Alabama came off an open week as LSU came to town. And for most of the first half, it looked like the second-ranked Crimson Tide planned to take off another.
But for those expecting an epic beatdown as retribution for Ed Orgeron’s leaked postgame comments two years ago (“Roll Tide what?”), they had to settle for a closer-than-expected 20-14 victory that wasn’t settled until the final play of the game.
Alabama shouldn’t have needed revenge to motivate a blowout that never materialized. LSU came in with a lame-duck Coach O and a defense missing eight starters. But for 27 minutes, the unranked Tigers looked intent on salvaging their reputation — as well as that of their soon-to-be former coach, leading 7-0 for most of the opening frames.
Then things tipped in Alabama’s favor.
With time ticking down in the second quarter, quarterback Bryce Young got into a rhythm and drove the Crimson Tide into the Red Zone. Finally, after missing a doinked field goal attempt earlier, Alabama got on the board with Brian Robinson crashing in from the 2.
Then … the tips. On LSU’s ensuing possession, trying to answer Alabama with three minutes remaining, linebacker Christian Harris got his mitt in front of a Max Johnson pass and tipped to Tide teammate Jalyn Armour-Davis for the interception at the LSU 39.
Two plays later, Jameson Williams caught a tipped pass from Young at the LSU 8, setting up a short scoring toss from Young to John Metchie III. After a brief intermission, Young and Williams connected on a 58-yard scoring pass.
Upset gone. Order restored.
Until it wasn’t.
While the Crimson Tide offense was a late arrival, and made only a cameo appearance, the Tide defense was solid at the start. In fact, a third of LSU’s total offense in the first half came on a perfectly executed fake punt. On fourth-and-four near midfield, punter Avery Atkins took the snap and ran toward the line. Alabama quickly assessed his intentions, but before he could be corralled, he threw a jump pass to Jack Mashburn for a 26-yard gain that led to the Tigers’ first score.
LSU wouldn’t threaten and score again until late in the third quarter, cutting Alabama’s lead to one score.
Across ESPN platforms, the 20-14 score was noted with shockwave alerts. In truth, Alabama has struggled with .500-neighborhood SEC rivals before, going into the final quarter with one-score difference against Florida and Tennessee. Oh, and Texas A&M, which stunned the Tide on a walk-off field goal.
But LSU? With nothing to play for but pride — and a seriously deleted roster?
Suddenly, Orgeron was going for broke, gambling again on fourth down. And Alabama’s defense accommodated. Looking to the sideline for guidance as the ball was snapped, they reacted slowly as Tyrion Davis-Price, needing a yard, instead got 37. Somehow, even with what appeared to be a forced fumble overturned on review, Alabama held.
With Alabama’s running game AWOL, Young temporarily moved the Tide out of danger throwing or running for his life, driving from its own 7 to the 39. But when LSU unleashed another blitz, Young was separated from the ball and LSU recorded at the Bama 42.
Again, Alabama held for three downs, forcing another fourth down roll of the dice. This time, Alabama sent the house after Johnson and his hurried throw sailed incomplete.
Yet Alabama couldn’t run out the clock. Returning to a running game that barely got into positive yardage, the Tide ended up punting the ball back and forcing its defense to make a third and final stand.
And with two completions, Johnson had LSU 30 yards from a monumental victory.
On the game’s final play, he threw a jump ball into the end zone that was knocked to the turf, preserving the Alabama victory.
Alabama remains a College Football Playoff contender, yet it remains a very flawed team.
Give Young (302 yards passing) credit for working without a running game. Give linebacker Will Anderson credit for a monster game, as well — 12 tackles and a part of two quarterback sacks.
But as other contenders fall, Alabama fails to gain ground against No. 1 Georgia. This is a team that is no longer a lock to make it to Atlanta.
That might be a good thing, as the gap with Georgia widens by the day.
Doug Segrest, a former SEC beat reporter, is a freelance columnist.