Make no mistake, Les Miles had Nick Saban on the ropes — and the defending national champ wasn't giving Miles the rope-a-dope. No, Saban was taking straight jabs to the face.
After Alabama carried a 14-3 lead into halftime, it was the then-No. 5 Tigers that came out swinging in the second half of Saturday night's thriller in Baton Rouge. For its first six drives of the second half, Alabama gained just one first down. Meanwhile, season-long disappointment Zach Mettenberger came out of his quarterback shell to figure out Saban's defense, driving LSU to 14 points and the surprising lead.
As should be obvious by now, though, it didn't last. Alabama walked away with a 21-17 win on its final drive.
Where did it all go wrong? How did Saban's squad pick itself up off the canvas to deliver the knockout, against an imposing team and crazed crowd riding the wave of a 22-game home winning streak?
Well, the conversation starts and ends with The Mad Hatter.
Miles, who gives himself a puncher's chance in seemingly any situation, could not find the magic touch in The Rematch. He tried an onside kick. Fail. He tried a fake field goal. Fail. But, perhaps most relevant to Alabama's comeback, he went for the first down on a fourth-and-1 situation from the Alabama 24-yard line.
By passing up the fourth-quarter points in a game where points were priced at a premium — unlike the Oregon-USC free-for-all — Miles handicapped his team on the Crimson Tide's final drive. Instead of focusing on keep quarterback AJ McCarron & Co., out of the end zone, the Tigers also had to defend field position to prevent the tying field goal.
The Mad Hatter is a riverboat gambler of the highest degree, and college football loves him for it. But history will show that he had his team ready, prepared and on the verge of plunging back into the national title conversation — right before he gambled it all away. As he said afterward, should have kept those tricks in the hat.
Those sounds you heard late on Saturday night were sighs of relief in Tuscaloosa and South Bend.
By virtue of come-from-behind wins — Alabama in Baton Rouge, Notre Dame in triple overtime to Pitt — undefeated seasons were kept alive for two of the nation's most prominent programs. But it certainly wasn't easy. It wasn't boring, either. The Irish, in particular, escaped due to happenstance, Pitt's (and officials') incompetence and timely playmaking, in equal measures.
Now, with Kansas State, Oregon and Louisville also winning, five bowl-eligible undefeated teams remain, although it's tough to see human voters siding with any team but Alabama and Oregon at this point in the polls. Computers will still hand Notre Dame its credit (it is deserved, all things considered), but the Ducks are only gaining momentum and have a few more quality opponents remaining on the schedule.
And let's face it, no one is touching an undefeated Crimson Tide. That's just a given.
SHIFT OF FOCUS
The 2012 season opened up with USC quarterback Matt Barkley and Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas sprinting to the forefront of the Heisman Trophy race, but, three quarters of the way through the season, it is their teammates who are shining brightest.
That was never more apparent than in the long-awaited Oregon-USC showdown in Los Angeles.
Oregon running back Kenjon Barner rushed for 321 yards and five touchdowns. His offense scored 62 points.
Trojans receiver Marqise Lee caught 12 passes for 157 yards and two scores. His offense scored 51 points.
At this rate, and with this much speed, it won't be a long trip to New York.