TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Alabama and LSU football teams have grown accustomed to slugging things out the past few years.
None of the previous six regular-season meetings between the bitter Southeastern Conference Western Division foes had been decided by more than single digits, so the teams had a lot to live up to Saturday night in their nationally televises showdown at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
After the teams traded punches in the first half, No. 1 Alabama lived up to the hype by scoring the final 21 points of the game to beat No. 10 LSU 38-17
“No matter what the record in this game, it always seems like both teams come out and they have high expectations for how they want to play and what they want to do,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
The win didn’t come easily. With starting safety Vinnie Sunseri out for the rest of the season due to a knee injury, the Crimson Tide turned to sophomore Landon Collins. A Louisiana native, Collins is perhaps best known for his decision to attend Alabama instead of LSU. He grew up just outside New Orleans in the town of Geismar, La.
For Collins, this was much more than a rivalry game. It was much more than Saban’s past relationship with LSU. For Collins, this game had a personal meaning.
“They tried to throw me in the dirt when I made the commitment,” Collins said. “Getting a chance to be on the field and knock some heads with them is a really big deal to me.”
Starting for just the fifth time in his career, Collins made his presence felt on the first drive. After LSU drove inside the Alabama 5-yard line, the Crimson Tide stripped fullback J.C. Copeland of the football just shy of the goal line. Collins made his first fumble recovery of the season to give the momentum back to Alabama.
Despite Collins’ efforts, Alabama led 17-14 at halftime. It was the closest halftime score of the season for Alabama.
“It wasn’t perfect, and we didn’t play great in the first half,” Saban said. “We had to do a good job of keeping our poise and staying focused on the things we needed to do in the second half.”
LSU missed an opportunity for a touchdown on its first drive of the second half and had to settle for a field goal that tied the game at 17. On the ensuing Crimson Tide drive, a mistake by Collins gave Alabama new life. On fourth-and-2 from its 41, Alabama sent out its special teams unit to punt. There was just one problem. Collins wasn’t on the field. He came rushing in at the last moment, but his tardiness caused Saban to burn a timeout.
Out of the timeout, Alabama noticed LSU had switched its punt coverage, so the Crimson Tide opted for a fake punt. Safety Jarrick Williams ran for 4 yards and a first down that helped set up a touchdown.
“We didn’t call a fake punt,” Saban said. “We really only called a timeout because Landon Collins wasn’t in the game. Then they put their defense back in, which is what we had worked the fake against.”
After being quiet for most of the first half, running back T.J. Yeldon (25 carries, 133 yards) rushed for two touchdowns in the second half to help seal the deal. Senior quarterback A.J. McCarron also was 14 of 20 for 179 yards and three touchdowns. He spread the ball around to eight receivers, and found a different target on each of his touchdowns.
While McCarron, Yeldon, and the offense kicked into gear, Collins and the defense cranked up their intensity.
After allowing 17 points and 231 yards in the first half, Collins and teammate C.J. Mosley clamped down on the Tigers.
“Domination. We came out and stuck it to them,” Collins said of the second half. “Somebody had to come to their breaking point, and that’s what we had to do against them.”
LSU mustered only 67 yards in the final two quarters, including -9 yards in the fourth quarter.
For Collins, the domination only made things sweeter.
“It was definitely extra sweet,” Collins said. “It just reinforced I picked the better team.”