LSU (9-1, 5-1 in SEC) won its fourth straight game since a 19-7 loss to Florida on Oct. 11. The Tigers improved to 9-1 for the first time since 1973 and have now won nine games for the 21st time in school history. The win sets up next week's showdown with Ole Miss for the SEC Western Division crown. LSU and the Rebels are set for a 2:30 date on CBS next weekend in Oxford.
"I'm obviously very pleased with the effort my team put out today," Saban said. "I'm proud of the way we competed. I'm proud of the way the players responded in critical situations on both sides of the ball."
Alabama fell to 4-7 overall and 2-5 in the SEC. The Tide is assured its first losing season since 2000 and third since the 1997 campaign. Alabama has now lost to the No. 1 and third ranked teams on its homefield. The Crimson Tide lost a 20-13 decision with Oklahoma on Sept. 6.
"They are real good and very deserving of their high ranking," said Alabama head coach Mike Shula. "We played Oklahoma early in the year so we can compare them to the top teams in the country. If Oklahoma is No. 1, they are definitely right behind them."
LSU's key to success this season has been centered around the way it opens. Entering Saturday's contest, the Tigers had outscored its opponents 280-19. Shula knew his team needed to throttle LSU's attack from the onset, but the Tide defense was unable to do so.
"We got off to a poor start," Shula said. "We didn't execute. They had good field position all night and we just couldn't score when we had the chances. We just didn't play our best game. This was a tough loss. The defense was put in tough situations all night."
LSU won the coin toss, but deferred to the second half. Saban said he wanted to let his defense set the tone of the game.
"We look at it as where do we have the best matchup in the game," Saban said. "It all depends on how we want to start the game. Being on the road, we wanted to build momentum on defense."
That is exactly what the Tigers accomplished.
LSU held the Tide offense to just three plays and out before the Tigers offense took the field. With quarterback Matt Mauck at the controls, LSU drove 49 yards on 10 plays but failed to penetrate the end zone despite having possession at the Bama three. The Tigers settled for a 20-yard Chris Jackson field goal to open the scoring.
"We had a great team effort tonight," Mauck said. "Offensively we left a few things out there, but when we needed a big play we made it and that was big tonight."
Big plays came early and often on special teams as LSU's Skyler Green constantly gave the Tigers prime field position with a pair of fantastic punt returns. Green's second offering resulted in a 43-yard scamper to the Alabama 23.
One play later, the Tigers hit paydirt.
Mauck hit a streaking Michael Clayton on a 23-yard pitch and catch for a 9-0 LSU lead. Jackson's extra point gave the Tigers a 10-0 advantage and set the motion for what would become an LSU rout.
"Offensively we came out really fired up and did an excellent job," Clayton said. "We just wanted to get points tonight. We didn't want to leave any opportunities for points on the field."
Since the loss to Florida, LSU has owned the first quarter. The Tigers endured major offensive problems in their only loss of the 2003 season, but have faltered little since then. LSU has outscored its last four opponents a combined 73-0 in the opening period including a 14-0 lead at South Carolina, a 21-0 lead over Auburn, a 28-0 advantage over La. Tech and Saturday's 10-0 tilt against Bama.
In the midst of several blown opportunities by the LSU offense, the Tigers did find the end zone once again before the half. A 9-play, 55-yard drive ended with a 3-yard Mauck to Eric Edwards touchdown pass with 2:03 left in the second quarter.
Trailing 17-0 going into the second half, Alabama encountered its first stroke of luck on the initial play of the third quarter.
Mauck connected with Clayton on an 8-yard out route. Clayton snagged the pass but failed to secure it fumbling at the Alabama 30. The Tide mustered only one yard on the drive and was forced to attempt a lengthy field goal. Brain Bostick's 46-yard offering sailed wide left leaving the weary Bama faithful even more restless.
LSU converted the Tide's misfortunes into opportunity.
The Tigers marched 72 yards on nine plays en route to a 24-0 lead. Mauck highlighted the drive with a 17-yard run for a first down and overcame a 15-yard chop block penalty with a 27-yard first down toss to Clayton.
True freshman Alley Broussard added the finishing touches to the power-packed drive with a pair of bone crushing runs. After a 13-yard run, Broussard muscled his way across the goal line from four yards away.
The Tigers managed just three points from that point on, a 31-yard field goal at the 10:11 mark of the fourth quarter. LSU found itself mired in somewhat of an offensive slump with an array of penalties and missed opportunities.
"We did just enough tonight to win," said LSU tackle Rodney Reed. "We left some opportunities on the field, but we played with the type of intensity it took to win."
While pleased with the win, Saban expressed his feelings on the Tigers lack of crispness on offense.
"We made a lot of mistakes today and had a lot of penalities," Saban said. "We were never able to just put the game away. Being able to rise to the occasion and take leadership opportunities, I was proud of how we did that tonight."
Saban and his players may have felt as if it was a down night offensively, but the Tigers did generate 470 yards of total offense, with a balanced attack of 219 yards rushing and 251 through the air.
Mauck, who improved to 14-2 as a starter, completed 24-of-36 passes for 251 yards and a pair of touchdowns. However, the junior field general did throw an uncharacteristic interception.
"It was a really poor decision on my part," Mauck said. "It was just something I really wish I could take back. I thought I did a pretty good job tonight, but there were some things I would've done differently if I could."
Mauck's second quarter touchdown pass to Eric Edwards was the 30th of his career, surpassing Rohan Davey for fifth place in career passing touchdowns. It was the seventh TD reception of Edwards' career.
Justin Vincent paced the Tigers ground assault with 83 yards on 16 carries. Broussard scored LSU's only rushing touchdown along with 79 yards on 11 carries.
The Tide was held to one first down in the first 29 minutes against the nation's stingiest defense. Alabama got two first downs on its final drive of the half, but an interception by Lavalais ended the threat.
LSU gave Brodie Croyle little time to throw and SEC leading rusher Shaud Williams no room to run. Croyle went 12-for-33 for 154 yards and an interception and Williams had 11 carries for 29 yards.
"We came out ready to play tonight," Edwards said. "We made some mistakes on offense, but our defense really played awesome tonight. Alabama is a really good team. We beat a really good team tonight. They played hard, but we just came out ready."
The Tide could generate very little on offense, finally getting on the scoreboard on Bostick's 27-yard field goal with 6:38 to play. Alabama finished with 219 yards and 10 first downs.
"We just have to put it out of our minds and get ready for the next one," Shula said.