Saban didn't need long to get Tide thinking title

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BATON ROUGE, La. - Hey, LSU, "nothing personal."

Alabama coach Nick Saban stressed that point and professed his continued admiration for LSU over the weekend, but none of that changes one unsettling fact for Tigers fans.

LSU's former coach got the top-ranked Crimson Tide rolling back to national prominence pretty fast.

Certainly, there were growing pains during Saban's first season in Tuscaloosa. Alabama lost at home to Louisiana-Monroe last fall, and LSU went on to win the 2007 national championship under current coach Les Miles.

Yet, less than one year later, Alabama invaded Death Valley as the nation's top-ranked team, then officially dethroned the Tigers as Southeastern Conference champions while clinching the SEC West title for itself.

John Parker Wilson's quarterback keeper clinched the Tide's 27-21 overtime win and deflated fans in purple and gold filed out quickly, some smiling quietly in apparent disbelief at what they had just seen.

An upset was in the air after Alabama (10-0, 6-0 SEC) turned the ball over three times in the first half and missed a field goal.

LSU piled up 201 yards rushing, more than triple the average that Alabama had been giving up. The Tide trailed much of the first half, never led by more than one score and had a potential game-winning field goal blocked in the final seconds of regulation. Under normal circumstances, such missteps are a surefire recipe for a loss in Death Valley. But Alabama overcame it all. They even covered the spread in the end (they were favored by 3).

"I never wondered if we were going to win," Saban said. "That is what makes you a good competitor. You have to keep playing whatever the situation is and no matter what the play is. That is what we ask the players to do and that is what we do as coaches. You have to make the next play."

Alabama's offensive numbers weren't gaudy, but they were good enough against an LSU defense that turned in one of its best efforts of the season. Wilson threw for 215 yards, hitting standout freshman Julio Jones seven times for 128 yards. Glen Coffee had 126 yards rushing and a score while going over 1,000 yards for the season.

Now all the Tide needs to carry its No. 1 ranking into the SEC championship game against Florida is win two games at home against a pair of struggling teams. Alabama hosts Mississippi State next week and Auburn on Nov. 29.

Those teams may have owned Alabama in recent seasons, but so had LSU, whose five-game winning streak in the series was snapped on Saturday.

Saban, meanwhile, isn't the type of coach to allow his players to relax for long. Alabama had barely begun celebrating its first SEC West title since 1999 when the coach challenged his players to reflect on everything that went wrong in the LSU game and how they might improve.

"I congratulated our players after the game, but I also asked them if they thought they played their best game," Saban said. "If you have a high level of expectations that you expect to achieve and accomplish, then you obviously have a better chance of getting there.... We need to do a better job to get our players ready."

LSU, which fell to No. 19 with the loss, might have won with better play from redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee, who threw four interceptions, one of them in overtime. Yet, sure-handed Alabama defensive back Rashad Johnson, who had three of the four interceptions, deserved some credit, too, as did the Alabama defenders who pressured Lee all game.

And it's not as if Saban didn't take any joy in the victory.

As most of a Tiger Stadium record crowd of 93,039 headed for the exits, a contingent of Alabama fans stayed put and hailed Saban as he disappeared into the tunnel to the visitor's locker room. The coach held up one hand, gesturing that the Tide was indeed still No. 1.

"For the first time this season we've had to come from behind, play the whole game and win in overtime," Wilson said. "It was great for our team.... We executed when we had to and we won the game."

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