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Initial Impressions from the LSU game

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The Tide stays alive in the SEC race with a dramatic finish.

Unbridled joy after the winning TD drive.
Unbridled joy after the winning TD drive.
Chris Graythen

It is said that most every championship run in college football includes a win that shouldn't have been, a moment of seemingly insurmountable adversity that is ultimately overcome in unlikely fashion. This is precisely what transpired in Baton Rouge last night. The LSU crowd was crazy, the Alabama players seemed to be affected by the environment, and the young Tigers came out hitting. The result was another dramatic finish in this series and the first four-game winning streak over LSU in more than 20 years.

Offensively, I'm not sure what the game plan was. On the whole Lane Kiffin has had a stellar first season in Tuscaloosa but this one raised some questions. First off, Yeldon and Henry combined for only 23 carries while Blake attempted 45 passes. Add in that LSU leads the nation in pass efficiency defense and you simply can't help but scratch your head. It appeared that the coaching staff believed that the team simply couldn't line up and run the ball right at LSU. In fairness, LSU did stuff the run well early, but that is to be expected on the road. Additionally, I had posited during the week that Blake needed 12-15 carries in this one to test an LSU defense that has been torched at times by athletic QBs. He got only five, including scrambles. Blake ran two inside zone reads early in the game on the same series, misread both, and we never saw it again. This is a mistake in my opinion as the read option game tends to work better as the game goes along and the QB gets a better feel for the defense's tendencies. To be sure, Alabama didn't find a ton of success running the football as Yeldon led the way with a pedestrian 4.5 YPC before an ugly injury that caused him to seemingly fumble the game away. Still, had Alabama lost this one the fan base would be lamenting the offensive play calling for years to come. Leon Brown's penalty problem showed up again in this one, twice moving the Tide back off of the one yard line.

Now, about that passing game. In short, it was an utter train wreck all night. Amari Cooper had a gorgeous catch and run early in the game among a solid-for-anyone-else eight catches for 83 yards, but he also dropped three passes that hit him right in the hands at big moments in the game. Yeldon had a bad drop early as well, and Blake was simply awful passing the ball for the first 59 minutes of game action. No way to know what the main contributing factors were for the passing game's performance in this one. Could it have been the crowd? I guess. The moment? The reputation of LSU's secondary? Obviously we will never know, but this game easily bests the one in Oxford for the most inept passing performance of the season.

Fortunately for the Tide the defense came to play in this one, and LSU is once again hamstrung by QB play that would garner an NC-17 rating in mainstream theaters. LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron clearly understood his team's strengths and weaknesses, sticking with the run game to the tune of 56 rushes against only 26 passes, though the balance is skewed a bit by scrambles. Still, the Tigers stubbornly kept running the ball right at Alabama and the Alabama defense stood up time after time. All told, the running tandem of Leonard Fournette and Terrance Magee managed a paltry 108 yards on 33 carries, solidifying the Tide's reputation as the best rushing defense in the country. Reggie Ragland was a dominant force, continually doling out big hits to stone LSU running backs for little to no gain. The passing defense was stout as well, holding QB Anthony Jennings to an absurd 8/26 and only 76 passing yards, but much of that was his own incompetence. LSU fans have been clamoring to play freshman backup Brandon Harris at the position, and you have to wonder if he could possibly be any worse. Eddie Jackson made a beautiful interception to force the Tide's only turnover of the night. The pass rush was solid for most of the night, but failure to spy Jennings cost Alabama several first downs before adjusting into a zone look. If I'm a defensive coordinator against a QB of that quality, I'm probably content to have him try to throw through seven-man zone looks. Hard to fault the strategy given the results, though this is the second straight game featuring a mobile QB that the Tide struggled to contain.

Special teams play was, unsurprisingly, uneven again. JK Scott shanked a couple and failed to keep one out of the end zone early but finished with an excellent 48.6 average on far too many, nine to be exact, attempts. Adam Griffith missed another chip shot field goal early but hit the most important one, a 27 yarder to send the game into OT in addition to a 39 yarder just before the half that provided a feel-good moment as his teammates celebrated with him. Hopefully this game will boost his confidence and get him back to his early season form. There were only two kickoff returns by LSU in this one, both by Leonard Fournette, one for 34 yards and the other for 14. On the last one Reuben Foster provided another highlight, impersonating a heat seeking missile as he decleated the young star runner, that seemed to fire the team up. Only one thing, Reuben: keep your head up, son. Don't want to see you paralyzed.

Finally, we had the miracle. In a virtual replay of the 2012 tilt in Red Stick, the Tide waited until all seemed lost to get up off the mat and snatch victory. The passing game that had been utterly incompetent for much of the night managed to move 55 yards in exactly 50 seconds to set up the tying field goal, with Blake converting a critical third down on a scramble. His performance for most of the night was pretty poor, but on that last drive Blake looked every bit the part of a championship quarterback. The young man is a competitor. DeAndrew White stepped up huge on the last drive with two big grabs including the TD. And how about Lane pulling out the old Barrett Jones fake screen pass play with Cameron Robinson? Nobody in the stadium expected Brandon Greene to be getting the football at that stage of the game, or any stage for that matter. Great call. The way this team finished has to make you feel good about close finishes in the future. I think the young men grew up a bit in this one.

There is still plenty to work on, but you can never complain about a win on the road against that level of competition. While we will anxiously await news on the severity of Yeldon's injury, we are eleven weeks in at this point and the Tide still controls its own destiny for a conference championship and playoff berth. Get well, TJ, you are needed. Two final difficult tests loom, but at this stage and considering the resilience shown by this team last night you have to like their chances.