Alabama ran into an excellent, confident football team yesterday with an eight year chip on its shoulder and came out with a narrow loss.
That pretty much sums it up.
In a game where both defenses were going to get lit up to a degree, the team that turned the ball over was probably going to lose. The stat sheet says that Alabama had two turnovers, but the fumbled punt doesn’t show up because Ty Perine recovered it. With that one included, the Tide ended up -2 in a game they lost by five points. Considering the fact that they were in field goal range when Tua Tagovailoa fumbled, the defense got a stop after the Perine fumble, and LSU punched it in after the worst decision of Tagovailoa’s career with under 30 seconds to go in the first half, it isn’t difficult to imagine a scenario where Alabama wins this ball game with just a bit better execution.
Alas, they didn’t execute on offense very well at all until halftime. Tua doesn’t go around putting footballs on the turf with no one around, but he did. Alabama’s punters don’t always kick the air out of the ball, but they don’t typically drop the snap. Tua certainly doesn’t throw boneheaded interceptions on his own end of the field, particularly with the risk vs. reward as out of balance as it was on that series. Add in a hose job on Slade Bolden’s fourth down conversion attempt and that horrendous sideline call that the league office feebly tried to cover its own ass on with a ridiculous interpretation, and you had a perfect storm of nonsense that conspired with what we knew was an outstanding LSU offense to put the Tide in a hole too deep to crawl out of. In the end, Alabama averaged more yards per pass, more yards per rush and scored on special teams, but still managed to lose.
So, as usual we will start with the positives. Najee Harris ran like a man possessed out there. All he did was amass 190 total yards on 7.7 yards per carry and 14.7 yards per reception, with one TD by each method. That back shoulder fade was a thing of beauty. DeVonta Smith exposed LSU freshman Derek Stingley Jr. in a big way, catching two deep ball TDs on him and beating him inside on a couple of occasions. Smith finished with seven catches for 214 yards and two scores. Tua’s day wasn’t efficient but it was explosive, with 418 passing yards on only 21 completions. After using a ton of slants and RPOs all season, it was bombs away. The Tide converted 40% on third down but made three of those on fourth, for a total conversion rate of 60%. The offensive line allowed only one sack.
On defense, the Tide created what should have been enough havoc to win the game with five sacks and a turnover. They forced four punts, the exact same number forced by LSU’s defense. Xavier McKinney had himself an outstanding game playing near the line of scrimmage and sacked Burrow twice. Anfernee Jennings, Terrell Lewis and Christian Barmore all created havoc, with Jennings getting two sacks of his own. The run game was held in check better than i feared it would be, as no huge runs were broken. Yes, that is a low bar, but for a team that has struggled with run fits all year we will count 5.2 yards per carry by the feature back as a win.
Mostly though, this team showed resilience. The calamity that occurred at the end of the first half could have sent them into a tailspin, but they came out in the second half and hung 340 yards and 28 points on LSU. The Tigers had absolutely no answers for the Tide offense after the break, and Joe Burrow had to fight, scratch and claw his way to enough plays to hold on after being up by 20. LSU will privately be rooting for Alabama to get left out, because like 2011 they know that this is not a team that they want to play a second time.
So, the negatives. We’ve basically covered it on offense, because outside of those fatal errors it’s tough to complain much about 41 points and 541 yards. Defensively, the biggest disappointment had to be the play of Trevon Diggs. His technique on LSU’s first touchdown was uncharacteristically poor, and tackling was a problem for him on several occasions. Had he managed to get Clyde Edwards-Helaire to the ground on a late 3rd-and-10, the Tide may well have completed a comeback for the ages. Unfortunately he was given a ride for a few yards, LSU converted and ended up scoring another touchdown.
The biggest issue defensively is the open space in the middle of the field. Part of that is just good play design by LSU, but the linebackers still have a tough time communicating pass-offs. LSU made a ton of plays there. We also should mention the run defense. Yes, I said above that 5.2 yards per carry by the feature back is something of a win for this group, but it shouldn’t be that way. Bottom line, the linebackers still have to get better. Raekwon Davis was mostly absent again up front, too. Not sure what’s going on with that big man. Third down was a major problem again as LSU converted 8 of 15, but a lot of that was just Burrow.
Joseph Bulovas went 5-for-6 on extra points, Ty Perine averaged 48.7 on his three punts, and Jaylen Waddle took one to the house. Of course, that also means that we missed another extra point in addition to the gaffe by Perine. There didn’t appear to be any serious injuries on the Alabama side.
So, here we are. Alabama is far from out of playoff contention, but with a loss they are at the mercy of the committee. We will find out what this team is made of now. Do they lick their wounds and play uninspired ball in Starkville next week, or do they come out with a sense of urgency to impress the committee? Blow the doors off of the final three opponents, and you have to like their chances of getting in. Hope for the best.