'Bama beats LSU, earns SEC title shot
The popular Jones made the biggest play of what has been a relatively quiet sophomore season, breaking free for a 73-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, and Alabama locked down LSU in a 24-15 victory Saturday.
Leigh Tiffin booted a 40-yard field goal with 3:04 left to seal it and the Tide (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference, ranked No. 3 in both the AP poll and BCS standings) earned a rematch with No. 1 Florida for the league championship.
The hard-hitting affair left the Tigers (7-2, 4-2, ranked ninth in both the AP poll and BCS standings) without injured quarterback Jordan Jefferson and running back Charles Scott for most of the second half.
"It was a tough, physical game," said Alabama coach Nick Saban, who beat his former team for the second straight year. "Man, those games are fun to be a part of."
The win touched off another big celebration for Alabama, which survived a 12-10 victory over Tennessee two weeks ago with Terrence Cody's two blocked field goal attempts in the fourth quarter. Tiffin came up big in that one, too, with four field goals.
Jefferson had an ankle injury and Scott hurt his right shoulder in the third.
LSU coach Les Miles, who said Scott's injury was probably the more serious, didn't shed much light on their status.
On Jefferson, Miles said the quarterback was "trying to get back in the game. We felt like it would be best that he sit."
"I still like our chances, injuries or not. No excuses," he added.
LSU would have taken control of the West. The Tigers, whose only other loss came to the Gators, took a 15-10 lead into the fourth but managed only 9 yards in the quarter. They had won four straight games at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Once again, though, LSU is left taking a backseat to its former coach.
Saban & Co. moved a step closer to their second straight perfect regular season. The Tide outgained LSU 452-253, and narrowed the number SEC national championship contenders to two.
Alabama is 9-0 for a second consecutive season, which hasn't happened since 1973-74 under Bear Bryant.
Greg McElroy completed 19 of 34 passes for 276 yards with two touchdowns and an interception as the Tide aired it out 25 times in the first half against a defense that was putting extra defenders near the line.
The second half was more typical Tide. Mark Ingram gained 106 of his 144 yards after the half to continue to mount a strong campaign for Heisman Trophy consideration.
Jones had his best game of the season, with four catches for 102 yards, including his second touchdown.
"We practiced that all week," he said. "A situation like that, I feel like I should just step up and make the play. I did what I had to do."
And the Tide defense - as it has all season - came through in the end.
Needing two scores, backup quarterback Jarrett Lee and LSU couldn't get it to midfield in the final minutes.
Alabama hadn't left them much time, anyway, milking more than six minutes off the clock in setting up Tiffin's final kick, made possible when a running into the kicker call led Saban to go for it on fourth-and-1 just across midfield.
Ingram got the first down after taking a direct snap.
"That gives everybody confidence," McElroy said. "It's coach Saban having faith in us."
Tiffin, who became Alabama's all-time leading scorer in the game, also had a 20-yarder early in the fourth after a drive that took nearly six minutes.
LSU had failed on a 2-point try late in the third quarter trying to push its lead to seven points. Trent Richardson's 2-point run after Jones' touchdown made it a two-score game at the end.
Alabama gave fans two things they covet in the process: The lead and big plays from Jones, who hasn't made as many as he did in his fantastic freshman year.
He caught a short pass from McElroy, juked a defender and sprinted down the sideline for a touchdown.
"Put it in his hands, and you never know what's going to happen," McElroy said.
Then Richardson made it 21-15 Alabama.
Alabama forced the short-handed LSU offense into a three-and-out, then pushed the ball across midfield.
After Patrick Peterson nearly picked off McElroy's pass - he was ruled out of bounds - Jones' catch converted a third-and-7 to help move the Tide into field goal position.
"There's not one part of the team that didn't play well," Saban said. "The offense played extremely well. Greg played well. The receivers played well. We ran the ball. The offensive line did a fantastic job."
Jefferson and Scott were thriving before going to the sidelines.
Scott ran for 83 yards and his 34-yarder was the longest run play given up by Alabama this season. Jefferson passed for 114 yards and also had some success running the option.
"Losing those two guys was a big blow to our offense," receiver Terrance Toliver said. "It was a letdown to lose both of them, but Jarrett came in and played hard."
Lee was 4 of 10 for 44 yards with an interception on a fourth-down play at the end, and the Tigers were held to 95 yards rushing.
LSU's defense held its own through three quarters. Drake Nevis sacked McElroy in the third quarter for a safety, cutting Alabama's lead to 10-9.
Fullback Stevan Ridley bounced off 354-pound nose guard Terrance Cody for an 8-yard touchdown run and the 15-10 lead. Scott's big run set up the TD, but also ended his day. The pass for 2 did not connect.