“Isn’t it bliss?
Don’t you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can’t move,
Where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.” — Stephen Sondheim
BATON ROUGE, La.
After the two-week carnival that surrounded the Alabama-LSU game in Baton Rouge and the other parishes of Louisiana, it would be easy to mock. From James Carville playing the court jester to the wild cries of “conspiracy,” from Ed Orgeron charging into Tiger Stadium like a slightly dazed water buffalo to a pre-game haka to the LSU women’s basketball coach chanting “Free Devin White!” during the pre-game festivities, it was the over-the-top sort of entertainment that Louisiana does best.
But walking into Tiger Stadium in Saturday, you could sense that, for all the bluster, there wasn’t much confidence. Fans are fans, and should be fans. But many people seemed to sense that most of the yelling and shouting was a sort of incantation, an appeal to some mystic power (certainly not the SEC Office, but someone) to take all the accumulated rage and turn it into power that would somehow be transmitted to the home team by sound waves or whiskey fumes or both.
It didn’t happen.
What did happen was what has happened in this series for much of the past eight years, only more so. Frankly, when Nick Saban said on his Thursday night radio show that he hoped Alabama would “elect to kick ass” this weekend, the carnival should have ended, Baton Rouge businesses should have shuttered their windows and LSU should have quietly gone ahead with their weekend.
What Alabama brought was what they have been bringing. The talk was about a “new” Crimson Tide, all flashy offense and 0-to-60 acceleration and there were some elements of that on display. But there was also that old-fashioned Alabama defense as well.
The game didn’t start badly for LSU. Penalties scuttled Alabama’s first drive. It was just 6-0 after the first quarter. But by the time Joseph Bulovas kicked a 23-yard field goal to make it 9-0 with seven minutes to go in the first half, there was some sentiment that nine points might be enough.
Alabama was the one who kept tearing around. LSU was, again, the one who can’t move.
As has happened before, in this stadium two years ago, or in the Superdome in 2012, LSU could find no way to move the football. The Tigers running game was futility with two flat tires. No one ever entertained the illusion that Joe Burrow, LSU’s transfer quarterback, could carry the load on his own, and he couldn’t.
He completed 18 passes but never presented much of a deep threat even on the occasions when the LSU offensive line and permissiveness about what constituted “holding” gave him time. The Crimson Tide’s defensive streak of shutout minutes in Tiger Stadium stretched to two full games plus a minute or so from 2014.
“Alabama overpowered us,” a frustrated Orgeron said afterwards. “When you max-protect and you’re doing everything you can and they’re beating you, you’ve got to look at personnel.”
That is a far different tune than was played in Baton Rouge for the last two weeks. The LSU defense, which fought hard (to the extent that allowing 576 yards can be described in that way). Devin White, when freed, made little difference, although the LSU anger about his first-half suspension always seemed disconnected from winning.
So no name-calling is necessary. No joking about the “conspiracy.” Just a reminder that Saturday night’s beatdown was a measure of what Alabama’s defense could do on what was, by 2018 standards, an average night for the offense and, by any standard, a rough night for the Crimson Tide special teams.
Yes, there were two weeks of a sideshow. But the game was what it has been for what is starting to seem like a very long time.
But where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Well, maybe next year.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.
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