ArDarius Stewart took a reverse handoff and looked like he would run for a mile. But LSU’s John Battle closed the green gulf like a heat-seeking missile, throwing Stewart into the Alabama bench for just a gain of 3 yards.
Leonard Fournette slammed into the line, clawing for something close to the meager 2.1 yards per carry he was able to chip out of that stone wall of a Crimson Tide defensive front.
It was like that all game long Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
It was like an Ali-Frazier rematch. It was like olden times.
LSU and Alabama. Defenses raging. Punch and counter punch. Offenses caught in a no-man’s land of refrigerator-sized defensive linemen and magnetically attached defensive backs.
Alabama still has LSU’s number.
The calendar says it’s 2016, but it was very much like five years ago when No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama waged this kind of sledgehammer defensive battle in the “Game of the Century” in Tuscaloosa.
"This is like watching the little NFL,” LSU radio announcer Doug Moreau opined during the scoreless first half.
LSU won in 2011 without finding the end zone, a 9-6 overtime, field-goal filled victory.
Five years later, the Tigers’ offense wandered, though not very far it must be said, in that same touchdown-less desert.
This time, the Tigers couldn’t manage a point at all, a 10-0 defeat to their greatest rival/nemesis that demonstrated how much fight this LSU team has and how far it has to go on several levels.
That this kind of game happened in the modern era, dominated by offenses with all their misdirection and pistol snaps and run-pass options that are supposed to eliminate these kinds of showdowns, is utterly remarkable.
But tell that to LSU and Alabama. They went old school once again, playing more combined defense than they do in the Big 12 in a month of Saturdays.
For the participating coaches it was inspiring — and frustrating.
“Our guys were ready, man,” LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron said. “I thought defensively, (coordinator) Dave Aranda had a tremendous plan. But we just couldn’t get anything going on offense.”
“When you talk about winning ugly, maybe it wasn’t always pretty because we certainly didn’t execute and do the things the way we would like,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “You have to give credit to LSU. Their defense played really, really well. It was a tough atmosphere for us, but our defense was outstanding.”
The LSU defense was determined not to be overshadowed by Alabama’s nationally ranked defense…
The first mistake was by Alabama, Jamal Adams intercepting Bama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts’ wild pass at the Crimson Tide 33.
What did LSU get for its gift? A partially blocked field goal try. With 12:39 left in the first quarter, it would turn out to be the Tigers’ first, last and best chance to score points.
Bama wasn’t faring much better. The Crimson Tide drove from its 9 to the LSU 24 midway through the second quarter before stalling, Adam Griffith’s field goal hooking wide left. The result was a 0-0 tie that harkened back to LSU’s epic 17-13 “Pigs Will Fly” upset of the Crimson Tide in 1993.
Finally in the third quarter, Alabama hit a big pass and inched the ball to the LSU 1 on fourth-and-goal. Saban, once No. 1 in Baton Rouge but now public enemy No. 1, had the hubris to go for it instead of trying the field goal that could have been the game’s only score, and Hurts got buried in an avalanche at the 6.
A second-guessable decision, but probably one based on the hunch that LSU’s offense was going nowhere. Even when Arden Key recovered a Hurts fumble at the Alabama 42, the Tigers just went backward and eventually had to punt from their 49.
Two breaks on the Alabama side of the field absolutely had to net LSU something more than more zeroes on the scoreboard. When LSU couldn’t cash in on the second plus-side turnover, it felt like the game’s balance of power finally tipped in Alabama’s direction.
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Meanwhile, emotions seethed. The night before the game, two misguided Alabama fans scaled Tiger Stadium’s perimeter fence and slightly defaced the eye of the eye of the tiger at the 50-yard line. It was easily repaired, only to serve as the ground for the battle to come.
A melee broke out on the LSU sideline when a shovel pass from a constantly harassed Danny Etling to Colin Jeter gained six before he was forced roughly off the field. It was offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Blood was up on both sides.
“A cauldron of disdain percolates on the bayou,” ESPN’s Rece Davis said on “College GameDay,” disdain completely aimed at Saban and his unbeaten Crimson Tide with no Les Miles to share the blame.
The cauldron became Tiger Stadium, and it morphed into a living, snarling thing. Death Valley was deafening, and the roars and reaction of the crowd seemed to threaten the structural integrity of the old bowl. Sitting in the press box, you know it’s really loud when you have to yell to be heard by the person next to you.
It was a yell-fest most of the night Saturday.
It was a courageous effort by the Tigers. But Bama had the drive in it that the Tigers could not find in themselves. On third-and-9 from the LSU 21, Hurts finally broke contain on the kind of touchdown run the Tigers and their coaches feared he would make. The 7-0 score with 13:08 left in the game loomed as what the late great Peter Finney once would have described as a boxcar figure. It was that big, especially considering how Bama kept the clamps on LSU’s offense.
It’s Friday afternoon, and the first order of business as CBS’s production crew sets up the …
The Tigers managed just 125 yards of offense, Fournette again neutralized (35 yards on 17 attempts), Etling harried and frazzled by the constant barrage of Bama pressure (11 of 24 passing, 92 yards, an interception). Of those 92 yards, 41 came on a deep first-quarter bomb to D.J. Chark that only resulted in one of LSU’s punts.
LSU’s defense was once again as good as could be expected. Grudgingly giving up 10 points should have been good enough to win.
While in some ways the game will reflect well on Orgeron’s bid to become the Tigers’ permanent head coach, the flip side of the coin is Miles could have led LSU to the three wins Coach O did, though probably not as impressively. And his and Cam Cameron’s offense could have been shut down by Alabama just as ruthlessly.
Where does that leave Orgeron and LSU? Still in limbo. Meanwhile, Alabama survives a game that was basically played on its terms, keeping it on course for another national title shot and keeping its program on a level that for LSU remains close enough to see but too far away to touch.