TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In its first seven games, the LSU defense gave up rushing yards grudgingly, limiting four teams to double digits and yielding more than 130 yards just once.
That helped make LSU one of the stingiest teams in the nation against the run going into a Saturday night showdown with Alabama, allowing a mere 93.7 yards per game and just 3.2 yards per rush.
But that was before Alabama ran over, around and through LSU for 250 yards on 55 carries in a convincing 30-16 Southeastern Conference victory in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
In a collision of two of the top four teams in the first College Football Playoff rankings, the seventh-ranked Crimson Tide shook off a slow start on the ground and rolled the fourth-ranked Tigers the rest of the evening.
“They’re very talented, and we knew it was going to be a dogfight,” LSU defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said. “You have to give them credit … they have a great football team and they did their job.”
Yes, they did — and a lot more.
While Alabama’s defense was keeping Leonard Fournette, LSU’s Heisman Trophy front-runner, in check with a season-low 31 yards on 19 carries, Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin unleashed his bruising 1,000-yard rusher, Derrick Henry, and backup Kenyan Drake on the Tigers.
Together, they made life miserable for LSU, which gave up a season-high 160 yards to Auburn, 127 yards against Syracuse and 103 yards against Western Kentucky in its undefeated start.
Henry, a 6-foot-3, 242-pounder, ran for 210 yards and touchdowns of 1, 2 and 7 yards on 38 carries, while Drake capably spelled him at times and added 68 yards on 10 attempts.
“Like I said, that’s a real good football team with some big, physical offensive linemen, some big-play backs; and (Jake) Coker is a tough quarterback,” LaCouture said. “Alabama is a phenomenal team, but we still expect more of ourselves.”
Henry had a long gain of 40 yards and Drake ripped off a 24-yard run as they did most of their damage in the second half after Alabama led just 13-10 at halftime.
After combining for 117 yards with one short touchdown run by Henry in the first half, they did LSU in over the final two quarters as Alabama started to dominate and finally broke the game open.
Henry and Drake picked up 161 yards on 28 carries in the second half and Henry had scoring runs of 1 and 7 yards to give their team a 27-10 cushion going into the final period.
Going into the contest, Alabama was 73-4 since the start of the 2008 season when it rushes for 140 yards or more and there was little doubt the Crimson Tide would chalk up another win when it crossed that threshold early in the third quarter,
After doing a decent job on Henry in the first quarter, when he netted just 30 yards on his first eight carries, he broke loose in the second period as his 40-yard run set up his first touchdown of the night on a 2-yard burst on the next snap.
Alabama’s first series ended when Bama had third-and-5 at the Tigers. 35 before middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith and strong safety Jamal Adams chopped Henry down after a 4-yard gain when it looked like he was going to get a first down and a whole lot more.
Then, Adams stopped Coker, who ran a bootleg to the left, for no gain on fourth down to hand the ball to LSU’s offense for the first time.
But there was little to shout about for the Tigers defense after that.
“We missed a lot of tackles as a defense; we’ve got to get better,” said Adams, who had 10 tackles, while Beckwith led the Tigers with 11. “Henry is a big back, a great back, but we’ve got to rally around him.”
“We played great (against the run) in the first couple of series,” free safety Jalen Mills said. “We kind of broke down later, so we have to play better.
“Henry is really good, but him making some big runs is on us as a defense. That’s really uncharacteristic of us.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.