Alabama’s suffocating defense bottled up LSU running back Leonard Fournette and provided Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts the luxury of a few scoreless quarters to get accustomed to deafening Death Valley.
Hurts finally escaped the grasps of LSU’s stingy defense on a 21-yard touchdown run that broke a scoreless tie early in the fourth quarter, and No. 1 Alabama remained unbeaten with a 10-0 shutout of the 15th-ranked Tigers on Saturday night.
“You can talk about winning ugly and maybe it wasn’t always pretty, because we certainly didn’t execute and do things the way we’d like, but you’ve got to give LSU a lot of credit,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “It was a tough atmosphere for us out there. But our defense was outstanding.”
Saban could have used any number of superlatives to describe his defense, which didn’t let LSU run a play from inside the Crimson Tide 30.
“We’ve got some pretty hateful guys that play defense around here that are pretty good competitors,” Saban said. “When they get challenged a little bit, they usually respond and I think they responded really well tonight.”
The Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference, No. 1 CFP) won for the sixth straight time against LSU (5-3, 3-2, No. 13 CFP), and remained alone in first place in the SEC West – a game ahead of Auburn.
Hurts, a freshman who has exceeded expectations by establishing himself as one of the most dynamic, explosive players in college football, was the game’s leading rusher with 114 yards on 20 carries. He also completed 10 of 19 passes for 107 yards.
“He has great poise. I don’t think the stage is too big for him at all,” Saban said about Hurts. “He expects a lot of himself and we expect a lot of him because he’s in a role that has tremendous responsibility. He has handled that very, very well.”
LSU had its share of big plays – but virtually all on defense, forcing Hurts into an early interception, stopping Hurts on a fourth-and-goal play and forcing him into a third-quarter fumble. But LSU’s offense could not capitalize against menacing defensive end Jonathan Allen and Co.
“We played our butt off on defense but we lose as a team,” LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron said. “We just couldn’t get anything going on offense.”
The Tigers finished with 125 total yards. Alabama had five sacks, one more than LSU’s offense had allowed in any other game this season. Allen, linebackers Rashaan Evans and Ryan Anderson; and end Dalvin Tomlinson each sacked LSU quarterback Danny Etling, while Rueben Foster and Tim Williams combined on a sack.
“We’re just dominating the line of scrimmage,” Allen said.
Etling completed 11 of 24 passes for 92 yards and also was intercepted by Minkah Fitzpatrick in the fourth quarter on a pass that seemed to sail off target because he was being hit. The turnover led to a late Alabama field goal. The offense also looked flustered at times. LSU had to burn two timeouts early in the second half to avoid delay-of-game penalties, then was called for delay of game on third down in Alabama territory on a subsequent drive.
“We just had some miscommunications on what we were trying to do. Unfortunately, that was kind of what bit us,” Etling said. “We did some stupid things and made some inaccurate throws.”
Fournette, whose 2015 Heisman Trophy hopes faded when he was held to 31 yards on 19 carries in Tuscaloosa last year, had 35 yards on 17 carries. One game after touchdown runs of 78, 76 and 59 yardsagainst Mississippi, Fournette’s longest run against the Crimson Tide was 9 yards. He’d declined interview requests in the week leading up to the game, and he didn’t speak afterward.
Saban explained his team’s success against Fournette this way: “When you play a great player like that, everybody has to really focus on doing their job. Our guys did it last year. We played a lot of the same stuff that we played a year ago.”
While Alabama coach Nick Saban improved to 8-3 against his former team since taking over the Crimson Tide in 2007, the result clouded the future of the coaching position at LSU. Orgeron , a popular Cajun who’d overseen victories in his first three games since Les Miles was fired in late September, could have emerged as a leading candidate to remain long-term with a victory over Alabama.
Alabama: Orgeron said earlier this week that Alabama might have the best defense in college football history, and it certainly looked like he was on to something.
LSU: As much as LSU has tried open up its offense by changing formations and passing more, Etling didn’t have the poise, or the blocking, to succeed against Alabama. LSU’s running game suffered because of the Tigers’ inability to throw, and it looked a lot like their losses to Bama when Miles was coaching.
Alabama: Alabama continues to strengthen its case as the best team in the nation.
LSU: The Tigers might not tumble out of the Top 25 because of how close they played the nation’s top team, but they’ll fall.
Alabama: The Tide hosts Mississippi State next Saturday.
LSU: The Tigers travel to meet Arkansas next weekend.
SOURCE: The Associated Press