The good news for No. 3 LSU: it’s defense is holding its own against No. 1 Alabama’s top-ranked offense, and star linebacker Devin White is now back in the game. The Tigers held the Tide scoreless on their opening drive for the first time this season, and they even snatched the first interception of Tua Tagovailoa of the season.
The bad news, it hasn’t mattered. Alabama’s defense has swallowed LSU’s offense, and as a result the visitors hold a commanding 16-0 halftime lead in Baton Rouge.
Alabama has moved the ball on each of its possessions, including a 1st-and-10 at the LSU 14 on its first touch, but a broken play and two penalties forced a 4th-and-30 and a rare Mike Bernier punt.
But on the Tide’s next possession, the offense knifed 78 yards in five plays. Najee Harris busted free for a 22-yard gain and Tagovailoa connected on all four passes, including a 15-yard scoring strike to Henry Ruggs III at the 4:58 mark of the opening frame. Even though Alabama scored, LSU caught a break as a targeting call on the field against safety Grant Delpit was overturned upon review, keeping a second starter from being lost due to targeting. After the score, Joseph Bulovas‘s PAT was blocked.
After a punt, Alabama reached the LSU red zone for a second time and again was turned away without a touchdown, as Tagovailoa’s 3rd-and-3 pass from the 5 to Ruggs fell incomplete, forcing a 23-yard Bulovas field goal at the 6:59 mark of the second quarter.
Good as LSU’s defense has played, it won’t matter if the offense doesn’t get something going. The Tigers have crossed into Alabama territory twice, but just barely. Facing a 3rd-and-2 at the Tide 42 heading into the second quarter, LSU used the quarter break to dial up a Nick Brossette run, which was stuffed for no gain, forcing a punt. On the Tigers’ next drive, LSU surged to a 1st-and-10 at the Alabama 43, but the Tigers only went backward from there and punted on 4th-and-14 from the 47.
The second such punt put LSU in the danger zone, as an Alabama score probably put the game out of reach. Alabama moved from its own 16 to the 40, but Tagovailoa ended the drive with his first pick of the year. Though he gave the ball away, he still put his team in a favorable position, as the pick came at the LSU 4-yard line.
LSU promptly made its bad situation worse when Joe Burrow was sacked by Anfernee Jennings, turning a 2nd-and-6 into a 3rd-and-13 and an automatic punt.
Taking over at their own 45, the Tide needed only two plays for the dagger. First, Tagovailoa hit Jerry Jeudy for a 29-yard catch-and-run gain, then nailed Irv Smith, Jr., for a 25-yard score with 1:15 left in the first half. The Heisman favorite looked human for the first time this season and still played well, hitting 20-of-31 passes for 205 yards with two touchdowns and one pick.
For the half, Burrow completed 8-of-18 passes for 68 yards, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire leads the club in rushing with three carries for seven yards. As a team, LSU has rushed 11 times for minus-1 yard with a long gain of four.
And no matter how well White and the LSU defense play, the Tigers won’t win if those numbers don’t change.