Brandon Green

No. 5 Alabama escapes Death Valley with life in playoff chase

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Alabama and LSU renewed their rivalry the only way they know how it seems. The two teams played a defensive battle and had to go to overtime to settle the score. In the overtime, it was No. 5 Alabama (8-1, 5-1 SEC) celebrating a big win over No. 16 LSU (7-3, 3-3 SEC), 20-13. The win helps keep Alabama in the playoff hunt, and this was a very good day to pick up that win on the road.

With Auburn going down at home to an unranked Texas A&M, Alabama is the likely top candidate to slide into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings when the next ranking is released Tuesday night. TCU will make a case with its win over Kansas State, but Alabama was already on the door stop waiting for the door to open. For a while Saturday night it looked as though Alabama was destined to stumble, and they nearly did.

Alabama lost running back T.J. Yeldon to injury late in the fourth quarter (Head coach Nick Saban did not seem too concerned about the extent of the injury in a brief on-field postgame interview). Yeldon fumbled the football away to LSU deep in Alabama’s end of the field, but the defense held strong enough to force the home team to settle for a field goal. The late field goal gave LSU a 13-10 lead, but the ensuing kickoff dribbled out-of-bounds to set the Alabama offense up in good starting field position. With just 50 seconds to use, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin came through with some good play-calling and Blake Sims ran the offense to near perfection to move into position for a game-tying field goal in the final seconds. Adam Griffith, who had one field goal bounce off the goal post earlier in the game, came through with a 27-yard field goal to send the game to an extra session.

In the overtime, Alabama’s offense got creative and confused LSU’s defense by sending an offensive lineman out at a wide receiver position, only to send beefy tight end Brandon Greene for a 24-yard gain. A silly unsportsmanlike penalty ended up taking away a chunk of that gain, but Alabama ended the opening overtime possession with Sims connecting with an open DeAndrew White for a touchdown. LSU’s offense was unable to match it, with Anthony Jennings seeing his fourth down pass attempt fall incomplete to clinch the victory for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama took a 10-7 lead into the halftime, thanks in part to wide receiver Amari Cooper rewriting the history books while putting the team on his back for the only touchdown of the game. Cooper’s touchdown reception from Blake Sims in the second quarter was the highlight of the game for Alabama’s offense, but he also became the school’s all-time leading receiver in the first half while making some key plays to move the offense.

This sets the stage for another mega match-up in the SEC West next week. Alabama returns home to host top-ranked Mississippi State with first place in the division on the line. Mississippi State remains the only undefeated team in the SEC, but Alabama will hope to take advantage of playing at home. Alabama has won six straight meetings with Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs have not won in Tuscaloosa since 2006. Whichever team wins next week will likely be the SEC’s best hope to make the College Football Playoff, while the loser will be likely to be left out o the mix at the end.

LSU will wrap up the regular season on the road for its final two games. Next week LSU plays at Arkansas. The Tigers end the regular season at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving.