TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The running back muscled into a defender, sending him plummeting to the turf.
He ran past a second, and he put a nasty stiff-arm on a third.
He bowled over a group of players for a touchdown and, on another play, raced into the end zone untouched.
Leonard Fournette watched all of this unfold from the sideline. Derrick Henry’s the one who put on this Heisman Trophy show.
Alabama didn’t slow Fournette. The Tide stopped him.
Fournette ran for a stunningly low 31 yards, Henry gobbled up 210 and the Crimson Tide slapped around the Tigers in a 30-16 victory Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Nick Saban and his bunch of Alabama boys mauled Les Miles’ group, dominating at the line of scrimmage with a jaw-dropping performance backing up their controversial ranking. A highly billed showdown, this was a snoozer of a quasi-national semifinal between teams ranked No. 2 (LSU) and No. 4 (Alabama) in the first College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday.
The Tide (8-1, 5-1 Southeastern) turned a 13-10 halftime lead into a 20-point blowout in the third quarter, beating previously undefeated LSU (7-1, 4-1) for the fifth straight time.
“It hurts a lot man,” right tackle Vadal Alexander said. “It stings really bad. It’s hard to explain how much I’m not happy right now. Not happy as a team.”
The loss puts Alabama in prime position to win the SEC West after Ole Miss lost earlier in the day. The Tide needs wins at Mississippi State and over Auburn to lock up a spot against Florida in the SEC title game.
And LSU? It no longer controls its own destiny. The Tigers have to win their last three games — vs. Arkansas (at 6:15 p.m. Saturday), at Ole Miss and vs. Texas A&M — and have Bama drop one to reach Atlanta.
Meanwhile, Fournette’s Heisman campaign was possibly sent hurtling, and his streak of 100-yard rushing outings — nine straight — came to a bitter end. He has been the heavy favorite for the top prize in college football for the past month, rolling up chunks of yards and scoring touchdowns at every turn.
Not on this night in front of more than 100,000 roaring fans on a chilly, damp night. Fournette, held 160 yards below his average, did not speak to reporters after the game.
“I’d like to tell you there were well-blocked holes. I’d like to tell you that we gave Leonard an opportunity to run. I don’t know if we did that,” Miles said. “We’ll have to see. I’m not putting it all on the offensive line either. Maybe some of the things we did and it may have been Alabama. I noticed several plays where they were right there sitting on top of us.”
Fournette didn’t have a run over 4 yards until 11 minutes remained in the game. Before that 18-yard dash, he had 14 yards on 15 carries — a shocking result for a running back who entered the game averaging 193 per game.
LSU’s offensive line, so dominant much of the season, struggled against Bama’s highly touted front. Fournette ran into his own players multiple times. He was dropped for a loss on four carries.
Out of his 19 carries, 13 of them didn’t pick up more than 1 yard. Alexander, the only linemen who spoke afterward, couldn’t exactly point his finger at the problem.
“We blocked the majority in the run game pretty clean up front,” Alexander said. “I just don’t know exactly what happened when the ball got to the next level or the ball got past the defensive line. Not really sure. Felt clean from my part. Can answer better after I watch film.”
To another question, he said, “We definitely have to be better. Definitely starts up front. I put it on us.”
LSU’s passing game helped the Tigers recover from a 10-0 hole early, but Brandon Harris, pressured throughout the night, threw his first interception of the season on the first play of the second half.
Bama scored four plays later to grab a 20-10 lead, and the Tide rode its horse, Henry, from there for a rousing victory.
“I thought it was important to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Saban said. “We did a really good job of that.”
Fans in Bryant-Denny Stadium slammed Fournette with the “Over-rated!” chant after a 1-yard touchdown plunge in the fourth quarter, and they later serenaded Henry with chants of his name.
In the battle of two of the nation’s best backs, it’s Henry who came out on top. Henry became the first running back to break the 66-yard mark against LSU this season, and Bama’s 250 yards rushing were 90 more than the next best squad this season.
“We knew they were going to come out and try to stop him,” receiver Travin Dural said. “That was their main focus. I know they were stacking the box. The played a tremendous game.”
The Tigers had just 54 rushing yards, the fewest since a loss to Arkansas last season. LSU did not have a drive of more than six plays against the Tide and had four three-and-outs.
“Any time you’re not running the football … it allows you maintain time of possession, allows you to stay on the field,” Miles said. “We couldn’t stay on the field. Runs weren’t allowing us to get first downs.”
Harris finished 6-of-19 for 128 yards and a 40-yard touchdown to Dural. That score jump-started the Tigers, lifting them out of a 10-0 hole early in the second quarter.
Trent Domingue tied the score at 10 by nailing a 39-yard field goal, hitting on a 10th kick in 10 attempts this season. Just before halftime, Alabama kicker Adam Griffith’s made a 55-yard field goal — tied for the longest in Tide history — sending Bama to a 13-10 lead.
LSU had just 99 yards in the first half — 77 of them coming from two Harris throws. He hit on that 40-yarder to Dural and found Dural while standing deep in LSU’s end zone for a 37-yard strike.
The sledding was tough for Fournette from the start.
His first three rushes: 2 yards, 1 yard and a loss of 5.
He had nine carries for 9 yards at halftime — a season low, by far, and a stunning first-half output for the nation’s one-time rushing leader.
“Tonight is not the regroup time,” Miles said. “It’s the painful time. The good news is we’ve still got a lot to play for.”
The game oozed with drama well before kickoff despite chilly, rainy conditions.
Crimson-clad fans broke out their ponchos, jackets and sweaters. They poured into the 101,821-seat stadium, roaring, stomping and screaming even before former coach Bear Bryant’s voiced boomed across the venue in the traditional playing of a Bryant video.
About 100 high school prospects lined the sideline to watch a collision between SEC powerhouses, at least a dozen of them five-star rated players.
They got to see a Heisman hopeful go for more than 200 — but probably not the one they expected.
“You got to give it to Bama,” safety Jamal Adams said. “They had a great scheme against him. They stuffed him when he had the ball in his hands.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.