TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Maybe it was fear, the fear that coast-to-coast predictions of doom and defeat would come true for LSU against No. 1-ranked Alabama, and that the Tigers would be sent packing back to Baton Rouge in shame.
Defeated? Yes, by a 24-10 score. If you’re counting at home — and everybody is — this was LSU’s seventh straight loss to the Crimson Tide, its longest losing streak since the days of the Bear and the wishbone and 11 straight defeats from 1971-81.
But embarrassment? Humiliation? No. Not on this Saturday night. Winning is nearly everything, but pride still matters. And the Tigers could return home with pride after this one knowing they gave everything they had.
“We played really hard,” left tackle Garrett Brumfield said. “Coach O(rgeron) told us in the locker room we played our hearts out.”
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Big brother is still boss.
“I thought we played our best game,” nose tackle Greg Gilmore said. “It was a war in the trenches.
“We played with passion for 60 minutes. I felt we had a chance the whole time.”
Alabama controlled the game, but the Tigers did have their chances. There were openings in the Tide’s Floyd Mayweather-like armor. And in some respects maybe that’s even more painful than if this game turned out to be the three-plus-touchdown smackdown that some predicted. The Tigers, you may recall, went off as a 21-point underdog, the biggest point spread they faced since a 26½-point spread against No. 1 Florida in 1994.
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As it turned out, for want of a few more plays and fewer mistakes, LSU might have been the victor. As the late, great Peter Finney once wrote of LSU’s agonizing 14-13 loss in 1959 at Tennessee, costing the Tigers a chance at a second straight national title, the operation was a success but the patient died.
Consider these statistics:
LSU outgained Alabama 306-299, including 151-116 on the ground, but the Tigers lost.
LSU performed better on third down, 9 of 19 to Alabama's 5 of 14, but the Tigers lost.
LSU had 16 first downs to Alabama’s 14, but the Tigers lost.
LSU ran 73 plays to Alabama’s 60 and had the ball for 34:07, but the Tigers lost.
As a program, LSU doesn’t trade in moral victories. If it ever does, it really has no hope of chasing down Alabama. So perhaps in the grand scheme it was good that as pleased as Gilmore was with his team’s effort, he couldn’t take comfort in a near miss.
“I want to say yes, but no,” he said, smiling wanly. “We wanted to win.”
That the Tigers didn’t win came down to the fact that they couldn’t convert a handful of crucial plays, and when given a similar opportunity the Crimson Tide cashed in. Danny Etling completed 12 passes for 137 yards but was sacked for minus-20. Jalen Hurts threw for 183 yards, averaging 16.6 yards per completion, and netted 44 on the ground.
LSU needed to win the turnover battle and/or create a short field with a big special teams play. Instead, it was Alabama that got the only turnover, when free safety Ronnie Harrison jumped the route on an Etling pass in the left flat at the Tigers’ 37. Four plays later, Bo Scarbrough was in the end zone on a 9-yard touchdown run and the Tide was up 14-0 at 14:17 of the second quarter.
Just like that, it was evident LSU was going to need an Auburn-style comeback, something resembling its 20-0 escape from the grave for that remarkable 27-23 win on Oct. 14.
Two big differences, though:
1. Auburn is good but not Alabama.
2. Bryant-Denny Stadium is not the friendly confines of Tiger Stadium.
When LSU finally hit a big play, a remarkable Etling-to-DJ Chark throw and catch for 23 yards to the Bama 5, the Tigers couldn’t get in the end zone, settling for a field goal that was the Tigers’ first score on the Tide in two years. The score stayed that way until the teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, LSU finally getting in on a 2-yard run by Darrel Williams set up by his 54-yard wildcat scamper. But by that time the score and the clock had LSU in a vice grip that wouldn’t let go.
So LSU lost to Alabama. Again. The question is, Are the Tigers any closer to ending their seven-game losing skid to the Crimson Tide before it becomes a hateful eight?
Perhaps a bit closer. LSU wants to be Alabama. LSU used to be Alabama.
It’s like watching the full moon that sailed silently over Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night. You can see it, and mankind has been there. But who will make the journey back, and how long will it take?