The latest so-called Game of the Century had featured bone-rattling defense with countless missed scoring chances for Alabama. And now Saban was letting the No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown head to college football's version of penalty kicks, a roll-the-dice chance where the best kicker normally wins. Saban was really going to play for overtime? Saban was really going to put the game in his offense's hands inside the 25-yard line, where LSU stiffened and Alabama faltered all night? Saban was really going to trust his kickers when LSU had the more reliable kicking game? Yes, yes and stunningly yes.
Alabama will long rue some of its decisions. Saban had bruises from kicking his own shin afterward. "It all starts with me in terms of what we do, how we do it and how we finish it," he said. "It's nobody's fault, it all starts right here." Noting the "atmosphere was electric" - an understatement if there ever was one - Saban admitted he was "disappointed in myself for not doing more to affect the game."
Obviously, there was a little more to the collision than the dueling legs of Drew Alleman and Cade Foster. For all the hype surrounding the defenses — pretty clearly the best two defenses in the nation coming in, and now confirmed as such by a wide, wide margin — no one was prepared for them to dominate to quite the extent they did. Both offenses turned in season lows in terms of total yards. Alabama was held out of the end zone for the first time in Nick Saban's tenure. LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee capped a five-game, 100-pass streak without an interception by getting picked on consecutive throws. The Crimson Tide, having committed just one turnover in their previous seven games, gave it away on back-to-back possessions in the third and fourth quarters. On eleven separate opportunities in opposing territory, the offenses combined for 12 points.
What? You thought the Game of the Century would feature 100 points? Admittedly, most of us assumed there would at least be a few touchdowns. Just one would have been nice. But for anyone who found No. 1 LSU's 9-6 overtime victory over No. 2 Alabama on Saturday to be ugly, unsatisfying or somehow unimpressive, Tigers defensive end Sam Montgomery has a message for you. "This is the way football is supposed to be played," said the man whose third-down sack of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron in the first overtime possession typified a night of defensive dominance. "It's not about running up the score. This is how two great teams in a great atmosphere are supposed to play."
What was up with the pass by Maze with 11 minutes left in the fourth and the score tied? Maze himself admitted he had only thrown three times at Alabama, though he "does it a lot in practice" and talked about the game plan being to "run it down their throats." Having Maze back to field the ensuing punt was equally questionable. And the insistence of repeatedly going back to his field goal kickers, who were struggling, and from crazy long, almost un-makeable distances, was infuriating even for those without rooting interests. By the time 'Bama reached overtime with a 52-yard field goal needing to be made, his kickers were mentally fried. Nobody in the stadium thought Cade Foster was making it, certainly not Cade Foster. "The things that were wrong is guys missed kicks and the guy didn't field a punt. What else?" Saban said when asked about his kicking game. "Those weren't easy kicks, so I don't put that all on the kicking game." Absolutely not, I put a lot of that on the coach who refused to punt and pin LSU deep. That was not up for discussion, as talk stayed on missed opportunities and being "inconsistent getting a hat on a Hat."
Turning point: The Crimson Tide were driving midway through the fourth quarter thanks to a spectacular 24-yard run by Trent Richardson down to the LSU 28-yard line. On the next play, the Crimson Tide had receiver Marquis Maze throw a pass out of the Wildcat formation, and it was intercepted at the 1 by LSU’s Eric Reid.
Yet as unconventional as The Mad Hatter is, his team won Saturday night with the conventional — a smash-mouth offense, stingy defense and sound special teams — in a rare throwback game, especially in this era of wide-open offenses, that didn’t feature a single touchdown. And unlike his wild reputation, he did it without even being tricky or lucky and without a consistent quarterback. It turns out that Miles can indeed coach, despite what the rest of college football thinks. Maybe just enough to win another national championship this season even with all of his team’s off-the-field problems.
"I'm looking forward to looking at this film, trying to make our team better," Saban said. "Trying to improve as a team. Play the next game that we have and do the best job on controlling things that we can control, which is how we play and what we do. "I'm sure every other coach in the country will try to do that with his team, and whoever the folks are who make those decisions will make those decisions based on the full body of work of every team in the country and choose which teams are the best."
"We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game," Tide linebacker Courtney Upshaw said. "It just came down to who executed on the chances that they had. They did."
Among players who were injured for Alabama were left tackle Barrett Jones and wide receiver Marquis Maze, who sprained ankles but came back into the game. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick suffered a concussion and was the victim of a holding penalty while covering a punt in the fourth quarter. Alabama coach Nick Saban said Kirkpatrick actually blacked out for a few seconds. "You know how those tests are," Saban said. "We just have to see how he scores on those things."
Is it worth playing the rest of the season after this everything game? Of course. There were plenty of flaws to find. There is the small matter of four more games for LSU -- Western Kentucky, at Ole Miss and Arkansas before the SEC title game on Dec. 3. Alabama might be waiting, again, a month later. "That's what we tried to take as a personality the whole season," LSU guard Will Blackwell said. "We felt like we played smash-mouth football. We finally got somebody who played almost as good as we did. "Hopefully we won't have to play them again."