This was a tense game. Every game Alabama has played in Baton Rouge under Saban has been a close one; and, despite ending up a double digit win, this one was no different.
The offense struggled against a fierce Tiger defense much of the night, and two Jalen Hurts turnovers led to some dicey situations. The defense and J.K. Scott’s booming leg handled things, though, until the offense finally broke one. Over the course of approximately 16 minutes of game time, Alabama crushed LSU’s hope.
3rd and 9: Alabama has strung together its best drive since the 2nd quarter one that ended with Adam Griffith’s missed field goal. The offense started on its own 10yd line before promptly moving back to its 5yd line. A couple solid gains and an unnecessary roughness penalty later, and the offense is knocking on the red zone door. Bama lines up in shotgun with 11 personnel. Bo Scarbrough is in the backfield with Hurts. Gehrig Dieter motions left to right and joins ArDarius Stewart. Ridley is the lone wideout on the left, and O.J. Howard is at tight end on the left. Hurts rolls right, and LSU’s defense flows with him. The Tigers sell out on keeping Hurts from getting the edge.
DE Lewis Neal is keeping wide to contain Hurts - you can decide whether the refs missed a holding call on Scarbrough here yourself. LB Kendall Beckwith was the middle linebacker and had lined up in the dead center of the line. He follows Hurts hard, though, and is so focused on keeping contain that he over-pursues. When Hurts cuts inside Scarbrough’s block and heads to middle of the field, there isn’t a single defender there.
LB Duke Riley reacts quickly, but he’s run himself too far to the sideline and can only dive, futilely at the feet of Hurts. Beckwith doesn’t react quickly and takes several yards before he’s moving back inside. Hurts runs through the arm tackle and into the endzone for the one touchdown of the game. Ridley must be commended for sealing off the defensive back, too.
1st and 10: Alabama’s one touchdown feels like a couple with the way the defense has been shutting down LSU, but there’s still plenty of time and hope for Tiger fans. A pass for first down on the first play of the drive certainly kept that hope alive. Alabama has three down linemen with OLBs Tim Williams (left) and Ryan Anderson (right) standing up. Williams drops back into the flat, but LSU devotes three blockers to his side of the line. Da’Shawn Hand is the only rusher from that side, and he still ends up one-on-one against a tight end. The left side of LSU’s line fares no better. The left tackle vacillates between the corner blitz from Anthony Averett (who gets picked up by Fournette) and Anderson, and he blocks neither. Anderson shoots through the gap, getting chipped a little by the left tackle and then the left guard. QB Danny Etling rolled a little to the right after faking the handoff to Fournette, and he tries to get the pass off. Anderson reaches him just in time to cause a short, wobbly pass; and Minkah Fitzpatrick makes a diving catch for the interception.
3rd and 15: “It would be demoralizing if LSU gave up a first down here,” says Gary Danielson.
Alabama is at the LSU 40, too far for a field goal. The offense again has 11 personnel, but Howard is out wide this time. Scarbrough is to the left of Hurts. The four wideouts has the defense spread way out. LSU has five guys with their hands in the dirt, Kendall Beckwith as the only linebacker, and one safety deep in the middle. It’s a keeper for Hurts, and he initially takes a few steps to the left side, but he sees how the play is developing and an incipient hole on the right. Beckwith makes a mistake here and plays the same gap one of this defensive linemen is in. Bradley Bozeman to take both defenders out of the play, and now Hurts has a whole lot of running room to demoralize LSU. Cool Hand Jalen picks up 23 yards and the first down.
3rd and 9: Just a couple plays later, and the offense is confronted with another 3rd and long. What does Alabama do? Run basically the same play. Four wideouts again with the running back (Damien Harris) to the left of Hurts. LSU only has three down linemen here, with three linebackers. Everybody’s shaded over to Alabama’s right, though, leaving a good amount of empty space on the left. Both outside linebackers blitz; and Beckwith (the Mike) is too far out of the way and too slow to make up the ground. Hurts takes off around the edge, easily avoiding the unblocked Duke Riley. Ridley and Dieter faked a screen on the left, drawing in the corner and nickel. Another first down run for Hurts. The offense ends up setting for a short field goal after a phantom false start, but a 10-0 lead may as well be a 100-0 lead. This last drive lasted 12 plays and ran 9:51 off the clock.
Add in the two back-breaking third down conversions, and there wasn’t an ounce of will left in anyone clad in purple and gold.