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Initial Impressions: 29 to Zereaux

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Nick Saban said he wanted to make a statement. Mission accomplished.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Many of the LSU faithful were convinced that this would be their year.

Tiger Stadium was lit from the outset, the loudest venue in college football even more of a zoo than usual. They got even louder when Tua Tagovailoa sat on the field after a dirty hit from Grant Delpit, his helmet in Tua’s unmentionables and shoulder pad squarely on his knee brace, all after the whistle. Seriously, officials, what was this about? You going to let them cheap-shot the QB with impunity?

That is an illegal hit on a live play, so the stadium noise was no excuse. Of course, Delpit somehow got away with a textbook targeting foul later in the first quarter. All of the pregame Devin White whining apparently paid off, as LSU was flagged for zero penalties other than three procedural five yarders. Choir boys, they.

Whatever.

The story of this game was the Alabama defense led by Quinnen Williams, who continues his unbelievable ascent to the top of NFL draft boards. It appears that nobody in the country can block this guy, a testament to his efforts and those of Coach Craig Kuligowski who needs to be paid whatever is necessary to keep him in Tuscaloosa. Quinnen led the team in tackles with ten. Read that again: he made ten tackles from the nose! That is unheard of, folks, and there were 3.5 TFL including two sacks mixed in.

Quinnen was certainly the star, but the entire defense was just masterful. The corners were excellent in man coverage and the passing off was stronger this week, evidenced by Saivion Smith’s near interception early that probably would have gone back for six. Smith correctly passed off his man on the play and rolled up into his curl/flat responsibility, something that has been problematic at times this season. Patrick Surtain II had a fantasic break-up on a deep ball, and Mack Wilson showed off some serious hops on his late interception in the end zone. I think the bye week probably helped Mack recover from some nagging stuff, his balky foot in particular.

Offensively, it was encouraging to see the Tide run the ball as well as they did, but it was largely a function of LSU being the first team to scheme away the downfield passes. We expected to see this at some point and it did keep the Tigers in the game longer, but ultimately they still gave up 576 yards and 29 points that would have been 31 if the Tide could kick extra points. This offense is the definition of “pick your poison” and you’re going to die either way. Tua Tagovailoa put up his first pedestrian passing performance of the season, managing only 129.5 rating on 59% completions for 295 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He did make another highlight reel when he dropped that dime on Irv Smith, Jr. in the end zone over Delpit and then broke their backs with his 40 yard Heisman scamper to the end zone. Bottom line, when you face an elite secondary that has schemed to take away the pass and you still put up 300 yards despite a banged up WR corps, you’re doing OK. Oh, and Jerry Jeudy is awesome, y’all.

As mentioned, he running game took over this one. LSU had no answer for either of the Harrises who combined for 190 yards on 25 carries, led by Damien Harris with 107. There was some pressure on Tua at times, but in general the offensive line proved itself worthy of all the praise they have been receiving. Jonah Williams is as heady a guy as you will find at left tackle and Deonte “Cornbread” Brown has combined with him to create a devastating pair in run blocking. It will be fun to watch those two against the nasty Mississippi State front next week.

Yeah, the kicking game still stinks, and it’s frustrating. The Tide did convert its only field goal opportunity but had a bad snap exchange on one extra point and had another blocked, plus a kickoff sailed out of bounds. Being that it’s November there are no answers at this point, you just hope that it never shows up at a critical time. The way this team is playing, there may never be any critical times.

Saban seemed positive on the only two injuries of note to Najee Harris and Henry Ruggs III. Harris sprained an ankle and Saban said it doesn’t appear to be severe. Ruggs apparently got kicked in the leg and they got X-rays which turned out negative.

With this victory, the Tide have clinched the SEC West and will face Georgia in Atlanta on December 1. They will be double digit favorites in that game and every one in between. Stay healthy, survive and advance, and see what happens in the playoffs. Best of all, when Alabama next rolls into Baton Rouge, it will have been a full six years since they have surrendered a point in “Death Valley.”

Savor this one, folks, and savor this team and season. We are witnessing greatness.

Roll Tide.