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Behind the Box Score: Bama

Winning is fun.

LSU v Alabama
Give yourself a hand, folks...
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Yes, that actually happened. They kept records of it and everything. And now those records have been digitized and preserved for eternity on the internet. And as we all know, if it is on the internet, it must be true!

Seriously, this game was a lot of fun, and was eight years of frustration getting worked out in one afternoon. The game felt more dominant than the box score suggests, mainly because Alabama had about a billion yards in the fourth quarter as they mounted a furious comeback. But we’ll get into that.

As always, the numbers that mattered.

20-103-3. Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s rushing line. He added 9 catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. This game might be Burrow’s Heisman statement, but CEH was the MVP of this game. He made big play after big play, and scored what we thought was the game icing touchdown and then the actual game icing first down. He was a grown man.

19-146-1. Najee Harris’ rushing line. As great as CEH was, the best running back on the field was Najee Harris. Bama opened the game with a punishing drive, primarily on the legs of Harris. By the end of the first quarter, he already had 38 rushing yards and then, for reasons passing understanding, he wouldn’t have another carry until the second half. He failed to gain a fourth down on fourth and short to start the second half and seemed to take that personally, as he opened up on the LSU defense from that point on. On Bama’s 10-play, 95-yard drive which got Bama back into the game, he gained 87 of the yards. Had Bama finished the comeback, it would have been on his legs.

96. Joe Burrow rushing yards without the sacks. Burrow may have won the Heisman this weekend, throwing for 393 yards and 3 touchdowns. But when the team needed a big play, he did it with his legs, gaining 96 yards on 9 carries. The book on Burrow is that you have to hit him to prevent him from finding a rhythm, and Bama did sack him five times. And hey, he even took a bad sack or two, when he should have thrown it away. But the story is that when there was space due to dropping so many guys in coverage, Burrow ate the defense up in bunches with his legs. It was smart, it was gutty, it was awesome.

21-40-418-4/1. By contrast, Tua’s line is a model of inconsistency. On the one hand, the dude threw for over 400 yards in a game in which they needed him to throw for a bunch of yards to keep pace. On the other, he completed barely half of his passes. He was only sacked once, but he ended the game a net negative runner because he could generate no threat on the ground. He threw for four touchdowns, but one was close to meaningless, and he threw a killer interception which changed the entire tenor of the game. He was great at times, but he also arguably cost his team the game. It is a near impossible to get a read on his performance. It was everything and nothing.

3-5. Bama’s fourth down conversion rate. Nothing really speaks to how big this game is for Bama then how Saban went for it for it on fourth down so often, though one of those missed conversions is the statistical quirk of the fumbled snap on the punt. The Tide missed a conversion on their first possession of the second half, but it was the fourth quarter in which they kept that dream alive. If LSU gets a stop on any of those, the game ends a lot earlier.

More concerning was how good Bama was on third and long. 3rd and 13? Converted. 3rd and 10? Converted, and the next play was 64-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith. 3rd and 10? Converted, and Bama would score their first touchdown of the second half on that drive. 3rd and 19? Converted. Bama would later need two fourth downs on that drive to score with 5:32 left in the game. Bama didn’t just convert four 3rd and longs, they converted the only four 3rd and longs they had all game.

2-2. Cade York field goal attempts. They were clutch, and they proved to be the margin of victory. Sure, he had a PAT blocked, but let’s focus on the good stuff.

1. Wins. It counts, and we ain’t giving it back.