LSU ruined a golden opportunity Saturday night. The Tigers let a chance to control their destiny to the SEC Championship game and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff slip away in a 30-16 loss to Alabama.
The Tigers put on their worst performance of what has been an exceptional season. LSU was outgained 434-182 and surrendered 28 first downs. The report card is in, and LSU flunked its biggest test of the year.
LSU’s offense had only two really good plays all night: a 37-yard leaping reception along the left sideline by Travin Dural on a third-and-18, and a pretty 40-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Harris to Dural to get LSU within three points. Both plays came in the first half, when LSU still had life.
Harris had done a great job taking care of the football all season, but his first interception came at the worst possible time. On the first play from scrimmage after halftime, trailing 13-10, Harris rolled to his right and threw a high pass behind his intended receiver, tight end Foster Moreau. Instead, the pass landed in the extended arms of Alabama linebacker Dillon Lee. The Tide scored minutes later and essentially put the game on ice.
And we haven’t even mentioned LSU’s dismal performance on the ground. One of the key story lines entering Saturday’s tilt was whether LSU’s offensive line could handle Alabama’s front seven. Not only couldn’t they handle the Crimson Tide defense, they were manhandled. Leonard Fournette entered with at least 150 yards in each of his first seven games of the season. He ran for 31 yards on 19 carries Saturday.
LSU was awful in the trenches, and the Tide’s front seven controlled the game.
LSU’s defense was gashed by tailback Derrick Henry for most of the evening. The Tigers bent in the first half, but they completely broke down in the second stanza. LSU entered Saturday as the nation’s sixth-best defense against the run, but Henry didn’t care, rumbling his way to 210 yards and three touchdowns. Backup Kenyan Drake chimed in with 68 yards on 10 carries.
The Tigers also couldn’t generate a turnover until they were down 30-10 in the second half. LSU did a nice job of pressuring ‘Bama quarterback Jacob Coker, but the Tide couldn’t force him into any mistakes. Coker went 18-of-24 for 184 yards and was sacked three times.
LSU’s defense couldn’t pick up its fledgling offense and was unable to answer Alabama’s defensive dominance.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
Both of LSU’s return teams were lousy. LSU did not return a kickoff beyond its own 16-yard line and constantly put its offense in tough situations when it needed to answer an Alabama score. Donte Jackson returned two punts for a total of 5 yards. LSU was unable to create any momentum with a big return, and its blocking on many of those returns was subpar.
But there were some positives from the special teams for once. Punter Jamie Keehn had a good night and averaged 42.3 yards on seven punts. He even had two punts downed inside the 20-yard line and booted his second-longest punt of the season for 56 yards.
Sometimes a big special-teams play can ignite a drive or bury an opponent. LSU didn’t make any of those plays when it needed one desperately. The third phase continues to be mediocre.
Coach Les Miles said his team might not have been ready to play this game. What else really needs to be said? Nick Saban had Miles’ number for the fifth consecutive game in this rivalry.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron did not have an answer to Alabama’s front seven. Cameron continued to force Fournette to run between the tackles to no avail. One play that did have some success, the read-option, was seldom used. LSU didn’t sustain a drive longer than six plays, and some of that blame should be on the play calling.
Defensively, LSU seemed to be reacting and chasing Henry rather than anticipating the play. Alabama maintained five drives that went longer than six plays, including a 13-play, 78-yard drive that drained the final 9:18 off the clock. The Tide also went 7-of-15 on third-down conversions, indicative of inopportune play selection by the Tigers defense.
This loss won’t be the end of the world for the Tigers. There will still be plenty to play for over the next several weeks. However, this was a bad loss in a game the Tigers needed to have. The game was all Alabama from the opening kickoff and actually could have gone a lot worse for LSU.