That was beautiful.
In recent years, LSU vs. Alabama has become the premier game in the SEC and seemingly carries national implications of some sort on an annual basis. It's a throwback game between two teams who would prefer to run over you than around you. More than perhaps any other game played in college football, this one is about running the football and stopping the run. Passes are used judiciously and the QB is often in the line of fire when asked to drop back. This one played out exactly as expected in that regard, and Alabama dominated on both sides of the football.
This post sounds like a broken record every week, but there once again simply aren't enough superlatives for this defensive front. I quipped after the game that A'Shawn Robinson might be the best player in the country. I can't imagine another player anywhere who more consistently executes exactly what he is asked to do and wins at the point of attack virtually every play. He and the rest of the front four did what they have been doing all season, standing up the vaunted LSU offensive line on every play and maintaining their two-gap responsibilities. When LSU decided to double-team at the point of attack, linebackers Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster would tee off on Fournette. When the guards would release to the second level, Alabama's defensive linemen would manhandle a blocker and shove him into Fournette's lap.
There was no scheming issue here. LSU flat-out could not block the Alabama defensive front despite having perhaps the best offensive line in the nation as well as the best running back. Leonard Fournette is going to be a transcendent professional player in the mold of Adrian Peterson, and he managed a whopping 1.6 yards per carry against the Tide. When you cannot win at the point of attack, running the ball is impossible, and sticking with the run to wear down this front is futile because of the depth. By the end of the game, the defensive line was once again fresher than their offensive counterparts, which has been the main catalyst for Alabama dominating the fourth quarter all season. At this point it is legitimately fair to consider whether this three-deep is the best group of defensive linemen in college football history.
The pass rush was equally impressive, as the Tide was consistently able to collapse the pocket in a hurry despite rushing four against six blockers most of the time. The talent along the front allows Kirby Smart to play simple. No need to run a bunch of stunts and blitzes when your guys are disciplined enough to stay in lanes and explosive enough to push their guys around. Blitzing can create turnovers and negative plays but can also leave you exposed, as evidenced by LSU's first touchdown on a deep pass. For some inexplicable reason, Smart blitzed senior cornerback Cyrus Jones on 2nd-and-12, leaving Geno Matias-Smith in single coverage on a big receiver. This was a head-scratching moment that allowed LSU to get back in the game, and hopefully one that he will learn from. When you have this type of talent at your disposal, just line them up and let them eat.
The offense played about as expected in this one. Derrick Henry deserves an iron man award after carrying the football 38 times for 210 yards and three TDs. This performance underscored exactly what Derrick Henry is: a workhorse. At his size he will never have the moves and explosiveness of a Leonard Fournette, but he will out-work you in the weight room so that his last carry is just as brutally violent as the first. Those were tough yards, folks, brutal yards, harkening back to Mark Ingram in the 2009 South Carolina game. There will undoubtedly be talk of a Heisman campaign for Henry after this one, and it would be somewhat surprising if he doesn't at least get an invite to the ceremony if he finishes strong and Alabama goes on to win the conference. Kenyan Drake looked like himself again, coming in with fresh legs and quick feet to gash the worn-down LSU defense. The line was boom-or bust again, allowing aggressive LSU linebackers to breach the backfield too frequently, but was able to open some nice holes at times. Henry got a ton of yards after contact though. This line is good enough, but it simply isn't going to be a dominant unit against solid defenses.
The passing game was what we have come to expect from this team. When your defense is clearly the best in the nation, you lean on them to force a bunch of three-and-outs which aid in wearing out the opposing defense. To that end, the Tide has become almost comically conservative on offense. Jake Coker threw the ball only 24 times, completing 75% for 187 yards. The bulk of the completions were of the horizontal variety, simply intended to keep the LSU defense honest on the edges so that Henry could continue to pound on them inside. Lane Kiffin had clearly seen something on film there, opening the game with a couple of quick tosses out to Richard Mullaney that went for decent gains and likely helped open up the middle. The Tide also took a couple of unsuccessful deep shots off of play action to keep the safeties thinking, but by and large they avoided risk of any type. Calvin Ridley showed some explosiveness in moving the chains a few times on runs after the catch, and OJ Howard had a key third down catch.
Special teams have been up-and-down this year, but they were almost perfect in this game, suggesting that some extra time may have been invested during the bye week. Adam Griffith was the top-rated kicker coming out of high school, and he finally had what seemed to be a coming-out party last night. The 55-yard field goal he drilled at the end of the half would have been good from 60. He finished the game 3/3 on field goals and routinely crushed the ball into the end zone on kickoffs. He looks healthy and prepared to finally play to his vast potential, which would obviously be a boon to the Tide.
The Tide now must get rested for a trip to Starkville that is not going to be easy. Mississippi State has been playing well of late, and Dak Prescott would undoubtedly love to slay the Alabama monster in his senior season. Derrick Henry in particular needs to spend the next 48 hours in an ice bath. Thanks to an Arkansas win in Oxford, the Tide now has a new lease on life, controlling its own destiny. Heal up, finish strong, and a national title is theirs for the taking.