The good folks at CBS spent much of the first half attempting to convince its audience tonight’s LSU-Alabama game was a mirror to the 2011 “Game of the Century” that saw the top-ranked Tigers beat the second-ranked Tide 9-6 in overtime.
In the end, CBS was half right. Tonight’s edition of the Deep South Super Bowl did harken back to the 2011 season, but not that November game in Tuscaloosa. No, this was a successor to that season’s rematch, when an overmatched LSU team bended, bended and eventually broke in the BCS National Championship.
After dueling through the first scoreless first, second and third quarters of the entire FBS season, No. 1 Alabama eventually broke No. 13 LSU, pulling away for a 10-0 victory. The shutout was 19th for Alabama since Nick Saban‘s arrival.
The win is Alabama’s 20th straight overall and sixth straight in a series that had seen LSU win nine of 12 meetings dating back to Saban’s arrival at LSU in 2000.
Reminiscent of past losses to the Tide, LSU couldn’t muster a credible and consistent offense against Alabama’s athletic, fearsome defense. Leonard Fournette never broke free against FBS’s leading rush defense, carrying 17 times for 35 yards, while Danny Etling looked like the overmatched Purdue transfer he is, completing only 11-of-24 passes for 92 yards and an interception.
The Tigers forced two Jalen Hurts turnovers inside Alabama territory but produced nothing out of them. The first came the freshman’s second pass of the game, when Jamal Adams baited Hurts into an interception at the Alabama 35-yard line. The Tigers went nowhere in the ensuing three plays — with Fournette serving as nothing more than a decoy — leading to a 49-yard Colby Delahoussaye field goal try that was tipped and fell well short of the goalposts. Later, with the game still scoreless midway through the third quarter, Frank Herron forced a Hurts fumble which Arden Key recovered at the Alabama 46, but LSU lost nine yards on their next three snaps before punting.
In hindsight, the best LSU (5-3, 3-2 SEC) scoring chance may have come at its own 6-yard line. Facing a 4th-and-goal at the one in a scoreless game, Saban inexplicably passed on a chip shot field goal and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin called for a Hurts keeper around the left end. The Tigers snuffed the play out, and linebacker Duke Riley recovered a Hurts fumble with no Tide offensive players in front of him, but a whistle ruled the play dead.
While LSU’s offense never broke through against Alabama’s defense, the Tigers’ defensive plan of hemming in Hurts at all costs eventually faltered, too. The Tide’s first scoring drive came on a 90-yard march over the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters, with the game’s only touchdown coming on a 21-yard Hurts scramble on 3rd-and-9.
Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC) added an insurance score on its next possession, moving 50 yards in 15 plays, the key play coming on a 23-yard Hurts scramble on a 3rd-and-15 from the 40. That play turned what would have been a punt or a 57-yard Griffith field goal into a 25-yard chip shot at the 2:41 mark of the fourth quarter.
Hurts finished the night hitting 10-of-19 throws for 107 yards and an interception and 20 carries for a game-high 114 yards and a touchdown.
LSU’s last gasp drive saw a 2-yard Etling completion and enveloped by three incompletions, a whimper of a drive to end a quiet offensive night. Case in point: the Tigers registered more punts (eight) than first downs (six).