TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – As Saturday’s game played into the darkness, the LSU players dropped like flies.
On the Tigers first drive of the third quarter, quarterback Jordan Jefferson went down and never returned.
On the next drive, running back Charles Scott faced the same fate.
To that point, Jefferson had hit on 10-of-17 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. Scott had totaled 83 yards, 34 of which came on the run that he was injured on.
Both still finished as the leading passer and rusher for the Tigers.
Despite injuries, LSU managed to stay in the game by holding the Tide to just three points in the third quarter.
When Stevan Ridley ran for an eight-yard touchdown to cap off the drive that Scott began, LSU took a 15-10 lead into the fourth quarter.
Then came another bite from the injury bug.
LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, who came down with flu-like symptoms this past week, was battling cramps, keeping him in and out of action throughout the second half.
After holding Alabama receiver Julio Jones to a quiet night, Peterson found himself on the sideline for the play that tipped the scale in favor of the Tide.
With just over 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Jones took a screen pass from McElroy 73 yards up the sideline for the go-ahead touchdown. Peterson, who had just returned to the sidelines from getting fluids in the locker room, was trying to get on the field to cover Jones before the play. When he was held back, the Tide made the Tigers pay.
“I would have been over there on Julio, and I probably would have made the play,” Peterson said. “It was frustrating to see him get that one on us when I wasn’t in the game, because I had been all over him the entire night.
“I felt like this was one of the strongest games I have played.”
The score and subsequent two-point conversion gave Alabama the 21-15 lead and sent Bryant Denny Stadium into a pom-pom shaking frenzy.
“When Julio scored, the game shifted in their direction and we couldn’t regain any momentum,” said linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. “That was the play that did it for us.”
After backup quarterback Jarrett Lee tossed a pair of incompletions and suffered an eight-yard sack on the next possession, the Tide put together an 11-play, 31-yard field goal drive that folks on the Bayou will be talking about until the two sides meet again.
The first misstep, a five-yard penalty on Daniel Graff for running into the kicker, was on the Tigers’ shoulders. The call moved Alabama a foot from the first down, and facing a fourth down from the LSU 45-yard line, running back Mark Ingram took the snap and drove two yards to keep the chains moving.
If the wind had not been knocked out of LSU’s sails yet, the next play was the finishing blow.
Trying to find Jones on a comeback route, McElroy’s pass was caught by Peterson along the LSU sideline. While the Tiger bench erupted, the referees huddled. After a few moments of discussion, the pass was ruled incomplete.
When the call was sent up to the replay booth, Peterson didn’t think twice about the result.
“I definitely thought I had it; I had already started sitting down on the bench,” he said. “I had possession of the ball and I got my feet in.”
Unfortunately for Peterson and the Tigers, the replay booth did not see it the same way. The call on the field was confirmed, and the Tide drove 17 more yards before settling for a Leigh Tiffin field goal.
The score gave the home team the 24-15 lead, which they then held until the final whistle.
For Alabama, it meant their second SEC Western Division title in as many years. For LSU, thoughts of what could have been were all that remained.
“Our football team played awfully hard,” said head coach Les Miles. “I understand what happened, I am just unhappy with the outcome.”