The last time Nick Saban coached against Alabama, the Crimson Tide were done in by an untimely exhibition of Murphy’s Law.
“The worst things that could’ve happened, happened,” former Tide coach Mike Shula told The Tuscaloosa News on Nov. 13, 2004. “We lost the momentum, we lost the lead.”
Saban’s LSU squad was the defending national champion. Ranked No. 17, the Tigers hosted unranked Alabama, which boasted the country’s No. 1 defense.
Pundits predicted a low-scoring battle, and they were right.
LSU was down 10-6 in the third quarter when momentum began to shift the home team’s way. On third-and-7 from the LSU 9-yard line, Alabama quarterback Spencer Pennington lofted a ball to the left side of the end zone. Tigers cornerback Corey Webster shoved Tide receiver Keith Brown to the ground before intercepting the ball and running back 44 yards.
No flags flew. Webster’s coverage was deemed legal. The next week, SEC supervisor of officials Bobby Gaston said side judge Blake Parks should have thrown the flag.
Alabama players and coaches were obviously upset.
“We didn’t like that,” Pennington told The News. “Back where we came from, that’s (pass interference) every time.”
Watching from the sideline, Saban pleaded ignorance.
“I couldn’t see it,” Saban said. “I was on the opposite side. I know they run a lot of fades, and we were playing bump and run. I saw him intercept the football. I did not see anything prior to that.”
A pass interference call would’ve put ‘Bama on the 2-yard line with a fresh set of downs.
“There’s no doubt in my mind we would’ve gone up 17-6,” Pennington said.
The teams traded three punts before another disaster befell the Tide.
On first-and-10 from his own 11-yard line, Pennington spent too much time looking downfield. All-American defensive end Marcus Spears stripped him of the ball, and Cameron Vaughn scooped and scored for a 13-10 lead.
“I saw it hanging out there,” Spears told The News. “I thought he was going to throw it before I got to him, but he still had it hanging. I don’t think he knew I was there. I just swiped at it and was fortunate enough to get it on the ground. Then I looked and think it’s going out of bounds, and there goes Cam.”
LSU scored twice through the air in the fourth quarter, putting away Alabama for the final time under Saban’s command.
“You beat Alabama, it means something,” Saban told The News. “It was physical, it was tough. They played hard, they played great. You have to give them a lot of credit, but I was really proud of our guys and the way they competed in the game, especially in the second half.”
Saban left Baton Rouge after the season to accept a job with the Miami Dolphins. He went 15-17 before ditching South Beach and filling a big need in Tuscaloosa.
Since then, the coach is 6-3 against LSU — including a current four-game winning streak — and has hoisted three national championship trophies to go with the one he earned in Louisiana.
This Saturday’s game (8 p.m. ET, CBS) could go a long way toward deciding where the next trophy lands.