At Alabama, it will go down as a crimson version of ‘‘The Drive.’’
For AJ McCarron, it confirmed what the Tide already knew — this guy is a heck of a quarterback.
He saved the season on a Saturday night in Death Valley, and most likely propelled himself into the thick of the Heisman Trophy race.
‘‘Just so many emotions running through me,’’ McCarron said after embracing his parents behind the end zone. ‘‘Sometimes it can be a lot of pressure playing here at this university, especially with all the tradition of winning and everything.’’
Alabama (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) remained perfect on the season and No. 1 in the rankings with a stirring 21-17 victory over LSU, clearing what looks to be its most difficult hurdle on the road back to the national championship game.
The Crimson Tide finally got a challenge after rolling through its first eight opponents. Thanks to McCarron, Alabama passed with flying colors.
Down by a field goal and 72 yards from the end zone, with just 94 seconds left and no timeouts, the junior engineered a drive for the ages. Three straight completions to get into scoring position. Then a perfectly called screen pass to T.J. Yeldon when the Tigers blitzed. The result was a 28-yard touchdown that won it for the Tide.
McCarron needed all of 49 seconds to shred one of college football’s toughest defenses, a unit that had totally shut him down for almost the entire second half.
‘‘He was locked in,’’ said Alabama running back Eddie Lacy. ‘‘I mean, he knew he had to make plays. He did exactly what he was supposed to do. You can’t ask for any more from AJ McCarron.’’
With the Heisman race a bit of a jumble, McCarron is moving up the charts with a bullet. He is the nation’s third-rated passer, just behind Kansas State’s Collin Klein and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, with 19 TD passes and zero interceptions. McCarron extended his school-record streak without a pick to 289 passes.
McCarron struggled through much of the second half, having completed just 1 of 7 passes for 0 yards before Alabama’s final possession. But his confidence never wavered.
‘‘I just love moments like that,’’ he said.
Fortunate, not lucky
Though some might argue that fourth-ranked Notre Dame has been more lucky than good at times, especially in Saturday’s triple-overtime victory against Pittsburgh, coach Brian Kelly doesn’t believe that.
‘‘I’ve never had a team that’s won because it was lucky. But I’ve had many teams that were fortunate because they were good football teams and they found a way to win,’’ he said.
The Irish (9-0) got lucky twice on one play in their 29-26 victory over the Panthers (4-5). In the second overtime, after Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood fumbled as he tried to dive in the end zone, all Pitt had to do to win was kick a field goal. The snap from center was a little high, then Kevin Harper’s 33-yard field goal attempt sailed slightly wide right. The second bit of luck occurred when officials didn’t notice the Irish had a pair of No. 2s on the field at the same time.
NCAA rules allow teams to have duplicate numbers on a roster, but not on the field at the same time. So the Panthers should have gotten a second chance with receiver Chris Brown wearing No. 2 in the backfield leaping to try to block the field goal and cornerback Bennett Jackson wearing No. 2 coming around the right end.
‘‘It was a coaching mistake,’’ Kelly said.
Kentucky fires Phillips
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips knew after Saturday’s 40-0 home loss to Vanderbilt that keeping his job would be tough. The end came a day later. Athletic director Mitch Barnhart announced Phillips’s firing Sunday in an open letter on the Wildcats’ website. The letter stated Phillips would be let go, effective at the end of the season, but athletic department spokesman DeWayne Peevy later said the coach’s status for the final two games was being determined. ‘‘We, as coaches, are measured on results,’’ Phillips said in a statement. ‘‘We didn’t get the results we had worked and hoped for, therefore change is needed.” Kentucky (1-9, 0-7 SEC) is on the verge of going winless in the conference for the first time in school history. Phillips, 49, is 12-23 in three seasons at Kentucky. He led the Wildcats to a bowl game in his first season, but they have gotten worse each season since . . . Georgia receiver Marlon Brown, who is tied for the team lead in catches, will miss the remainder of the season after hurting his left knee in Saturday’s win over Mississippi. Coach Mark Richt said Sunday that Brown tore his anterior cruciate ligament. The injury will end the senior’s college career.