In a sea of tension, loose Alabama defense seemed to enjoy high-pressure moments

The tension was thick in the Bryant-Denny Stadium air Saturday night. The fact Alabama was a 29-point favorite only made the final few possessions a little more unnerving for the 101,000-plus gathered for this rivalry visit from LSU.

And when the Tigers had three possessions inside the Alabama territory down just six in the final 7 minutes, the once-festive atmosphere suddenly felt more stressful.

The exception, however, appeared to be the only 11 people who actually carried the burden for the masses watching in part fear, part dread. The Alabama defense, subject of season-long criticism for perceived underperformance, not only answered the challenge in preserving the 20-14 win.

They seemed to have fun doing it.

“Definitely. As a defense you love critical moments,” Alabama linebacker Henry To’o To’o said through a grin Monday. “That’s what you work so hard for. You don’t want to be in those critical moments, but when it’s finally crunch time, time to bow up as a defense, that’s kind of the moments we live for, what we really are.”

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Playing aggressively with pressures and blitzes with LSU one big play away from an upset seemed to loosen any stress from the Alabama defense. Young players like freshman outside linebacker Dallas Turner was a spark with two sacks while veteran defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis brought juice on the interior.

The Wiser, Louisiana product and most demonstrative member of the Alabama defense didn’t hold back when he appeared to make a game-saving sack/fumble and recovery. It was later overturned by video review but that moment spoke to the personality of a defense that’s not always known for showing outward emotion.

“Of course we’re having fun,” linebacker Christian Harris said. “We’re out there celebrating and I think that helps us a lot. Just taking it and focusing on one play at a time. We had those negative plays that we could have prevented but having fun and focusing on the next play helped us keep going.”

It was Harris, a Baton Rouge product, who made the biggest play of the night on the final snap. LSU quarterback Max Johnson lofted one high into the end zone only to have Harris swat it away.

“I’m not worried about them catching it,” Harris said. “I’m trying to focus on doing my assignment and everybody else doing their assignment regardless of the play call was. The situation in the game, you can’t really worry about too much. Just focus on doing your job and I think we did that at that point.”

To’o To’o was part of the mosh pit in the end zone when the final throw arrived.

“That’s one of the plays you see on a college football highlight reel where somebody catches it,” He said. “We couldn’t let that happen, couldn’t let it be one of those. I’ve never been in one so crazy, but it was like we all had to hone into what we had to do and we got the ball down.”

Bryant-Denny Stadium exhaled.

And the Alabama defense celebrated its final stand on a night nobody expected to be so dramatic.

Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.