Updated at: 11/09/2013 11:35 PM
By JOHN ZENOR
(AP) TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Zach Mettenberger and the LSU Tigers didn’t leave town feeling like they were outclassed .
The 10th-ranked Tigers battled back from two early fumbles but couldn’t hold No. 1 Alabama down in Saturday night’s 38-17 loss, when the Crimson Tide scored the final 21 points.
"You could look at the score and think one thing," Mettenberger said. "But if you watched the game you would know that if we didn’t turn the ball over and made some smarter decisions in the third and fourth quarters, it would be a ball game."
It was a ball game into the third quarter before the Tigers (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) got overpowered.
AJ McCarron threw three touchdown passes, T.J. Yeldon ran for 133 yards and two scores and the Tide (9-0, 6-0) turned to smash-you-in-the-mouth football to take control of a game that was tied early in the third quarter. Yeldon carried 18 times in the second half, 25 overall.
"I think we probably played our best half of football," Tide coach Nick Saban said. "We didn’t play great in the first half, but man I tell you what, a lot of character out there in the second half."
Yeldon and McCarron had hooked up for the game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute of last season’s meeting with the Tigers. This one had no such dramatic finish.
Two-time defending national champion Alabama brushed aside its first challenge since Game 2 against Texas A&M. It was a dominant performance two days after one contender, No. 2 Oregon, fell to another, No. 6 Stanford.
McCarron was a workmanlike 14-of-20 passing for 179 yards, letting Yeldon, Kenyan Drake and their blockers assert control. He did hit speedy freshman tight end O.J. Howard for a 52-yard touchdown and overtook John Parker Wilson to become Alabama’s top career passer.
Mettenberger completed 16 of 23 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown but was also sacked four times.
It was the most points Alabama has scored against LSU since a 41-12 victory in 1947.
LSU had won five of the last six meetings in Tuscaloosa, but lost fumbles on its first two possessions, including one on the goal line. The Tigers, who came in averaging 40.2 points, couldn’t regain the lost momentum and managed just 52 yards in the second half and minus-9 in the final quarter.
"You can’t turn the ball over," LSU coach Les Miles said. "In the first half it’s a 7-to-nothing game and the fullback (J.C. Copeland) runs the ball off left tackle. Then we turn the ball over on the other side of the field. That cost us a terrible start.
"We overcame it but it took time."
It was a contest until Alabama scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
"We weren’t going to back down from Alabama," Mettenberger said. "We had a good game plan going, but we just weren’t able to execute it."
LSU swiftly threatened to get back in the game in the fourth quarter when Odell Beckham Jr. raced 82 yards on the kickoff return. Alabama held firm and Mettenberger’s fourth-and-13 pass to a well-covered Jarvis Landry was off target.
Alabama’s Drake ran for 65 yards on 10 carries. The Tide outgained LSU 372-282, including a 193-43 advantage on the ground in a game both sides typically call one of the most physical of each season.
LSU’s playmaking receivers Beckham and Landry turned in some big ones but it wasn’t nearly enough. Landry had five catches for 90 yards and Beckham gained 42 yards on three catches.
Alabama limited Jeremy Hill, who came in as the SEC’s No. 2 rusher, to 13 carries for 42 yards and a touchdown.
LSU tied the game at 17 with Colby Delahoussaye’s 41-yard field goal to cap the opening drive of the second half.
Then Alabama turned to a fake punt in its own territory. Alabama’s Jarrick Williams took a handoff from linebacker C.J. Mosley and ran for a first down on fourth and 2 in Tide territory after calling time out.
The buck-the-odds gamble that is more Miles’ calling card than Saban’s paid off. Yeldon capped a 14-play drive consuming seven minutes, 50 seconds with a 4-yard touchdown for a 24-17 lead.
"We said if they put their defense back in there, we were going to run it," Saban said. "I felt like we didn’t want to give them the ball back. We were playing great on defense. I think it was a big play in the game and for our offense to go down and finish that drive, I think it really changed the momentum."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)