BATON ROUGE, La. – As Les Miles' latest stab at fourth-down trickery was about to unfold, the LSU coach bent down, snatched up some blades of grass — and ate them.
"I have a little tradition that humbles me as a man, that lets me know that I'm a part of the field and part of the game," Miles said as a smile widened on his face. "You should have seen some games before this. I can tell you one thing: The grass in Tiger Stadium tastes best."
What Miles saw next was even sweeter for him than anything coming out of the sprawling sugar cane fields only a few miles away. DeAngelo Peterson went 23 yards with a reverse on fourth-and-1 to set up Stevan Ridley's go-ahead 1-yard plunge in the fourth quarter, and No. 12 LSU held on for a 24-21 upset of the fifth-ranked Crimson Tide on Saturday.
The victory added to Miles' growing resume of audacious fourth-down conversions — the most recent a fake field goal to set up a winning TD at Florida. Miles, who fans call the Mad Hatter, argued his play-calling isn't always as risky as it seems.
"We practice these things. It's not a grab bag," said Miles, who called a timeout before running the play. "This play looked to be there and it was prepared extremely well by our team and it would have been a mistake not to call it."
The triumphant result inspired players to give Miles the game ball and brought roars of approval from fans that for now should drown out any critics still longing for the days when Nick Saban coached LSU.
The victory came at Saban's expense and likely knocked Alabama (7-2, 4-2 SEC) out of contention for a second straight national championship. Now the Crimson Tide will need LSU (8-1, 5-1) to lose twice and Georgia to beat Auburn just to have a shot to repeat as SEC West champions.
"This whole year, everyone around us has been very concerned about the results in comparison to what was accomplished a year ago, and that has not been the best thing for the development of this team," Saban said. "They have become too result-oriented, and we never have developed to become as good a team as we can be. ... How we respond to this will show us what kind of character we have and what kind of pride we have."
LSU remains in the hunt to win the SEC West but is a bit of a long shot because it needs to win out and needs Auburn to lose to Georgia next week and again to Alabama in the Iron Bowl later this month.
LSU twice rallied from second-half deficits, the first time on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Jefferson to Rueben Randle, who also hauled in a 47-yarder by Jarrett Lee to convert a crucial third down in the final minutes.
That allowed the Tigers to keep the ball until only 24 seconds remained and hold on to a three-point lead that seemed tenuous after the Tide had marched 74 yards in only 2:04 to pull within a field goal on Greg McElroy's 9-yard pass to Julio Jones with 3:23 left.
The way things are going for LSU this season, it's not all that shocking when things break the Tigers' way. In addition to the wild finish at Florida, LSU beat Tennessee despite some poor clock management by Miles in the waning seconds.
When they had vanquished the Tide, LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and several teammates jumped into the stands to celebrate with students.
"This is the biggest win since I have been here at LSU," Sheppard said. "I have played in a national championship and that's fine and good, but we had everybody bearing down on us and our head coach. People were saying that there was no way we can beat Alabama. We were underdogs and no one thought we could win. All I have to say is, look at us now."
The loss was a painful one for McElroy, who after the game crouched on the field for about 30 seconds.
"I don't think there's an excuse. They beat us. They really did," McElroy said. "They did a great job. Credit their players and their coaches. We just didn't come out and play the way we should have played."
McElroy completed 21 of 34 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. But he was intercepted in the first half and fumbled on a sack by Drake Nevis in his own territory in the fourth quarter. Sheppard recovered, leading to Josh Jasper's third field goal, which gave LSU a 10-point lead with under 6 minutes left.
Mark Ingram had 97 yards rushing for Alabama, which came in knowing it would win the SEC if it could win the remainder of its games.
Trent Richardson had a short touchdown for the Tide but was shaken up on the score and played sparingly afterward. Jones, in a heralded matchup with star cornerback Patrick Peterson, caught 10 passes for 89 yards.
Ridley rushed for 88 yards and LSU had 208 yards through the air, with Jefferson going 10 of 13 for 141.
"We haven't been given credit much this whole year," Ridley said. "We are 8-1 and haven't been given any respect. Alabama is the team that everybody hypes up, and yes, they are a great football team, but they didn't even give us a chance. They thought that they were going roll right over us. But this team played with a lot of heart. And man did our quarterbacks play well. They played outstanding."