Revisiting three questions for top-ranked Alabama following its 21-17 win over No. 5 LSU in Baton Rouge.
When it mattered most, McCarron was at his best.
Will the LSU offense be able to keep the home crowd at full throat?
TRips Friday: The Tigers are good enough defensively to keep things close for the duration of the game. At some point, though, the LSU offense will need to give the fanbase reason to believe.
And the earlier those in purple and gold feel comfortable about going all in, the better for the home team.
Shouldn't be a problem, right? The game is being played at night in Death Valley, where the Tigers find themselves in the midst of a school-record 22-game winning streak. We're talking about the venue Les Miles refers to as "the place where opponents' dreams go to die" here.
One problem: Alabama seems to thrive on the adversity that playing on the road presents. In the four games the Crimson Tide has played away from Bryant-Denny Stadium this season, its has outscored its opponents 56-3 in the opening quarter.
That's why no one will be surprised if LSU offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa borrows from Charlie Weiss' "kitchen sink" Saturday night.
Oh, you remember the Florida game from a year ago.
Opening snap of the game, tight formation, max protection, one on one coverage on the outside, John Brantley to Andre Debose.
And the Swamp went nuts.
While it wasn't enough for the Gators, it was the kind of start LSU would be willing to take its chances with this week. Especially for an offense that produced nine points in eight quarters against UA a season ago.
In the end, LSU fans, are no different than fans at other places. When their team plays well, they're fully engaged. When their team doesn't, they're not.
These days, the mood in Tiger Stadium is dictated by the offense. And while a scoring bomb on the game's opening play would be nice, the home crowd would settle for a few first downs on their team's opening possession.
For the LSU offense, if a few good things don't happen early, things could get ugly late.
TRips Sunday: Alabama's 14-3 halftime lead Saturday night was deceiving in more ways than one.
While the scoreboard didn't reflect it, the opening thirty minutes didn't include the kind of dominant defensive performance from the Crimson Tide that typically crushes the will of an opponent.
Instead, the LSU offense was a confident bunch, especially after converting 3 of 5 third downs and piling up 112 total yards in the game's opening quarter.
It wasn't a dynamic start for the Tigers, just the kind of balanced approach that only they and a few others have been able to beat the Crimson Tide with since 2008.
Here's a stat that made UA fans feel good at the break: Under Saban, Alabama was 57-3 in games in which it led at the half.
Reason for pause: LSU represented two of those three losses, having come from behind to beat the Crimson Tide in 2007 and 2010.
After severely outplaying Alabama for 29 of the game's final 30 minutes, that stat could have easily changed to four instead of 58.
While the Alabama defense -- which may be more opportunistic than its predecessor but isn't the three-and-out machine that the 2011 group was -- struggled to get an LSU offense that ranked tenth in the SEC in third down conversions entering the week off the field, the Alabama offense couldn't stay on it.
As the game wore on, my twitter feed blew up with calls from UA fans for the Alabama offense to run the ball more. While I generally agree with that concept, doing so requires actually being in possession of the ball.
For the game, LSU led time of possession 39:15 to 20:45. LSU ran an astounding 85 plays compared to the 52 Alabama got off.
In the second half, Alabama possessed the ball for all of 8:28 -- or the equivalent of a CBS TV timeout.
With that said, here's what the Crimson Tide defense did do: It got the ball back when an LSU first down would have very likely ended both UA's BCS title hopes and those of the SEC as well, ending the league's national championship streak at six crowns in the process.
Can Zach Mettenberger play AJ McCarron even?
TRips Friday: As his team's biggest question mark, Mettenberger finds himself in the same position McCarron was in a year ago, the difference being that Mettenberger heads into his first start in the series shouldering a larger burden than McCarron did in last season's first meeting between the teams.
Thought to be the missing link for a team that came up a quarterback short a season ago, it's almost as if Mettenberger will be looking to win two games Saturday night: the one he'll play in and the one he had no role in.
See, the smoldering angst of Tiger nation is only partially related to the disjointed play they've seen from Mettenberger and his mates this season. More than anything, it goes back to that January night in New Orleans, when the LSU offense was reduced to ashes in its own backyard.
While McCarron enters the game as the most efficient passer in FBS, Mettenberger checks in at No. 77. And the numbers only get worse for LSU when looking at SEC play. In four conference games,Mettenberger has completed less than 50 percent of his passes while throwing one touchdown pass and two interceptions.
Mettenberger doesn't need to be Rohan Davey 2001. Heck, a performance similar to the one McCarron had in last year's first meeting would be acceptable at this point.
More than anything, he needs to make enough throws to give the running game room to breathe because the expectation is that McCarron will.
TRips Sunday: This was the Mettenberger LSU fans were expecting.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the beleaguered junior displayed zip, accuracy and, most importantly, the ability to bring his team back from a deficit while working against the nation's top-ranked defense.
Against Alabama, Mettenberger was the anti-Jordan Jefferson.
He didn't play McCarron -- who appeared to be on his way to the kind of defeat that can alter the legacy of an Alabama quarterback -- to a draw. No, through fourteen rounds, Mettenberger was leading on all cards.
With linebacker CJ Mosley watching from the sideline (the junior isn't a part of the base package that UA was in for most of the game), Mettenberger made good use of his backs in the passing game, completing six passes to Jeremy Hill, J.C. Copeland and Spencer Ware for 97 yards. Then again, when a quarterback passes for 298 yards he typically makes good use of everybody.
Unfortunately for Mettenberger and LSU, McCarron got the ball back with 1:34 left in a three-point game, enough time to duplicate the two-minute drive he engineered just before halftime, giving the Crimson Tide the aforementioned 11-point lead.
With a conference's BCS title hopes resting squarely on his right shoulder, McCarron found the accuracy that had eluded him for most of the night, completing 4 of 5 passes for all 72 yards of what will forever be known as "The Drive".
In a case of sweet irony, it was a connection between McCarron and Yeldon, the duo that previously botched a handoff that could have iced the game a quarter earlier, that did in LSU.
McCarron needed all of 49 seconds to take his team from SEC Western Division runners-up (again) to Atlanta and perhaps beyond.
In the end, victory was his. Mettenberger would have to settle for validation.
Can Alabama continue to stay clean?
TRips Friday: In making the radio rounds, it's the one question I'm asked the most: Might this version of the Crimson Tide be better than its predecessor?
I'm not prepared to go there, but I do think it's fair to say that this team has been more efficient and opportunistic. When an opponent has swung and missed, UA has responded in devastating fashion, capitalizing on the other guy's missteps unlike any Crimson Tide squad we've seen.
Winning big on the road comes down to a few things.
It starts with defense and special teams that have produced 13 turnovers in four games played outside of Tuscaloosa.
It extends to an offense that seldom turns the ball over and knows what to do when opportunity presents itself, making good on 22 of its 23 red zone opportunities (including 18 touchdowns).
The formula doesn't have the wow factor of the run and shoot. It's more like blunt force trauma, only performed with the precision of a surgeon.
And it's a style LSU has no problem matching up with physically. The question is, will the Tigers be able to take care of the perceived little things that seem to come so easily to the Crimson Tide?
They do, after all, add up.
TRips Sunday: No other way to put it: LSU won nearly everything but the game Saturday night.
Turnover margin? The Tigers were plus-two.
Third downs? LSU converted 10 of 20, while UA went 1 for 9.
As previously noted, the Tigers possessed the ball more than Carmelo Anthony on the offensive end.
That said, it's not like Alabama was dominated in every category. When the Crimson Tide offense did have the ball, it averaged 6.6 yards per carry.
Alabama's defense racked up 10 tackles for loss, while LSU finished with two TFLs.
The vaunted LSU pass rush that was expected to work over UA offensive tackles Cyrus Kouandjio and DJ Fluker was kept in check -- and largely without assistance from a running back or tight end.
All of this leads us to special teams, which saw a return of the Mad Hatter to Baton Rouge. When it comes to gambling on the football field, Miles is like me around Halloween candy. Once he got a taste of sugar, he seemingly couldn't get enough.
For the record, I thought the fake field goal made sense. In fact, it made perfect sense to Alabama's defense, too, which was not a good thing for the Tigers.
The 54-yard field goal attempt late in the first half, on the other hand, didn't make sense, a belief that was reinforced after Alabama capitalized on the field position that Drew Alleman's miss presented.
Likewise, Miles' call for an onside kick in the third quarter -- after LSU had closed Alabama's lead to 14-10 -- was an overreach when the Tigers had the luxury of being patient.
LSU didn't need it there, but Miles, in full Hatter mode, had to have it.
As for the Crimson Tide, it didn't have any tricks up its sleeve. Just a screen pass to Yeldon that devastated the Tigers both times it was dialed up.
With that, it's on to Johnny Football and the Aggies. Spend a day or two to recover. If next Saturday is anything like this one was, you're going to need it.
Prediction: Alabama 20, LSU 9.
Saturday's score: Alabama 21, LSU 17.
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