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Alabama Crimson Tide 38, LSU Tigers 17: Who Are You and What Have You Done With the Real Nick Saban?

The Tide gets a win in its biggest game of the season so far and gets one step closer to a defining battle with Auburn

Kevin C. Cox

There are certain things that you do not expect from Nick Saban. You do not expect laughs with Les Miles before the game. You do not expect a fake punt and a flea flicker in the same game. You certainly don't expect him joyfully leaping into A.J. McCarron's arms, or obviously trying to hide a smile in the post-game interview.

But these are all things we saw or heard about before, during and after Alabama's win against LSU on Saturday. And one of them ended up being critical to the Tide's victory.

Shortly after LSU tied the game at 17-17 on its first drive of the third quarter, Alabama faced a 4th-and-2 on its own 41-yard line. Saban called a timeout, followed by a fake punt that gained more than enough yardage and continued what would become a touchdown drive. The Tide never looked back.

There were still some hallmarks of Nick Saban in this game. The Tide ran for 193 yards on 42 carries, allowing McCarron to stick to the methodical and efficient passing game (14-of-20, 179 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) that he has mastered under Saban. Meanwhile, Alabama completely shut down the LSU ground game, limiting it to 43 yards on 31 carries. There were some sacks and other miscues, but LSU's three leading rushers gained 74 yards on 23 carries -- which is better, but still not good enough.

The fallout: Alabama and Auburn are now on a collision course for an Iron Bowl that could decide the SEC West. LSU and everyone else is out. If Auburn beats Georgia next week (or if both teams lose), the final game of the season will be one of the more important rivalry games in the history of the event. If Alabama is still undefeated when it rolls around -- which is far more likely than not at this point -- it would be a game with national title implications in addition to being a play-in for the SEC Championship Game.

But that's the kind of looking ahead that Nick Saban would frown upon. One game at a time, the process and all that. Alabama still has Mississippi State to play next week, and don't dare overlook Chattanooga; play the games that are in front of you. There's no time for thinking about what might happen a week or two or three down the road.

Still, you couldn't help but wonder if the joy that Saban showed Saturday night was a little peek into his thinking. Maybe he has looked ahead a little more than he would let on. And maybe Nick Saban likes his chances. Wouldn't you?