BATON ROUGE, La. -- — Alabama is still No. 1. Barely.
The top-ranked and still-unbeaten Crimson Tide survived an LSU rally and its toughest challenge of the year, putting together an incredible comeback to win 21-17 on Saturday night in Death Valley.
"I've never been prouder of a group of guys for the way they competed," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I told our players they would have to overcome a whole lot of adversity to win here. But they kept their poise, they kept playing and they kept competing."
After slogging through his most undproductive game of the season, Tide quarterback AJ McCarron put together a drive for the ages to win it for Alabama. The final yards came on a 28-yard touchdown play from McCarron to T.J. Yeldon, who took a short throw and sprinted to the end zone. When he crossed the goal line, the Crimson Tide had clawed the lead away from LSU with only 51 seconds left on the clock.
McCarron and his offense got the ball at the Alabama 28 with 1:34 to play and trailing 17-14. With top receiver Amari Cooper (ankle) and running back Eddie Lacy (foot) slowed with injuries, McCarron turned to receiver Kevin Norwood three sraight times, hooking up with him for gains of 18, 15 and 11 yards.
After an incomplete pass, McCarron and Yeldon teammed for their winning play, pushing Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC) over No. 5-ranked LSU (7-2, 3-2), which did all but knock the Tide off its perch on top of the national polls.
"I'm really proud of that last drive," Saban said. "It's something I'll never forget."
McCarron completed 14 of 27 passes for 165 yards, but with 72 coming on the final drive. The pass to Yeldon was his longest completion of the night.
Before the Tide's big drive, LSU had chewed up 5:46 off the clock, driving 53 yards in 12 plays before Alabama finally held and forced a field goal attempt. Drew Alleman missed a 45-yarder, giving the Tide the ball 72 yards from the LSU end zone.
LSU had taken the lead after rallying from a 14-3 halftime deficit. The Bengal Tigers rode the suddenly strong arm of Zach Mettenberger, who had struggled most of the season under the weight of fan criticism. He riddled the No. 1-ranked pass defense in the NCAA statistics for 298 yards on 24-of-35 passing.
Freshman running back Jeremy Hill scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter to cut it to 14-10, and LSU took the lead at 17-14 with 12:58 to go when Mettenberger tossed a 14-yard scoring pass to Jarvis Landry.
"Hats off to a very good football team," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I thought we played extremely hard. I was thrilled with how Zach Mettenberger played."
Miles tried three gambles Saturday night and all three failed, leaving the Bengal Tigers to wonder what might've happened had they played a tad more conservatively.
"I wish I had a couple of my calls back, I'll tell you that," Miles said.
A fake field goal didn't produce a first down, and the Bengal Tigers didn't convert an onsides kick after the third-quarter touchdown that cut it to 14-10. A fourth-and-two run at the Alabama 27 when LSU led 17-14 gained only a yard.
The Tide's first two touchdowns came on second-quarter runs. Eddie Lacy rushed 7 yards for a score, and McCarron took advantage of an open middle to rush 9 yards for a touchdown 11 seconds before intermission.