zone by the LSU defender. An SEC official looking right at the play -- which should have been an Alabama first down at the LSU 1 -- elected to ignore the infraction. The LSU defender intercepted and returned the ball to near midfield, costing Alabama almost certain points and changing field position drastically in favor of the home team.
Alabama never recovered from the effects of the missed call.
Although the Crimson Tide defense was able to hold off LSU, the Tigers punted Bama deep and on Bama’s second series from against its goalline Pennington was hit from behind while trying to scramble and gave up the ball. An LSU defender scooped the ball up and took it in for a touchdown.
And, in truth, Alabama’s defense, offense and special teams pretty much folded up after the giveaway touchdown.
The loss dropped Alabama to 6-4 overall and 3-4 in Southeastern Conference games and almost certainly dooms the Tide to the most minor of bowl games, the Music City Bowl in Nashville or the Independence Bowl in Shreveport.
And things don’t get easier for Alabama. Next Saturday Alabama will host undefeated Auburn at 2:30 p.m. CST with national television coverage by CBS.
It’s a shame Bama let the LSU game get out of control, because Alabama had played very, very well until the non-call by the SEC official.
Almost no one would expect Pennington to turn in a big play, but he did early in the game. He completed a 48-yard pass to Matt Caddell, who made an excellent diving catch at the five-yard line. Alabama didn’t try anything fancy, giving it to Kenneth Darby three times and he barely got in on the third try for a 7-0 Tide lead.
After holding LSU to a field goal, the Tide had a chance to get another touchdown, but a motion penalty on a Pennington pass to fullback LéRon McClain negated the touchdown and the Tide had to settle for a 25-yard Brian Bostick field goal and a 10-3 lead. The Pennington-McClain combination for 24 yards had been a big third down play in the drive to the field goal.
That was pretty much it for Alabama offensively as the Tide was shut down in the second half. Pennington was sacked repeatedly and appeared to have been banged up, if not injured. And continuing Alabama’s bad injury luck in the offensive backfield, McClain suffered a severe ankle sprain late in the game.
The defense, which has played very well this year, did not have its best game, either, giving up long fourth quarter touchdowns (one pass, one run by Joseph Addai) that enabled LSU to put the game away.
And Brandon Brooks, whose fumble against Mississippi State got him fired as the punt return man, is probably no longer a kickoff return man after booting two kickoffs, forcing Alabama to attempt to start drives inside its own 10-yard line. Alabama had gone into the game as the nation’s top kickoff return team, but had a miserable night in that department.
Alabama had almost no offense. Kenneth Darby did make the 100-yard rushing mark, but it took him 35 carries to get 108 yards. Pennington hit seven of 15 passes for 113 yards with one interception. He completed only two of eight passes and suffered the interception in the second half. Caddell had two receptions for 66 yards.
Although the Tide defense held LSU to 14 first downs, Bama’s offense produced only eight. The Tigers out-rushed Alabama, 194 yards to 81 (Pennington had minus 29 yards as he was sacked four times). Alabama had 113 passing yards, LSU 91. Bama’s total offense was an anemic 191 yards, while LSU had 285.
Alabama Coach Mike Shula talked around the non-call, but it was the first thing he mentioned in his recap of the game. But despite the bad things, he said the defense played well and that he also saw some good things in the running game.
“They are good,” he said of LSU. “We had our chances. We had a couple of bad drives offensively.”
Shula said, “We have to take what was good and build on it and we have to get over the bad and get ready for next week. We’ve got to get this one out of our minds and regroup. We’ve got to get ready for Auburn. They are real good, a hot football team.”