Throwback Thursday: 2008 Alabama at LSU, Nick Saban Returns to Baton Rouge

The Alabama and LSU rivalry reached a new level when Nick Saban went back to where he once won a national championship, and brought along the Crimson Tide
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The Alabama and LSU rivalry reached a new level in 2008 when Nick Saban returned to Baton Rouge for the first as the head coach of the Crimson Tide. 

Although Saban had won a national title with the Tigers he was welcomed with anything but open arms. Some fans went so far as to burn an efiigy the night before game.

No. 1 Alabama (10-0, 6-0) got three interceptions from Rashad Johnson and a 1-yard quarterback sneak in overtime by John Parker Wilson to pull out a 27-21 victory over No. 15 LSU (6-3, 3-3).

The win clinched Alabama's first SEC Western Division title since 1999 and secured a spot in the 2008 SEC Championship Game.

"It was a great college football game," Saban said during his postgame press conference. "The players on both sides played their hearts out. LSU's team played an outstanding game. Our players played hard in the game with a lot of tenacity and overcame a lot of adversity."

Alabama had a chance to win in regulation after a 23-yard punt return by Javier Arenas gave the Crimson Tide possession in LSU territory with the game tied at 21 and less than two minutes to play. 

Four plays for positive yardage and a 15-yard face mask penalty then pushed the ball even closer for Alabama, eventually setting up a 29-yard field goal attempt that was blocked by LSU's Ricky-Jean Francois as time expired.

LSU took possession of the ball first in overtime, but quarterback Jarrett Lee was picked off deep in the end zone by Johnson on third down.

On the Crimson Tide's first play, Wilson hit freshman receiver Julio Jones for 23 yards to the Tigers' 2-yard line. Two plays later the quarterback dove across the goal line.

"For the first time this season we've had to come from behind, play the whole game and win in overtime," Wilson said. "I think it was great for our team."

Johnson's first interception helped open the scoring, as he grabbed a deflected pas and returned it to the 15-yard line.

In the second quarter, with Alabama trailing 14-7, Johnson picked off Lee at the Alabama 46 and returned the ball 54 yards for the game-tying touchdown.

"My mindset before the game was just to focus on the things we prepared for all week and to make sure I was set up for different motions and looks they would give us," Johnson said. "My mindset was just to have my mind ready for the worst case scenario so I could recognize it on the field and get the right play in to the rest of the defense."

Johnson's three interceptions, a career high for the Sulligent native, were part of a four-interception performance for the Alabama defense, which also notched seven tackles-for-loss and four pass breakups.

Alabama's chance to win the game in regulation came after a 14-play, 74-yard scoring drive from LSU knotted the game at 21 with just over six minutes to play. The Tigers had been trailing 21-14 for much of the second half after a 3-yard touchdown run by junior running back Glen Coffee put the Crimson Tide ahead.

Coffee finished with 26 carries for 132 yards and the touchdown, putting him over 1,000 rushing yards for the season. 

Wilson added a pair of touchdowns on the ground and was 15 of 31 for 215 yards passing. 

His main receiving target on the afternoon was Jones, who had a career game (at that point) with seven catches for 128 yards.

Alabama's defense, which limited Lee to 181 passing yards, was led by Dont'a Hightower. The freshman linebacker finished with 11 tackles and 1.5 for a loss. 

Arenas had nine tackles and sophomore linebacker Rolando McClain, who had Alabama's other interception, added eight tackles and 2.5 tackles-for-loss.

Having trailed for a total of only 1 minute, 15 seconds in its first nine games, Alabama found itself playing from behind for much of the first half due, largely, to three turnovers. 

After the Tide jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, LSU scored twice in less than a minute, getting 14 points on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Lee to Demetrius Byrd and a 30-yard run from Charles Scott.

With LSU driving, trying to increase its lead before the half, Johnson had his pick-six off an overthrown pass near midfield.

"He was sitting in the pocket and I think got a little pressure and left it up a little too high and I was in the area to pick it off and run up the field," Johnson said. "My teammates made some great blocks for me down field."