Tigers bemoan execution in sixth straight loss to Alabama
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
After three quarters of a back-and-fourth scoreless slugfest, the dam finally broke.
As a result, The Drought will last another gut-wrenching year in Baton Rouge — that makes six straight losses in the rivalry that often decides who wins the SEC West.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts scrambled for a 21-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to break the deadlock of two dominating defenses that smothered any signs of offense for three quarters.
That proved enough on a night LSU managed just 125 yards of total offense as No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC) escaped the SEC West slugfest with a 10-0 shutout of No. 15 LSU (5-3, 3-2 SEC) that effectively dashes any hopes the Tigers had of mounting an unlikely run to the SEC Championship Game.
“It just wasn’t a very good performance on offense,” Orgeron said. “And I thought we played our butts off on defense, but we lose as a team. We need to find a way to win that football game. There was no question about want to or effort.
“It was all about LSU tonight. It wasn’t about anybody else. It was about execution.”
The revamped LSU offense that set school and conference records in each of its first three games under Orgeron and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger fell silent against the nation’s most ferocious pass rush.
Alabama sacked Danny Etling five times and hurried him into countless errant throws, including the interception that set up the chip-shot field goal that iced the result. He finished the game 11-for-24 for 92 yards.
The Tide also bottled up Leonard Fournette again, limiting the All-American to 35 yards on 17 carries, a stat line that reads eerily similar to his 19-carry, 31-yard outing in Tuscaloosa last November.
All told, LSU finished the evening with more punts (8) than first downs (6).
“We’re going to put this one on us,” left guard Will Clapp said. “I wouldn’t say they challenged us as much as we, as a group, shot ourselves in the foot.”
LSU wasted a golden opportunity to cease an early lead that could well have changed the complexion of the game.
Safety Jamal Adams intercepted a third-down overthrow from Hurts on the game’s opening drive to set LSU up in Alabama territory. However, a sack of Etling caused a three-and-out and Colby Delahoussaye’s 49-yard field goal try was blocked.
Both quarterbacks struggled mightily in the first half. Hurts and Etling completed a combined 12-of-26 passes for 91 total yards with the one interception. And 43 of those yards came on a first-quarter heave hauled in by D.J. Chark.
Alabama forced a three-and-out to begin the second half and wasted a golden opportunity of its own to put points on the board.
The Tide had first-and-goal ArDarius Stewart on a 52-yard bomb set up by play action. Facing fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Saban chose to go for it instead of attempting the 19-yard field goal. Adams and Duke Riley stuffed Hurts for a 4-yard loss on a read option to finish the goal-line stand.
Alabama was held scoreless in the first half for the first time since 2007, Saban’s inaugural season as coach. That’s a streak of 126 games.
Alabama dominated the field position battle in the third quarter, but LSU had one more opportunity of its own to break the scoreless deadlock. Frank Herron strip-sacked Hurts and Arden Key dove on it to set LSU up in Alabama territory for the second time.
What followed was an ugly sequence that makes it apparent why “execution” was such an oft-used buzzword by Orgeron and his players after the game.
First, offsetting personal fouls for unsportsmanlike conduct after some extracurricular shoving broke out on the sideline. Then a delay of game call before second down, an intentional grounding flag and a sack to back LSU well out of field goal range.
“We had plenty of chances all game,” Clapp said. “The defense put us on their side of the 50 multiple times. We’ve got to block better. We’ve got to put the ball in the end zone. We had multiple opportunities to take the lead.”
And as so often is the case in these LSU-Alabama games, those missed opportunities eventually prove costly.
Alabama began the fourth quarter facing a fourth-and-1 at LSU’s 32-yard line and running back Bo Scarbrough converted with a 10-yard toss play around the left side. Two stuffed runs later, The Tide, who’d already missed a field goal. Faced third-and-9 from the 21-yard line.
Hurts took the snap and faked left before rolling right. He picked up a block from his tight end on Lewis Neal and sprinted through diving arm tackles from Riley and Kendell Beckwith on his way to the end zone.
“They only got one play, and that was that play on me,” Neal said. “And, I mean, everybody saw it, so I really can’t say much about that.”
That seven-point lead might as well have been 70. Two plays into the next drive Etling got hammered, which caused an errant throw that safety Minkah Fitzpatrick dove under and intercepted. The play was reviewed and eventually upheld, a decision that Orgeron went ballistic about on the sidelines.
“Can’t say,” Orgeron replied, asked if there were calls in particular he took umbrage with. “Just a couple of things that could have gone either way. But (the officials) have got to do their jobs too, I guess.”
From there Alabama went to work on the ground against a defense that’d spend more than 22 minutes on the field in the second half.
Hurts, who played like a true freshman in the first half, used his legs to convert third-and-1, third-and-15 and third-and-11 before on the drive settling for a back-breaking field goal to cap a 15-play, 50-yard slog that drained nine minutes and 51 seconds off the clock.
“For 60 minutes we held our part,” Key said. “We stopped them on the goalline. We were on the field too long, so of course we were going to wear out.”
“There’s no finger pointing,” Neal said. “We’ve just got to execute in all phases of the game.”
There were plenty of miscues from each, though the defense fought and performed valiantly. Tre’Davious White cost LSU field position by catching a punt at his own 3-yard line. Freshman linebacker Devin White was flagged for a 15-yard late hit on Hurts out of bounds.
But the ultimate burden rests with LSU’s offense — again.
Etling admitted there were multiple time he and his receivers have mix-ups on what route was supposed to be run. Confusion and miscommunication caused Orgeron to burn two timeouts in the third quarter, which prevented him from stopping the clock during Alabama’s game-sealing drive.
“Yeah,” Etling said, asked if he felt LSU had a game plan that could have beaten Alabama. “That’s why we’re all a little down on ourselves. We had a good plan. We just needed better execution.”