By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Jalen Hurts looked up after a play-action fake to find two blitzing Tigers breathing down his neck. Instead of a drive-killing sack in a scoreless game, he calmly evaded the rush and took off for a first down.
LSU never really got that close again.
That drive ended in a Hurts touchdown pass and set Alabama on its way as the Tide kept LSU at arm’s length throughout a 24-10 victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night for its seventh consecutive victory in the series.
The loss snapped the Tigers’ modest three-game winning streak and snuffed out any faint hopes of No. 19 LSU (6-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) being a factor in the SEC West race. The win keeps the No. 2 Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC) set on a collision course with Georgia in Atlanta.
“Tough hard battle,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “The guys fought. We played to win the game. We just didn’t make the plays when we could. They made the big plays when they were supposed to and we couldn’t.”
Quarterback play was the difference in a game that appeared much closer than the 21-point Vegas spread forecasted.
Hurts made plays out of thin air to keep the Tide offense moving, finishing with 227 total yards and two scores, while LSU quarterback Danny Etling misfired on several deep balls that could’ve changed the game. Etling was pulled late in favor of true freshman Myles Brennan.
Nobody in purple and gold was interested in talking about moral victories, but nobody would dispute that the Tigers looked like a team headed in the right direction.
Matt Canada’s offense proved it could move the ball against the Tide, albeit against a unit that sustained several injuries to key players as the night went on.
LSU moved the ball better against the vaunted Alabama defense than it has in years, outgaining the Tide 306-299. LSU also outrushed the Tide, 151-116, and came away with four sacks of Hurts.
“We hit some big plays and we had a good plan, but we just couldn’t keep anything going,” Orgeron said. “The last two times we played these guys, we didn’t move the ball at all. Tonight we moved the ball. In face we had more yards than they did.”
“We were moving the ball like we wanted to,” Etling added. “But we just didn’t convert when we had those chances.”
But LSU quickly found itself in a hole after the whiff on Hurts. The sophomore quarterback dialed up a 47-yard bomb to Henry Ruggs on the next play and capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown strike to Irv Smith.
The Tide grew their lead after safety Ronnie Harrison jumped a late throw in the flat and wrestled the ball away for an interception. Bo Scarbrough waltzed into the end zone from nine yards out to convert the turnover into a touchdown.
A blowout seemed imminent, but LSU managed to move the ball enough offensively and stabilize the game. Deep shots from Etling and a healthy diet of sweeps kept the Alabama defense on its heels.
Etling bounced back from the interception and marched the Tigers deep into Crimson Tide territory in the second quarter, but LSU had to settle for a chip shot field goal from Connor Culp. Those were LSU’s first points against Alabama since the fourth quarter of the 2015 game.
LSU actually outgained Alabama in the first half, 176-166, but found themselves trailing 14-3. But those missed opportunities came home to roost in the second half, as they have in so many LSU-Alabama games.
The defenses traded haymakers for much of the third quarter, but the brilliant work of Alabama punter JK Scott swung field position and eventually momentum back in the Tide’s favor.
Led by the improvisational talents of Hurts, Alabama broke through late in the third quarter. He made plays on the run to extend the drive and eventually scored on a 2-yard run off the left side.
“They’re going to make plays,” defensive end Rashard Lawrence said. “We made a couple plays, but at the end of the day they made more plays than we did. They’re a good team. They’re alright.”
But LSU wasn’t dead yet. Darrel Williams took a direct snap in the wildcat formation and barreled untouched inside the Alabama 5-yard line. Williams plunged into the end zone two plays later for LSU’s first touchdown against the Tide since 2015, a span of seven full quarters and 21 drives.
“We came here to beat Alabama,” Orgeron said. “I know about my guys’ mindset in there. We’re coming. We’re coming and we ain’t backing down.”
Another loss to Alabama will be a bitter pill to swallow as yet another group of LSU seniors will come and go without a single victory against their SEC West rival. But even with the sting of victory still fresh as an untreated wound, some Tigers acknowledged the undeniable positives.
“What we’re doing over here is special with Coach O,” Lawrence said. “Y’all saw that tonight. We fought for 60 minutes. We didn’t get the W, but we’ll be back.
“A lot of people are beat before they play these guys. They’re a good team, and they practice hard just like we do, but at the end of the day, it’s just another game. I think we’ll be a lot better next year.”