The good fortune was short-lived, however, as Lee’s third down pass was picked off by Rashad Johnson in the corner of the endzone on LSU's first and only possession of overtime.
“This one here is bitter,” Miles said during his postgame press conference. “It’s painful. There isn’t any question. As a competitor, when you play your tail off, there’s a comfort in that. There’s an understanding that, ‘Damn, I played my tail off.’”
On Alabama’s first play, John Parker Wilson hit Julio Jones for 24 yards and then two plays later Wilson took it in to lift the Crimson Tide (10-0, 6-0) to victory and keep its national championship hopes alive.
“After the interception, coach Saban said let’s take a shot, so of course we threw it to Julio Jones,” Wilson said. “He made a great play. It was a back shoulder ball and he made a great adjustment.”
Lee had another rough outing for the Tigers (6-3, 3-3) as he completed only 13-of-34 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown.
His first interception that led to Alabama’s first score was not his fault as Demetrius Byrd had the ball, but took a big shot and the ball landed in the arms of Johnson, who picked off three of Lee’s passes on the day.
The other three, however, including the one that Johnson returned 54 yards for a touchdown, was all on the redshirt freshman quarterback.
“It’s just an adrenaline rush and trying to make things happen when they’re not there,” Lee said of the bad decisions he has made. “In high school it may have been there but the speed of the game is much faster, obviously. I’m just trying to make plays when they’re not there.”
Lee played well at times including a stretch in the fourth quarter when the Tigers trailed 21-14 with 12:14 remaining.
He tied the game up by driving the Tigers 74 yards in 14 plays where he hit 4-of-5 passes for 58 yards. Terrance Toliver grabbed three of his passes and Brandon LaFell grabbed the other. Charles Scott plowed in from a yard out and Colt David’s extra point made it a brand new ballgame.
The Tigers dodged one of Bama’s many bullets on the next drive when a holding call negated a 32-yard Wilson run. He got down to the goal line but the holding call on Andre Smith knocked the Crimson Tide out of field goal range.
Tiffin then entered for the game-winner, but Jean-Francois got a paw on the ball and that gave the Tigers hope.
“We thought we were going to win the football game and that the game was ours,” said LSU linebacker Darry Beckwith.
Most of the crowd of 93,039, which was the largest in Tiger Stadium history, felt the same at that point, but the Tigers couldn’t make the play when they needed it the most.
“We just have to stop giving the other team the opportunity to beat us,” said LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson. “We’re right there all the time, but we’re just not finishing it.”
LSU was able to move the ball on a stingy Alabama defense that came in ranked No. 2 in the nation against the run.
Charles Scott rushed for 92 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, and Keiland Williams added 88 yards on 13 rushes. As a team, the Tigers rushed for 201 yards which was the most Alabama has allowed all season, and the 382 total yards was the most the Crimson Tide have yielded in 2008.
“It’s frustrating. It’s real frustrating,” said Williams. “No disrespect to Alabama but we felt like we were the better team. We made some mistakes and they made some mistakes also, but our mistakes that we made were a little more costly.”
Alabama turned the ball over three times and two of them were very costly.
On the opening drive, Bama marched 73 yards in eight plays, but an Earl Alexander fumble at the goal line gave LSU the ball at the 20. Alexander extended for the white line but Chad Jones slapped the ball out of his hands and it went out of bounds for the touchback.
“We started off very good,” Jones said. “Towards the end things got a little shaky with our turnovers and Alabama made a couple of big plays. It was a huge game and we just didn’t finish the way we wanted to.”
The other big Bama miscue followed Lee’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Byrd. Arenas fumbled the ensuing kickoff and two plays later Scott broke free for a 30-yard touchdown that gave the Tigers a 14-7 lead.
LSU led an Alabama squad that had only trailed for a minute and fifteen seconds this season, and maintained that lead for another 16 minutes and 24 seconds.
However, with 4:33 left in the second quarter, Johnson picked Lee off and rumbled 54 yards for the touchdown. The Crimson Tide would never trail from that point on.
“I think they understand that there is some growing that needs to be done and they’re going through a difficult spot,” said LSU head coach Les Miles. “I think the leadership is there and the guys played with character today. If they keep doing that then it will be a lot of fun the remainder of the season.”
The overwhelming majority of fans gave Nick Saban a showering of boos and plenty of hand gestures when he led his Crimson Tide onto the field, but apparently not everyone had ill feelings toward the former LSU coach.
“I know there may be some people that have a negative attitude, but I can say I really appreciate those people that spoke to me and welcomed me back here today,” Saban said. “I really appreciate that from the people here.
“We have special memories of this place, and no one will tarnish those no matter what they do. I appreciate the class of the people and administration at LSU.”
Les Miles said that Jarrett Lee could have played better than he did, but all of the passing game’s woes cannot be blamed on Lee alone.
“When you’re a young quarterback and you have a dropped ball here and a dropped ball there. A ball that should have been caught is a pick. When just about everything that could go wrong does it’s hard to rebound,” Miles said.
With four interceptions and less than 33 percent of his passes being completed, some figured that true freshman Jordan Jefferson would have gotten a chance to play since his redshirt has already been burned.
Jefferson warmed up on the sideline several times throughout the game, but his number was never called.
“We kind of know what we’re doing with our quarterbacks and we don’t want to put him in a tough situation just yet,” said Miles. “He’s coming, we like him. We talked about him several times.”
LSU’s defense has not met the high expectations that were placed on the unit heading into the 2008 season.
But on Saturday, Miles said that he liked what he saw from his troops that forced three turnovers, blocked a field goal, and limited Alabama to 138 yards on the ground.
“That defense. Wow. That’s a defense I can appreciate right there,” said Miles.