This is my story for today’s print editions:
TUSCALOOSA — The joke going around the Tiger Stadium press box Saturday night went like this: The reason LSU gave up two touchdowns to Alabama’s two-minute offense is because the Tide hadn’t run it in so long there was no film to scout.
Checking the 2011 and 2012 boxscores shows Alabama hasn’t run a hurry-up, two-minute offense at the end of a second half in that span, except in Saturday’s 21-17 win over LSU. In this case, it worked for a touchdown on a five-play drive — a 28-yard touchdown pass from AJ McCarron to T.J. Yeldon.
“It obviously was a good drive in the two-minute,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We’ve never really had to use the two-minute.”
Even so, the Tide practices it regularly each Thursday inside its indoor practice facility. The players say it’s ready when needed, such as the last game against LSU or maybe Saturday’s home game against No. 15-ranked Texas A&M.
Recorded crowd noise fills the facility, and the first-team offense has to go against the Tide’s first-team defense. They have only one limit — they aren’t allowed to go full contact and knock each other all around the building.
“Coach Saban basically tells us how many minutes we have left on the clock, how many timeouts we have left, if we need to get a field goal or touchdown,” said Alabama receiver Kevin Norwood, who made all five of his receptions Saturday in the hurry-up offense. “We just move the ball as an offense.”
So, who wins the most: the offense or defense?
“It’s kind of 50-50,” Norwood said. “The defense wins most of the times, and then we win most of the times. So, it’s kind of 50-50.”
The players say it develops into one of the most fun, competitive parts of practice. And they can’t agree on who wins the most. Linebacker C.J. Mosley disputed the idea the offense wins as much as 50 percent of the time.
“Maybe a little bit less than that,” he said, smiling.
But Mosley said that as Alabama lined up to run the two-minute offense at the end of Saturday’s game, he thought back to all those Thursdays and figured that work would pay off.
“Every Thursday, we do our two-minute drill with the offense,” he said. “Either they need a touchdown or a field goal to score. And Coach (Saban) gives them like 1:30, 1:15, one timeout, two timeouts — just different scenarios.
“And when we get in that situation, it’s like a game. We try our best to stop them from scoring. Sometimes they get plays, sometimes we get our plays. But practicing, that played a big part in that game.”
In the past two seasons, Alabama truly has run its hurry-up offense eight times in the first half and has gotten in position to score each time. That figure counts any time Alabama has gotten the ball with fewer than three minutes on the clock and made a real attempt to score.
This year, it produced a field goal against Mississippi State and a touchdown against Florida Atlantic. Against Michigan, Alabama got in position for a 47-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half, but lost a fumble. Against LSU, the Tide got touchdowns at the end of both halves.
Last year, Alabama got into field goal range but missed against North Texas, Kent State and Georgia Southern. It worked for a field goal against LSU in the BCS National Championship Game. The Tide started at its own 24 with 1:59 to play and got the Jeremy Shelley field goal on the last play of the half.
Against Arkansas and Tennessee, Alabama started a drive with the idea of the two-minute offense but abandoned it after an early sack.
Norwood and running back Eddie Lacy say the two-minute has worked the few times Alabama has run it because of McCarron. Lacy added that with such high stakes at the end of Saturday’s game, McCarron was even more locked into the drive than usual.
“He knew he had to make the plays,” he said. “He got the plays in. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, make the right reads and make the right passes. You can’t ask for any more from AJ McCarron.”