LSU has lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide for the sixth straight season. And that sucks, there’s no two ways about that.
Two teams took turns punching each other in the stomach for sixty minutes. Both made mistakes, but in the end Alabama, with a bit of good fortune, took advantage in the fourth quarter and was able to do just enough to get by.
It’s late, and I don’t really have a lot of fancy platitudes beyond that. So let’s just get to the rewatch:
- Let’s get to the bulk of the discussion of this game right out of the shoot — playcalling. As I walked out of the stadium, I was frustrated along with everybody else, but upon some review that’s mellowed out a bit for me. Honestly, I’m not sure what Steve Ensminger and the rest of the offensive staff could have done differently. Alabama’s defense is just that damn good.
- Sure, I would have liked to see a little more of Derrius Guice, and more of a commitment to schedule. At times, Ensminger got a bit impatient in trying to push the ball down the field in scenarios where LSU needed just a completion and a few yards more than a big play. But holes closed in an instant, Alabama’s pass-rush was everything it was billed to be, and Danny Etling picked the worst possible time to finally look like the moment was too big for him. Were there things I would have liked to change? Sure. Would it have mattered? I don’t think so.
- Take LSU’s first possession: sure, I think it’s hard to justify a script where Leonard Fournette doesn’t touch the ball, but after a nice short gain on first down on a bubble screen, Ensminger tried to be a bit creative and motion Fournette out wide to spread the defense out a bit. It works — Travin Dural gets wide open on a stick route, and Etling just flat out misses him. Then it’s third and long and well…Alabama dominates third and long.
- Speaking of which — LSU was 4-of-15 on third down conversions. Of those four conversions, one was a long pass to D.J. Chark. The rest all came on third and one. It’s really hard to be patient with schedule on first and second down – Lane Kiffin did a pretty lousy job of it himself on the night – but Ensminger never found a rhythm for it.
- Etling threw for just 92 yards, which says plenty, but on re-watch he just never seemed settled or in any kind of control. He struggled getting plays in and out of the huddle, resulting in wasted timeouts and a brutal delay of game, and in the pocket he just never had any timing to what he was doing. Almost like he was over-anticipating the Bama rush. Whereas before he would simply bounce forward and check it down, here he just kept scrambling away from his sight lines, which contributed to a number of sacks. He also missed two huge third-down throws, one to Dupre right before the half and one to Dural in the third quarter. On the latter he was on the run but it was still an easy short completion.
- Up front, Bama’s edge blockers gave the tackles and tight ends fits, and Josh Boutte in particular really struggled with Dalvin Tomlinson almost all night. But Bama also never missed a run fit and just kept making plays. A number of times a hole looked pretty clean over for Shaun Hamilton or Rueben Foster to just close it up from the backside. The Tide largely played with their safeties deep, save for a couple short-yardage downs.
- JD Moore didn’t play his best game, but on more than one play he hit Foster and Hamilton square and they just…didn’t go anywhere.
- Case-and-point: on LSU’s first offensive play after the big goal-line stand in the third quarter, the offense runs a split-zone concept and Will Clapp and Ethan Pocic clear a nice hole. Moore drills Hamilton and it looks like Fournette is about to gain at least 10-15 yards. Only Hamilton, as he’s falling down, manages to get both of his arms around No. 7’s ankles and it’s only a five-yard gain. That’s just perfect defense.
- Ditto on a couple of other third-down completions on shallow crossing routes. LSU runs a “drive” concept, with the shallow route designed to try and pull the second-level defenders up for a deeper route behind it. With Bama’s defense in man-to-man the drag had a free release — that makes it an automatic read for the QB almost every time. And every time, safety Ronnie Harrison rolled up and made the tackle. Against any other defense, that throw probably picks up the first, or at least creates a strong YAC opportunity.
- Honestly, the best analogy for this game might have been Alabama’s first substantive drive in the second quarter, which began inside their own 10 and ended in a missed 49-yard field goal. Bo Scarborough makes a perfect block on Tashawn Bower to spring Jalen Hurts on a QB sweep on third down that picks up 28 yards. Two plays later, Tre’davious White (who was amazing for the rest of this game) misses one tackle on a quick hitch to Calvin Ridley that he takes for 21 yards to get Bama in field goal range. One great block, one missed tackle, accounted for 49 yards.
That was the margin these two teams were working with.
- Speaking of LSU’s defense…words just fail me. Gutsy, strong, fast. They did everything that they could to win this game, including forcing two turnovers in Alabama’s territory. Overall, this game featured some of the best one-on-one tackling you’ll ever see in modern football. Usually games like this get labeled as “bad offense,” but I honestly think both defenses just were near perfect in their execution.
- Six different players had at six tackles or more in this game, and 10 had at least a half of a tackle for loss. What a complete effort at every level.
- Aranda had the perfect plan for Bama and Hurts. Squat on the short routes, contain at the edge and chase speed with speed. He used corner blitzes, especially with Dwayne Thomas at the nickel, and managed to force some 12 tackles for loss.
- On top of that, LSU’s defensive line did a fantastic job of keeping blockers off of Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley, particularly Greg Gilmore and Davon Godchaux. Lewis Neal, meanwhile, did his best to cause havoc in the backfield.
- Arden Key might have finished with a relatively light stat line by his standards, but he played with fantastic discipline, keeping Hurts from getting outside and even staying with him on a reverse pass attempt in the third quarter. He and Thomas were completely unafraid at crashing down on the zone-read, which was also a testament to trusting that their teammates would be there to make the tackle if Hurts gave the ball up.
- Weird exchange before the half. LSU calls a timeout with eight seconds left before a hail mary on fourth down, giving Alabama time for one play...in which they roll out Hurts, hoping for a receiver to maybe slip free on the scramble, and he throws it out of bounds. LSU mismanaged the clock by giving Alabama the extra second or two, but Alabama took a silly risk on an extremely low-percentage play when they could have just knelt the ball.
- On Bama’s first possession of the second half, Kiffin finally finds a way to isolate a wide receiver man-to-man, and Hurts throws his best pass of the game down the field to Ardarius Stewart. But the Tiger defense held up for what would have been one of the great goal-line stands in regular season history had this game had a different result. After a nice run on first down, Duke Riley fires through a gap to snuff out a run on second down, and executes a perfect scrape-exchange on a keeper on third down while John Battle crashes down to make the tackle. On fourth down, the Tigers time the snap perfectly and Adams crashes right in on the mesh for Hurts. Riley was right behind to finish up the tackle. Technically, Alabama had 12 men on the field, given that Lane Kiffin was three yards out in the grass, but I digress…
- Key helped set the stage for Alabama’s second turnover, staying with Hurts on attempted reverse/throw back to him by Stewart, and then setting a contained edge and allowing Frank Herron to get his hand right on the ball to force a fumble. But what happened on the next offensive possession began to turn the tide of this one, to turn a phrase.
- Ironically, it began with what had been one of Etling’s best plays of the night, slipping out of a sack by Foster and shoveling the ball to Colin Jeter, who had been in to block. Jeter picks up a solid gain but gets ridden out of bounds by Alabama’s DaRon Payne…who then proceeded to not let go of Jeter for several yards out of bounds. While LSU players tried to separate Jeter and pain — and there was not a single cheap shot on Payne in the scrum, Jeter even backed off once they let go of one another, another Bama player ran over and gave an LSU player a shove in the back. The dual 15-yard penalties that should have resulted from this play would have put the Tigers in field goal range for sure. For some reason, Matt Austin and Co. decided to add a third flag to offset things. Despite nobody for LSU retaliating against either Alabama player.
- Overall, the officiating had kind of a “let ‘em play” mentality to this point. They allowed players to be physical, but nothing that was overtly dirty. Afterwards? Suddenly sticklers for the rules. An intentional grounding call on Etling – one that, by the letter of the law was right. But one that referees very often find an excuse to not call. And a few plays later, as Hurts was running up the sideline, Devin White (who made some very nice plays in this game, but also missed a key tackle on Scarborough) gave him a shove. Most of the damage, as far as Hurts was concerned, came from his own players and bench, but a late flag came in. Gary Danielsonremarked on the change in tone himself.
- And shortly after that, this happened (h/t to The Advocate’s Ross Dellenger on the photo):
- Now granted, two of the very obvious holds circled don’t matter all that much to the play, but Scarborough’s hold on Neal is what springs Hurts for his touchdown. A few years ago I would have been much angrier over this sort of thing. But the truth is you just can’t be in this position against Alabama in a fourth quarter. Just like playing Notre Dame in South Bend in their prime years, you have to expect that they will get the call.
- On LSU’s next possession, Ryan Anderson gave Etling a hard shot while he was releasing the ball, and Minkah Fitzpatrick was able to pull in the interception — it was dicey, but nothing that could be overturned for sure. After that, I think we all knew the game was over.
Now, the question once again becomes how will the Tigers move on from this loss. Arkansas is a beatable team, but one that has always enjoyed picking on the leftover carcass of the Tigers in this spot. They’re also a team that could be getting on a roll after beating up on Florida this past weekend. Les Miles has spent the last several seasons letting the Alabama game haunt this program in the weeks following.
Ed Orgeron may have missed a big chance to gain traction for this job beyond 2016 against Alabama, but if he can get this team to overcome the aforementioned hangover and play through these final three games, it would still help to land him the job.
But first, he has to make that trip to Fayetteville, and slaughter him a hog.