By Trey Mongrue
“You all can look and see the number of ways we could have won this football game.” – LSU head coach Les Miles
Elliot Porter was at a loss for words.
Since transferring from Kentucky for the 2011 season, the LSU senior center has been a part of his fair share of LSU-Alabama matchups. In fact, starting with the 21-0 beat down in the 2011 National Championship Game, Porter has watched the tide turn – no pun intended – towards Alabama’s favor in this rivalry that can best be described as an inferno in recent years.
Needless to say, losing 20-13 in overtime in his final game against Alabama – and his final game in Tiger Stadium – was something that Porter was having a tough time shaking out of his head.
“It’s tough, man, it’s tough” said an exasperated Porter. “That’s what we signed up for, right? We signed up here to play against the best teams in the country. It’s a tough one, but we have to swallow it.”
It was just as infuriating for LSU coach Les Miles, who once had a 5-2 record in games he coached against Alabama. With Saturday’s latest defeat at the hands of the Crimson Tide, Miles’ is now 5-6 against the team and currently on a four game losing streak – with three of those losses coming in the state of Louisiana.
“These were two very quality football teams that played through overtime and I would like to congratulate the Alabama football team,” Miles said afterwards. “You all can look and see the number of ways we could have won this football game.”
Just 30 minutes before he begrudgingly offered those congratulatory words to his adversary, Miles was probably thinking his postgame press conference would take on a much different mood.
Although the scoreboard showed the teams tied at 10 with just a minute and thirteen seconds left, LSU, for all intents and purposes, had the game won via what seemed like a heavy dose of poetic justice at the time. Having stuck the dagger in the hearts of the Tigers on the same field just two years ago, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon gave LSU a gift with a fourth quarter fumble that was recovered by sophomore linebacker Kendell Beckwith at the Alabama six yard line.
“We expected to finish first in that game,” said Miles. “We played a great game, a tough game and a very physical game.”
But what came next was a cavalcade of mistakes by the Tigers that set them up for heartbreak.
On the first play following the fumble recovery, Terrence Magee took a hand-off from quarterback Anthony Jennings and was stuffed at the line of scrimmage for no gain. Following the play, a host of Tigers and Crimson Tide exchanged words and shoves, one of whom was Vadal Alexander.
The junior offensive lineman was baited by a push from Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson, and Alexander’s retaliation shove drew an embellished reaction from Robinson and, more importantly, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, much to the ire of Miles.
“That penalty was at a tremendously pointed time in that game,” said Miles. “If we don’t get the 15‐yard penalty there, we are talking about driving it in for a seven‐pointer.
“Then the game would be out of reach.”
Pushed back to the 21-yard line, Miles elected to not risk a turnover and settled for a 39-yard field goal from Colby Delahoussaye to take a 13-10 lead with 50 seconds left. While Alabama did not have any timeouts, a seed of doubt was planted in the minds of many LSU players.
“Those three points hurt,” said Jennings. “We needed to score seven points”
“Close game like that,” Porter added, “you got to score, especially when you’re on the six-yard line.”
Of course even with those points slipping away, the Crimson Tide offense still had to sustain a drive to set up for a game-tying field goal and had little time to do it.
Things still seemed to be in LSU’s favor considering that Alabama, before its final possessions, was only able to muster one first down in the second half against a stingy LSU defense.
But a kick out of bounds by Trent Domingue gave the Crimson Tide the ball at its own 35-yard line and a chance. From there quarterback Blake Sims and the Alabama offense went to work, matriculating the ball down the field with underneath routes to the wide receivers and getting out of bounds to stop the clock with the LSU secondary fearing the deep ball.
With the ball across midfield, a pair of completions to Christion Jones and DeAndrew White setup placekicker Adam Griffith to hit the tying field goal as time expired.
“We looked at kind of how we approached our containment, and there were a couple of plays that we could certainly do better,” Miles explained. “We did have calls designed to tackle guys inbounds, the opponent made plays and got to the out-of-bounds and stopped the clock.”
Alabama had the momentum firmly on its side and carried it over to overtime where the Crimson Tide quickly scored to take its first lead since halftime.
In the do or die situation, the mistakes continued for LSU starting on its first play with the ball, a dropped pass by fullback Melvin Jones. After that, the Tigers’ offense was forced to abandon the running game that had been battering Alabama for much of the night and relied on its volatile passing attack.
The result was three more incompletions, the last one coming on a fourth down pass to a covered Malachi Dupre in the end zone by Jennings when it appeared that the quarterback could’ve scrambled for the first down.
“I saw Malachi and his 40-inch vertical one-on-one in the end zone and wanted to give him a chance to catch the ball,” recalled Jennings, who had connected with Dupre earlier in the game for the Tigers’ only touchdown. “Looking back on it, I will probably see that I had the chance to run.”
The trick now for Jennings and the rest of the Tigers is to not let this loss carry over to the following weekend.
Considering that a win would have kept LSU in the Southeastern Conference and playoff chase, there was a sense of finality in this most recent defeat to the Crimson Tide. However, there are still two games left on the regular season, and both are on the road, which means that the Tigers can’t sulk for too much longer.
But for a guy like Porter, it may take some time to turn the page on this one.
“We have Arkansas next week,” he said. “They are a good team, so we have to keep on moving.”