November 12, 2005

Tigers too much for Tide

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- JaMarcus Russell ended Alabama's dream season with one clutch throw.

Russell threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Bowe in overtime as fifth-ranked Louisiana State posted a 16-13 victory over fourth-ranked Alabama in a Southeastern Conference matchup.

In a contest that featured two of the nation's top defenses, Russell made the game's biggest offensive play to send Alabama (9-1, 6-1 SEC West) to its first loss, leaving top-ranked Southern California and second-ranked Texas as the lone remaining unbeatens.

Jamie Christensen kicked a 34-yard field goal on the Crimson Tide's first possession of overtime before Russell came through.

After the Tigers picked up one first down, they were faced with a 3rd-and-6 at the 11. Russell rolled to his right and found Bowe just in front of strong safety Charlie Peprah in the end zone, giving the Tigers a dramatic victory.

"He (Russell) has really matured," Alabama coach Mike Shula said. "He stepped up and made the really big plays and he made the big play there at the end."

Russell, who has been inconsistent at times this season, completed 16-of-30 passes for 229 yards. His favorite target was Bowe, who had seven catches for 98 yards.

The victory put the Tigers (8-1, 5-1 West) in control of their own destiny in the SEC West. They will secure a berth in the conference championship game with wins over Mississippi and Arkansas in their final two games.

"This season is a predictable circumstance for our team considering how it started and how the players handled it," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We felt going into overtime that we would win this game because of the kind of football team we are."

It was a bitter loss for Alabama, which had been winning with a dominant defense and a suspect offense.

"We came here to win the SEC and win the national championship," Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle said. "That's what you sign at UA to do. Now we aren't going to do either unless something crazy happens. We had it right in front of us."

"It's unfortunate the game ended up like that," Shula said. "We had some opportunities early and didn't take advantage of them and we have to against a team this good."

Entering with just one offensive touchdown in their last three conference games, the Crimson Tide actually played well on that side of the ball in the opening half, holding a 207-72 advantage in total yards and a 16-5 cushion in first downs.

But the Tigers made the necessary adjustments in the second half as they provided constant pressure on Croyle en route to erasing a 10-0 deficit.

Croyle was sacked five times and the Tigers held the Crimson Tide to 77 yards and three first downs after halftime.

"We moved the ball at some points," Croyle said. "We didn't move it at some points but playing a good LSU defense you aren't going to be able to move the ball up and down the field."

The Tigers also figured out the Crimson Tide's top-ranked scoring defense, which had allowed a total of 19 points in their last five games.

On the Tigers' ensuing possession of the second half, Russell had completions of 17 and 25 yards, and a pass-interference penalty on cornerback Anthony Madison moved the ball inside the 20.

On 4th-and-goal, Justin Vincent barreled in from one yard out, pulling the Tigers within 10-7 with 9:53 left in the third quarter.

"It was great to go out there," Russell said. "Coach told us the first five minutes of the second half will take it all. Go down and get points or kick a three, it doesn't matter. We came out pretty quick. When things happen like in the first half, you have to get together as a team and go after them."

Russell's 28-yard completion to Bowe on the Tigers' next possession set up Chris Jackson's 42-yard field goal that tied the game with 5:46 left in the third quarter.
Jackson also missed field goals of 43, 47 and 49 yards. His final miss came with 54 seconds remaining in regulation.

Christensen kicked a 28-yard field goal in the first quarter and Croyle ended the Crimson Tide's long touchdown drought in conference play with an eight-yard connection to DJ Hall with 10:59 left in the opening half for a 10-0 lead.

It was the Crimson Tide's first touchdown in conference play since Kenneth Darby scored on a 48-yard run in the third quarter at Mississippi on October 15. Darby was one of the few bright spots on offense in this one as he rushed for 104 yards on 21 attempts.

Croyle, who was hurt by numerous drops, completed just 19-of-40 passes for 187 yards.



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