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November 7, 2009

Oh, Atlanta!

TUSCALOOSA _ It was a matter of try, try and try again for the University of Alabama football team Saturday.

It came out throwing and attacked No. 9 LSU with its passing game, only that didn't work quite so well in the first half when the Tigers took the lead.

It turned to Mark Ingram in the third quarter, which went a lot better as the sophomore running back finished with 145 rushing yards on 22 carries.

But when the No. 3 Crimson Tide looked to get Julio Jones the ball, that's what did LSU in. When the sophomore wide receiver turned a screen pass into a 73-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter it led led to the Tide's perfect trifecta of a 24-15 victory, its second straight Western Division title and a rematch with No. 1 Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game on Dec. 5 at the Georgia Dome (3 p.m. kickoff, CBS).

That's fitting because Jones looked like he could have run all the way from Bryant-Denny Stadium to Atlanta on the play.

"What's funny is that Julio got real mad at one point in the game," junior quarterback Greg McElroy said. "No. 7 (LSU sophomore cornerback Patrick Peterson) I guess was talking to him a little bit, and he got real frustrated. I guess he said 'You say I'm not great? I'm going to show you right now.' He sure did.

"I don't think I've ever see anyone run so fast."

It was the longest reception of his career, Jones' first 100-yard performance of the season and just second touchdown after being limited by a deep knee bruise. So it felt like a long time coming and just in time for the stretch run of an unbeaten team (9-0, 6-0 SEC).

"In situations like that I feel I should step up and make the play," Jones said.
Statistically the game was nowhere near as close as the final score, with No. 3 Alabama outgaining LSU 452 to 253, although the momentum went back-and-forth for three quarters.

LSU's no-huddle approach kept the Tide from substituting as it wanted and minimized senior linebacker Rolando McClain's pre-snap adjustments. The Tigers also put the speedy Trindon Holliday in the backfield, offset that by pounding Charles Scott up the middle and found ways to get receivers Terrance Toliver and Brandon LaFell the ball.

However, sophomore quarterback Jordan Jefferson sprained an ankle and had to leave the game, followed by Scott with a broken collarbone sustained on his 34-yard carry, the longest run against Alabama this season.

Once it started the parade of LSU players being helped off the field never ended, and included tackle Ciron Black, defensive end Lazarius Levingston, defensive tackle Al Woods, center T-Bob Hebert, and Peterson numerous times.

"I hope those guys are all right, but that's what type of game it is," said senior Javier Arenas, who got the wind knocked out of him in the third quarter. "Those guys I'm sure gave it their all."

Many did return, but the more the game went on the more the Tide pounded the life out of the Tigers (7-2, 4-2). In the fourth quarter, Alabama outgained LSU 106-9, had the ball 10:56 of the 15 minutes and outscored the Tigers 14-0.

"That's what we talk about is wearing people down and you definitely saw that tonight with their guys going down with each play it seemed like, or the same guy doing down over and over again," senior linebacker Cory Reamer said. "That was huge. We definitely wore them down and you could tell they were tired."

It was in contrast to a first half that appeared to be a quarterbacks showdown, with the teams combining for just 11 rushing yards in the first quarter. Alabama uncharacteristically threw on nine of its first 10 plays and Ingram was hardly a factor.

That was by design.

"We planned to spread them out and do a lot of empty backfield to throw the ball more and create balance," Saban said. "Then, we knew we were going to come back and try to run the ball at some point in the game and continue to create balance. I thought we did a good job on offense, and it was a little different way to play our hand, but I thought it worked effectively and hopefully surprised them a bit in the beginning and caught them off guard.

We moved the ball well, changed field position a lot in the first half, but it didn't pay off in points."

Twice Alabama had excellent scoring chances, but had to settle for a 28-yard field goal and in the two-minute offense senior tight end Colin Peek didn't seem to know the ball was coming his way near the end zone where Kelvin Sheppard made the interception. With LSU holding a 7-3 lead thanks to a 13-play, 91-yard drive, UA went into the locker room having failed to reach the end zone for six quarters.

"We felt like we were dominating the game," Ingram said. "We were just beating ourselves."

When it came back, though, the Tide started pounding away. After just 38 rushing yards during the first half, 25 on one carry, Ingram took five handoffs for 58 yards on the first drive, capped by McElroy's 21-yard touchdown pass to Darius Hanks.

LSU was able to grab the momentum back when Drake Nevis got to McElroy in the end zone, with the intentional-grounding penalty an automatic safety, and Scott's 34-yard run on the subsequent possession to set up Stevan Ridley's 8-yard touchdown run.

Yet after that the game was all Alabama, minus a poor decision by McElroy when instead of throwing the ball away and trying to protect the lead tried to force a sideline pass to Jones that Peterson nearly picked off.

"It was kind of an 'Oh shoot' moment," said McElroy, "but was something I learned from."

And that's how the West was won - again.

"It was a tough, physical game," Saban said. "Man are those games fun to be a part of."


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