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Initial Impressions from the LSU game

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The Tide took care of business in Baton Rouge.

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

OK, maybe it wasn’t the 70-0 beatdown many of you were yearning for, but a beatdown it was as the Tide rolled into Baton Rouge and laid waste to an overmatched Tigers squad.

DeVonta Smith better have thrust his name into the Heisman conversation with another otherworldly performance. He torched Derek Stingley repeatedly, for the second year in a row, including an insane one-handed posterization in the back of the end zone. Seriously, that play deserves another look, and another, and another.

So, here are the digits on DeVonta: Leads the nation in receiving yards at 1,305 with 15 TDs. The second best Power Five WR in scoring was Terrace Marshall with 10, and he is now gone. That leaves South Carolina’s Zay Flowers with 9, which means that DeVonta has a full 66.6% more TDs than his closest big school competitor. Most importantly, he is carrying the offense down the critical stretch of the season. In four games since Jaylen Waddle went down, Smith has averaged more than 180 yards per game and amassed 11 TDs. People have been talking about QBs all season. There are still a couple of points to be made, but if Smith has two more big games, this is the year that a wide receiver deserves the award.

Of course, we also have a candidate at running back. Najee Harris is third in the nation in yards and leads in rushing TDs with 20, three more than the next best. This despite the fact that he has had plenty of time off in the fourth quarter of games this season. Najee had another fine night in Baton Rouge, rolling up 145 yards on 21 carries with three scores.

Mac Jones did his thing with a 20/28 line, 385 yards and 4 TDs. For those counting at home, that puts Mac’s average yards per completion at 19 and yards per attempt at 13.75. His passer rating sits at 210.8, which is the best in the Power Five by a wide margin and crushes Joe Burrow’s record from last season. Justin Fields is actually second in that number at 196.1, and Kyle Trask third at 193.1. To give that award to Kyle Trask would be criminal. Hopefully the voters have more sense than the people on TV.

As you would surmise considering the numbers above, the offensive line was its stellar self. It is such a luxury to have to much talent and experience up front. There will be plenty of talent competing for open spots next year, but this group with so many returning starts has spoiled us. Personally, i don’t think there is any question that it’s the best of Saban’s tenure at this point including that 2012 unit. As great as the offensive skill players are, the big dudes up front have done their jobs and allowed it. There were times last night where Mac was just chilling in the pocket looking downfield for what seemed like 10 seconds, and several gaping holes were opened for Harris.

Jahleel Billingsley’s role in the offense continues to grow. He appears to be the main beneficiary of Waddle’s targets other than Smith, and he has played well. Last night he put up a solid 4/68 line with a touchdown. John Metchie is strong at WR2. Slade Bolden only got one catch as he is still somewhat limited by an ankle injury, but he had the ball poked away for the Tide’s only turnover. That is two fumbles for Slade on the season, and he hasn’t had that many opportunities. Needless to say, that needs to be cleaned up.

On defense, Alabama came out in something of a soft zone designed to limit big plays, and LSU moved the ball with short passes. The Tide’s new bend-don’t break strategy paid off, however, as the Tigers were stuffed on 4th down at the Alabama 15 following an 11 play, 60 yard drive. This, again, is something that we are going to have to get used to as the coaching staff adjusts to the modern game.

Limiting big plays is the key nowadays, and the Tide really had only two busts in that regard. The first came in the second quarter when Kayshon Boutte ran free along the sideline for a touchdown, though he made it harder than it should have been by dropping the ball at the one yard line. Jontre Kirklin was actually credited with the touchdown on a fumble recovery. Funny enough, that play is very similar to one that Saban broke down for fans in the Georgia game. The ball was on the left hash and the boundary corner, Josh Jobe, came on a blitz. This creates a favorable one-on-one matchup with a safety, but in this case the safety wasn’t there at all. Saban said at halftime that they had audibled out of what he calls a “corner cat” but Jobe didn’t get the signal.

The other big play was on LSU’s next possession, when John Emery Jr. busted a long run for a TD. LaBryan Ray and Christopher Allen were both moved out of the hole on that one, and Christian Harris tried to run around the guard rather than take him on. It was too easy, and that one will not be kind to several in film study.

The good news is that those were the only two touchdowns the defense allowed all night, and the only points until Ed Orgeron went for the sad field goal late. Alabama managed four sacks, and absent the one 54 yard touchdown run allowed only 49 yards on 14 carries to LSU’s two starting RBs. More than a third of the Tigers’ 283 yards came on two plays, the Tide forced six punts and forced one fumble. This is never going to be the 2011 defense but hoo boy, this certainly ain’t the 2011 offense. When Alabama faces off with other elite offenses, and they will, the defense just needs to find a way to get a few stops, one way or another.

Daniel Wright was ejected for targeting in the first half, and Demarcco Hellams played quite well in his stead. Hellams tied with Will Anderson for the team lead with eight tackles and broke up a deep ball. You have to think that he will surpass Wright at some point, as he seems to be in position far more frequently. Anderson continues to terrorize backfields, adding two sacks to his ledger.

All told, it was a satisfying night in Louisiana. Alabama is 9-0 and sure looks like the favorite at this stage. There is still much work to be done, of course, but this team seems like it has the goods.

Roll Tide.