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The pass into the end zone on the final play of the game that fell incomplete during the second half at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday Nov. 6, 2021, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Alabama won 20-14. LSU wide receiver Jack Bech (80) battles with Alabama defensive back DeMarcco Hellams (2), Alabama linebacker Christian Harris (8) and Alabama defensive back Brian Branch (14).

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Moments after his team lost 20-14, Ed Orgeron ran off the field Saturday with his arms raised. He stopped in the end zone where LSU’s final pass dropped incomplete and curled his hands into two “Ls.” Orgeron pointed to the student section. Then he raised his arms and beat his chest as he disappeared into the locker room.

There are no moral victories for LSU, a team that expects to compete for national championships. Then again, the Tigers entered Bryant-Denny Stadium as 28 ½-point underdogs. Despite everything that suggested LSU had no chance to knock off the No. 2 team in the country, the night ended with an incomplete pass in the end zone.

"We were not going to let this crowd intimidate us," Orgeron said. "We were coming into this house to win the game, and so was I. So I was having fun with it."

Orgeron had run onto this field with his arms similarly raised the last time LSU played at Alabama and won, the signature win in a national championship season. Two years later, he returned as a fired coach on his way out. His defense didn’t have nine key players. His offense had struggled most of the season.

So Orgeron pulled out all the stops to try to beat Alabama. He went for it on fourth down seven times. He called a fake punt. LSU tweaked its defense and blitzed more than it ever had this season, a strategy that held the Crimson Tide to 308 yards total.

"I truly thought we were the better team tonight,” Orgeron said. “We came up a couple plays short."

The approach almost created one of the largest upsets in school history. The Tigers (4-5, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) had multiple chances to retake the lead in the fourth quarter. Their defense ended the game by forcing four punts and recovering a fumble in Alabama territory.

Everything was positioned for LSU to crush its rival’s hopes of making the College Football Playoff when junior Tyrion Davis-Price broke off a 37-yard run on fourth down midway through the fourth quarter. LSU stood at the 8-yard line. It turned the ball over on downs four plays later as sophomore Max Johnson threw an incomplete pass.

“We were going for the win," Orgeron said. "The whole time."

Orgeron had run down the sideline with his arm raised and in his headset in one hand when Davis-Price tore through the secondary. As Alabama (8-1, 5-1) regained possession, he stared at the field. Orgeron briefly titled his head down, knowing he had missed an opportunity. He raised his eyes and clapped.

That was the thing. LSU got the ball back. Twice.

Alabama’s next drive ended when LSU sent a zero blitz on third down and senior safety Cam Lewis forced a fumble as he sacked Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. LSU recovered at the Crimson Tide’s 42-yard line. Four plays later, the Tigers turned the ball over on downs again.

The defense forced another punt, and LSU regained possession with under a minute left and no timeouts. Johnson led the offense to Alabama’s 30-yard line with five seconds remaining on the clock. He lofted a pass into the end zone. The ball fell incomplete, knocked into the grass as time expired.

“We need to make some more key plays,” Johnson said. “The defense played their hearts out. We’ve got to be better for them.”

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LSU’s depleted defense controlled an Alabama team that had averaged 45.9 points this season — the second-most in the country — for almost the entire game. The Crimson Tide gained 0.2 yards per rush. It punted six times.

The absences on defense made LSU install a version of its base defense with three linebackers. The Tigers had often used five defensive backs and two linebackers to defend spread offenses, but they essentially played with their second-team secondary. Sophomore linebacker Mike Jones Jr. started for the first time after LSU tweaked its scheme during the open date last week.

In addition to the personnel, defensive coordinator Daronte Jones called more blitzes. LSU entered Saturday last among Power Five teams in blitzes (45) and blitz rate (13.6%) this season. Jones sent more pressure than ever before, trying to be less predictable. The strategy worked. LSU recorded four sacks and eight tackles for loss.

“We worked our butts off at practice,” senior defensive tackle Neil Farrell Jr. said, “and it showed today.”

But the offense never sustained momentum. After Orgeron called a fake punt to set up a touchdown on LSU’s first possession, the Tigers ran 12 plays and gained 11 yards over their next three drives, unable to stretch the lead while the defense kept Alabama off the board.

Alabama finally put together a long touchdown drive in the second quarter, scoring with 2:52 left in the half. Over the next two minutes, Johnson threw an interception that bounced off the hands of wide receiver Jaray Jenkins, and Young responded with a touchdown pass to give Alabama a 14-7 lead at halftime.

The second half didn’t start well. As LSU finally established some offensive momentum on its first possession, Davis-Price fumbled after picking up what would have been a first down. Two plays later, Young launched a 58-yard touchdown. Alabama missed the extra point.

“Costly,” Orgeron said of the turnovers.

LSU didn’t allow another point, holding Alabama to a season-low. Though the Tigers mounted a 14-play, 89-yard touchdown drive to pull within six points late in the third quarter, they never took full advantage of the defensive effort, unable to complete the upset.

“I wish we had a better plan," Orgeron said. "We were in position to win this football game. We stalled."

This was Orgeron’s final chance to ruin a season for Alabama and add a signature win to his tenure. The players still on the team put themselves in position to salvage something from a disappointing season.

Instead of running off the field in glory, Johnson took off his helmet when his final pass fell incomplete. He smacked it against the ground and cursed.

Fake punt sparks fourth-down confidence in LSU loss to Alabama

Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com