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LSU wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. (11) fights off Alabama defensive back Kool-Aid McKinstry (1) to score on an 8-yard pass from Max Johnson in the first quarter of Saturday night's game in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There seemed to be no plausible way pigs could fly for LSU on Saturday, the way they did on that frigid Saturday here in 1993 when the Tigers pulled that immortal upset of Alabama.

You remember the Pigs Will Fly game. The one inspired by some smart aleck headline writer in Mobile who said Alabama would crush 23-point underdog LSU (23 points, how quaint) into the red Alabama dust.

This game seemed so much more of a foregone conclusion than that one. Pigs can’t fly when they’re already cooked pregame, swimming in barbecue sauce and served up on a tailgate platter.

Someone forgot to tell the Tigers what was on the menu. That they were on the menu. That this one set up like some sort of in-season spring game for Alabama, a mere dust-up on its way to yet another College Football Playoff appearance.

Um, hold that thought, Rammer Jammer. You may not be all that this year despite your No. 2 CFP ranking. Neither is LSU, of course, 4-5 coming out of this one, a shell of the team that won here in 2019 on the way to national championship perfection.

But the Tigers put a post-Halloween scare into the Crimson Tide, all right. A mighty scare. LSU scored first and threatened to score down to the very last play, an effort so implausible and so laudable that it didn't seem out of character that on-his-way-out Ed Orgeron flashed the LSU "L" hand sign to the few hundred hearty LSU fans on his way out of Bryant-Denny Stadium after the 20-14 defeat.

Afterward, the Alabama faithful chanted “We just beat the hell out of you!” It was more out of rote than reality. And they certainly didn’t sound like they had their hearts into it. Not after their hearts had just been in their throats.

LSU, which went off as a 29-point underdog, got beat on but kept coming back. Outmanned, outreached and outcoached (supposedly), LSU spent three hours playing the Rocky Balboa to Alabama's Apollo Creed. Taking the fight to the reigning national champions round after round when no one but the Tigers imagined they could. Twice in the fourth quarter, 100,000 Crimson Tide fans held their collective breath as Max Johnson lofted passes into the end zone for the lead, then the win. Cam Wire was flagged for a facemask on the last play, so it might not have mattered, but what an effort.

"I want to compliment our team for how hard they played," said Orgeron, who bookended Bama week by taking another swipe at LSU's offensive attack under his most recent (and last) offensive coordinator, Jake Peetz. "I truly thought we were the better team tonight, but we just came up a couple plays short. I wish we would have had a better plan on offense, especially in the second half. We had opportunities to score, and we didn’t. I have to take that responsibility. I just wish that we could have put our guys in a better position to win.”

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On the other sideline, Nick Saban was clearly distracted by the "speculation" that he might leave Bama and return to LSU for a contract worth the gross national product of Poland to, ahem, finish the job.

“I think there are a lot of things that we probably didn’t do well," Saban said. "We didn’t block them up front really well. We didn’t run the ball very well on offense. We couldn’t run it at the end of the game when we needed to. We weren’t as effective on third down. We had some protection issues. A lot of things that we can fix."

Before the game, Orgeron stopped to sign a $1 bill for a young fan, perhaps from an early payment from the $16.9 million wad of cash LSU is paying him to stop coaching. He might have told the lad, “Bet on me.” Orgeron made the “roll the dice” hand gesture during LSU’s last game at Ole Miss. The Tigers came up snake eyes in Oxford, but that didn’t mean Orgeron's staff didn’t decide to wrinkle up the playbook.

The Tigers had Avery Atkins throw a brilliant fake punt pass. They brought back the Jumbo offensive line (six linemen) package. They dialed up a 3-4 front that chipped in with two outside linebackers who put the pressure on Bama quarterback Bryce Young from the start and kept it hot the entire game.

“We came to play,” Orgeron said at halftime on LSU’s radio broadcast. “We came to win.”

There is nobility in defeat that outshines even a precious victory. LSU was supposed to have no chance. None. Not missing nine players who started on defense at some point this season, a defense that held Alabama to four three-and-outs and a fumble on its last five possessions.

"I was proud of the way the team fought," linebacker Damone Clark said. "People count us out."

Forgive us, Damone, but it was hard to count on this. This kind of showing — in this unreal season that has turned into a prayer vigil for the next would-be savior coach — was the most unreal outcome of all.

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com

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