TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Brandon Harris was about to set a program record. Instead, he set Alabama up to reclaim control of the game.
Harris threw an interception on the first play of the second half, which the Tide promptly capitalized on to take a 20-10 lead. Though No. 4 LSU had erased a previous 10-point, second-quarter deficit, the play swung all the momentum back in No. 7 Alabama’s favor and sparked its 30-16 win Saturday night.
“It was maybe the turning point of the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Harris was not made available to reporters.
The sophomore quarterback ended the first half tied with Alan Risher for the most consecutive passes without an interception in program history (137). But on the potential record-breaking attempt, Harris overshot a bootleg pass that hit Alabama linebacker Dillon Lee in the hands.
Lee said he recognized the comeback route and got underneath the throw. After the pick, the Tide (8-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) outscored the Tigers (7-1, 4-1) 17-7.
Harris had seemingly overcome his early struggles while engineering LSU’s second-quarter comeback. He was beating Alabama with his arm and legs before his first interception of the season turned a tight battle into a beatdown.
Despite his productive three-game stretch before facing the Tide, Harris started out shaky. The sophomore was sacked on his second drop-back of the game and completed one of his first five passes.
“I think there was some learning that took place offensively, and at the quarterback spot as well,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “We all know he’s talented and capable. I think there’s some things that we need to improve on.”
Alabama’s defense wasn’t the only force bearing down on Harris.
The rocking crowd in Bryant-Denny Stadium appeared to rattle the young signal-caller, who was whistled for two straight delay of game infractions with the Tigers backed up against their own end zone. Harris frequently fled the pocket in panic and misfired on several throws, though he faced constant pressure.
“It rivaled a couple of times throughout my career,” senior right tackle Vadal Alexander said. “It was definitely loud in there.”
But then, the offense caught fire. Down 10 points against a defense that bottled up Heisman Trophy contender Leonard Fournette, Harris almost single-handedly gave his team life.
He got LSU started with an 8-yard scramble and picked up another 15 because of a facemask penalty. Later in the drive, the sophomore fooled the Tide by keeping the ball on a read-option.
The Tigers’ momentum took a blow when sophomore fullback JD Moore appeared to reinjure his knee. But Harris stood tall in the pocket on the next play, delivering a precise 40-yard scoring strike to junior receiver Travin Dural.
After LSU forced a three-and-out, Harris marched the offense right down the field to kick a game-tying field goal. He hit sophomore receiver Malachi Dupre for a 13-yard gain, drew defensive pass interference on a deep ball and scrambled for 16 yards during the drive.
“We felt like we had some momentum,” Dural said.
Alabama kicker Adam Griffith booted a 55-yard field goal before halftime to give the Tide a 13-10 edge, but the Tigers’ offense was finally clicking after a dreadful first quarter.
“At that point, we wanted to take the second-half kickoff, go down and score,” Miles said.
And then Harris threw the interception.
LSU’s offense went into a shell from there. The quarterback completed three of 10 passes in the second half as the Tigers tried — and failed — to get Fournette going. The Tigers scored only once in the second half, but only after recovering a fumble just outside the red zone.
“I think we did a good job of going to the next drive and the next play, trying to get moving,” Alexander said. “There was just a variety of things that didn’t go our way.”
Dural said Harris and the receivers simply couldn’t get in a rhythm. Harris finished 6-of-19 for 128 yards and one score, a far cry from the 200-yard, multiple-touchdown performances he consistently turned out last month.
But one number stood out more than the others: one interception.