By Andrew Alexander, DIG Sports Editor
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – As the clock ran out in Bryant-Denny Stadium last Saturday night, complete and utter dominance was the only way to describe the game that had just enfolded.
In athletic competition, desperation is one of the toughest emotions to feign, and Alabama (8-1, 5-1), with conference and national title hopes on the line, manhandled LSU (7-1, 4-1) in a fashion almost no pundit, fan or purple and gold clad player would have honestly predicted.
“This is the kind of game we don’t expect,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
Led by sophomore superstar Leonard Fournette, the undefeated Tigers rode into Tuscaloosa with aspirations of beating Alabama for first time since November 5, 2011.
Instead, the Tigers caved under the constant onslaught of Alabama’s powerful linemen.
Defensively, Alabama’s front seven smothered Fournette most of the game, limiting the previous Heisman frontrunner to a paltry 31 yards on 19 carries.
“Their front seven came out to play, and they were focused on stopping the run,” Fournette said on Monday. “They did a great job.”
Offensively, Alabama’s linemen routinely blasted open holes for Tide running back Derrick Henry, whose three touchdown, 210-yard performance vaulted the junior into the forefront of Heisman consideration.
“This is the kind of game we don’t expect.”
– Les Miles, LSU football coach
– Les Miles, LSU football coach
Even Alabama coach Nick Saban was impressed at the timeliness of his running back’s performance against LSU.
“It couldn’t have happened at a better time against a very good defensive team,” Saban said. “He did a great job of carrying the ball, so it was special.”
Henry individually outperformed LSU’s offense by 28 yards, as the Tigers managed only 182 yards of total offense against the Tide.
“Man the offense did a great job!” Henry said following the Tide’s dismantling of LSU. “Everybody did a great job – tight ends, receivers, just everybody did a great job. We had success, and we played physical.”
Physical is an understatement. The Tigers seemingly had no answer for the intensity and power displayed by the Alabama players in the latest edition of the fierce rivalry.
But how fierce can a rivalry actually be when the outcome has been so one-sided for nearly a half a decade. For the first time since 1981, LSU has lost five straight meetings to the Crimson Tide, each loss more demoralizing than the next.
The Tigers have failed to score more than 17 points in any of the past five losses to Alabama, averaging a meager 12 points per contest.
LSU sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris was largely ineffective for most of the game. After passing for over 200 yards in his previous three games, Harris was 6-of-19 for 128 yards, one touchdown and a momentum-changing interception early in the second half.
On Saturday Alabama displayed why its inclusion as the No. 4 team in the initial College Football Playoff rankings was no fluke, while LSU’s dismal performance called into question the Tigers’ (and Fournette’s) previous body of work.
To say LSU’s season and Fournette’s Heisman hopes were dashed in Tuscaloosa on Saturday would be foolhardy. Though LSU no longer controls its destiny in the SEC West, the Tigers can still achieve a 10-win season by winning their final three games. With good fortune and some classic November college football chaos, perhaps the Tigers could find their way back into the College Football Playoff picture.
As for Fournette, his Heisman candidacy suffered a major hit last weekend against the Tide, made even worse by Henry’s impressive performance against LSU in the biggest game of the season.
Fournette still leads nearly every major national statistical rushing category because of his extraordinary first seven games of the season, but No. 7 is now in the midst of a full-on battle if he wants to hoist the famous stiff-armed trophy in December.
College football karma, however, has a way of sorting itself out.
If Fournette leads to the Tigers to three straight victories down the stretch and passes Herschel Walker’s SEC single season rushing record of 1,891 yards (Fournette would need to average nearly 170 ypg to accomplish such a feat), Heisman voters might overlook his abysmal performance against Alabama.
One thing is certain for LSU: hope still remains for this Tiger team, however slim the sliver may be following another heartbreaking loss to Alabama.
“Everyone needs to know that we are going to come back,” Fournette said. “Everyone acts like it’s the end of the world, but we have three more games to play. The Tigers are going to give it their all these last games.”