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Alabama 21, LSU 17: Viewer's Guide to the Sunday Replay

It wasn't easy, but here are some thoughts from Saturday's heart-wrencher after a second viewing.

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Well, Poseur stole my headline, I guess.

I entered Tiger Stadium on Saturday night and sat through one of the most intense experiences I've ever had. There is no way anybody that was there could avoid the feeling. And then to go through all of the emotional highs. To watch LSU come alive and completely outplay Alabama at nearly every turn, only for the Tigers to have their hearts ripped out at the end. No two ways about it. It just fucking sucks.

If you would have told me LSU would gain 435 yards of offense, average 5.1 a play, hold the ball for nearly 40 minutes, and win the turnover battle 2-0, I would have felt pretty assured of a victory. If you would have told me Zach Mettenberger was going to throw for 296 yards, I probably would have laughed in your face.

And yet there we were. And here we are. Do I want to watch this game again? Not really. But we do as we must to understand these things...

  • In a lot of ways, this game played out exactly as I envisioned. LSU came out with a solid gameplan that, frankly, took the fight directly to Alabama. Pound them up the middle, and work off of that. The passing game had its typical hiccups early, with some very solid throws dropped, and then things really started coming together. For a point of reference, the last time Alabama gave up that many yards of offense, was in 2007 in the original Saban Bowl.
  • We'll start up front, especially with the right side of the offensive line, which played a whale of a game. Vadal Alexander and Trai Turner were lights out in the running game. Turner in particular did a great job of getting to the next level on zone plays, and actually gave Jeremy Hill a couple of creases that he missed.
  • Give Greg Studrawa a lot of credit for bringing this unit together with three backups, including two freshmen, thrust into the starting lineup over these last 10 games.
  • Speaking of Hill, he continues to emerge as a bruising runner that is adept at picking his way through those zone blocks. Though he occasionally tried to do a bit much at times, and hit a few holes too quick and missed bigger ones on cutbacks, Hill made up for it by consistently punishing tacklers and falling forward as often as possible. He's an attitude runner, the kind an offense can feed off of, and I think we saw that on Saturday.
  • The playcalling in general, backed up what Les Miles has consistently maintained: that he trusts his quarterback. In general, I might not have thrown the ball quite as much, especially given the way things looked early, but Mettenberger and the wide receivers validated their coaches' faith. The quarterback played his mismatches well, picking on Deion Belue and Vinnie Sunseri, made good decisions and stood up to the Bama rush. His receivers rewarded him by making some tough catches and keeping the chains moving. That, in turn, kept the safeties deep and allowed the running game to function that much better.
  • Next week, Mettenberger gets to take on a pretty solid Mississippi State secondary. If he can build on what he did this weekend, we just might have ourselves a quarterback here.
  • But on to the big play calls. To a degree, some of this we just have to chalk up to "Live by the Hat, Die by the Hat." I can't say that I agreed with many of them, but if plays like that onside kick bounce differently, we're talking about some ballsy gamesmanship. That being said, a fake field goal on a fourth and 12 is pretty much always a bad idea. Nevermind that Bama appeared to be watching for a fake. It should have been waved off. The 54-yarder later on was probably a better time to try that fake, if not a punt. The miss there was ultimately worth 7 points for Bama. The fourth and one (one yard my ass) Warecat sneak, given how reliable that play has been, it's hard to blame the staff for sticking with it. I might have tried a power play with Hill, but I can't fault the staff's reasoning.
  • And as for that last field goal try, it's easy to Sunday Morning Quarterback and say that Miles should have gone for it. After all, the first down essentially clinches the win, and whiff doesn't leave you any worse for Ware. And I'm never one for playing for the field goal, especially the long one. But I keep coming back to this simple fact: the defense had held Alabama to all of 49 yards in the second half at this point, and all of FIVE yards in the fourth quarter. In my mind, when they took the field there was no doubt they were going stop Bama and bring the game home. I just can't bring myself to blame Miles & Co. for feeling the same way. Nobody in that stadium, including nobody on that crimson sideline, believed they would slice through that defense so easily.
  • Everything that happened in that fourth quarter just seemed to build for LSU. The stadium was jamming, the Tiger sideline was pumped, and Bama appeared to be in a fog. Not totally surprising given that they literally hadn't been in any kind of dogfight like this to that point.
  • Speaking of missed field goals, it's probably time to start working in James Hairston on field goals. Drew Alleman really can't be trusted at this point.
  • Overall, it felt like Bama's offense gameplanned to take advantage of the aggression of LSU's defense. A lot of misdirection zone plays and passes, some end-around looks worked in and of course, screens that completely ate up yardage. LSU's d-tackles were awful at making the correct reads, flying up into McCarron's face as he floated the ball right by them. I'll say this for the Tide: T.J. Yeldon is the best player on this offense, and he won't be fun to defend the next two seasons.
  • What was so bizarre was the way the Tide offensive front utterly dominated the line of scrimmage for their three scoring drives, yet looked ordinary for the other nine, which included six, yes SIX, three-and-outs.
  • Craig Loston was a huge part of LSU's second-half adjustments, manning up on slot receivers and also helping keep the younger corners on point. On one particular play he slid Jalen Mills out a bit farther after Bama's receivers shifted, which allowed him to blow up a hitch screen.
  • The bottom line is, this team has had issues with late-game pass situations. However, I see people calling it "prevent" defense, and that's not really correct. On the majority of that five-play drive, LSU brought corner pressure from Micah Eugene and Mills, only to watch McCarron throw his hot read right behind them, and then blow things up with another screen. If it was anything, it was reckless. LSU did a fantastic job of blanketing Bama's receivers for most of the night and forcing the so-called Heisman candidate into holding the ball and playing indecisively. Only John Chavis can answer the question as to why he changed tactics.
  • The missed plays are going to haunt me about this game for some time. Four huge first-half drops. A couple missed caromed interceptions. The missed field goals. The penalties, both called and uncalled, and the bounces of the ball, all of which completely went the visiting team's way. But for the team, there's no time. They have to dust themselves off and prepare for a slate of games that, barring a major change for Ole Miss or Arkansas, contains no gimmies. And next week, a hungry State team will be in town looking for a signature victory.