By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
All night long, Lewis Neal and the LSU defense refused to yield, holding Alabama’s offense 33 points below its SEC-leading average in the Tigers’ 10-0 loss to the Tide.
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That refusal to relent extended into postgame interviews.
“It’s nothing they did,” Neal told reporters after the game. “We just have to execute better.”
It’s hard to find areas LSU could have improved upon its execution. Alabama entered the game averaging 43.9 points and 498 yards per game. Against the Tigers, the Tide managed just 10 points and 323 yards.
LSU defensive dominance began early, holding Alabama scoreless in the first half, the first defense to accomplish that feat in 126 games — a streak dating back to 2007. In the first 30 minutes, the Tide totaled just 123 yards — a mere 28 in the air.
Dave Aranda’s unit came out on fire, intercepting freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts on Alabama’s first drive. On 3rd and 11, Hurts rolled right and fired toward Calvin Ridley, but his throw sailed high, and Jamal Adams scooped it up at the Tide 33, giving his offense prime field position.
“Defensively, Dave Aranda had a tremendous plan, to cause a turnover like that and get after it to at least get a field goal and convert and give us some momentum,” said head coach Ed Orgeron.”Going into a very tough game, [that] gave the guys some confidence. But we just couldn’t get anything going on offense.”
On the drive following the turnover, in a theme that would plague them throughout the evening, the Tiger offense gained only a yard, and Ronnie Harrison got a hand on Colby Delahoussaye’s 49-yard field goal attempt, keeping LSU off the scoreboard in what would end up being its best shot at points.
“We can force whatever,” Neal said. “At the end of the day, you have to take control of the opportunities you get, in all phases of the game.”
It was the first of two turnovers Aranda’s unit would force. In the third quarter, Frank Herron pried the ball from Hurts’ hands at the Alabama 46, and Arden Key picked it up at the 42.
Once again, however, LSU’s offense went nowhere — backwards, actually. Etling was called for intentional grounding on a third down pass play following offsetting personal foul penalties, and Josh Growden booted one of his eight punts on the night.
“Defense did a hell of a job all night,” said LSU offensive lineman Will Clapp. “They got us the ball on our side of the 50 multiple times. Offense has to execute.”
Not even a third-quarter goal line stand from the Tiger defense could get the offense going. It seemed the Tide were bound to break the scoreless deadlock when Hurts hit Ar’Darius Stewart on a 52-yard go-route over Donte Jackson’s head, setting Lane Kiffin’s offense up with first and goal at the 8. But on fourth and 1, Nick Saban instructed his offense to go for it, and Arden Key teamed up with Duke Riley to stuff Hurts four yards behind the line of scrimmage and well short of the end zone.
“We were excited,” said Key. “We felt like we were going to win. In previous second halves, we were the strongest team. Not this second half.”
LSU’s offense never found its rhythm, but Alabama’s, eventually, did. Hurts made just enough plays with his legs in the final 15 minutes half, gaining 70 of his 114 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, when Alabama finally broke a 0-0 deadlock.
The decisive score came on the heels of a 12-play, 90-yard drive that actually began late in the third quarter and ate up nearly six minutes of game time. On third and 9 from LSU’s 21, Hurts again rolled right, where Neal shot outside of running back Bo Scarbrough to set the edge and forced the freshman back inside. Neal went to make the play, but Scarbrough, in the opinion of the crowd and the defender, held Neal. Meanwhile, Hurts eluded Kendell Beckwith, who finished the game with 16 tackles, but couldn’t get a 17th that would’ve kept Hurts from scoring.
Neal wasn’t impressed.
“They only got one play all game, and that was the play on me,” he said. “Everybody saw it. I can’t really say much about that.”
Pressed further on if it should’ve been flag, Neal, fittingly, didn’t budge.
“The refs didn’t call it,” he said. “You just have to play through the down.”
The Tide added a field goal late, the culmination of a 9:51 drive, to all but clinch the game. Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted Danny Etling’s lame duck — a product of more Alabama pass-rush pressure — and the Tide took over at its own 43 with 12:08 to play. When the Tigers finally got the ball back, it was 15 plays, 50 yards, and one 25-yard Adam Griffith field goal later. That drive’s backbreaker: a 17-yard Hurts run on 3rd and 15 from LSU’s 40.
In total, Alabama kept the ball for 13:35 in the fourth quarter and 22:17 in the second half.
“Alabama was a good offense,” said Key. “For 60 minutes we held our part. We stopped them on the goal line. We were on the field too long, so of course we were going to wear out…We came out, punched them in the mouth first — throughout the whole game, really. We just had bad field position.”
“I thought we played our butt off on defense,” Orgeron added, “but we lose as a team.”