What was the Game of the Century not so long ago might as well have been the Game of the 17th Century on Saturday night.
It’s been six years since Alabama and LSU faced each other in a pair of 2011 games that featured hugely talented rosters on both sides. Those games were fiercely contested and so was the Alabama-LSU renewal. But it wasn’t a classic, simply an often-tortuous affair that could have been played in the Pit of Misery if that didn’t mean somebody would shout out an infuriating “Dilly Dilly” from that mindworm of a beer commercial.
Not that the crowd couldn’t have used a beer along the way.
Alabama has maintained itself at the pinnacle of college football and LSU has slipped a bit from the vintage Les Miles teams, clearly. The Tigers were willing but the flesh, while not weak, wasn’t the fearsome conglomerate of muscle and bone that the Tigers of a few years ago were. They did their best but weren’t Alabama’s equal. It showed. Although the campus atmosphere was the best of the year — a testimony, at least in part, to the lack of a compelling home opponent in this lackluster year in the SEC — the energy was sporadic. For all the fans who wanted to see how Alabama would handle a “tough game,” it probably wasn’t as fun as they remembered it being.
For the first three quarters, Alabama relied on basic weapons, building a lead thanks to efficiency in the red zone — two touchdowns instead of field goals, one set up by an interception — and the mighty punting of JK Scott. Meanwhile, LSU couldn’t get a field-flipping takeaway and couldn’t score a touchdown when it did make it to the red zone.
LSU kept looking for one knockout punch on offense in the second half, trying to get by with the occasional big hit in the same way it managed to upset Auburn. The Bengal Tigers got one, on a 54-yard run with a direct snap and run by Darrel Williams and might have had another if Danny Etling had not underthrown a long pass to a wide-open DJ Chark early in the fourth quarter. All of new Tiger offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s shifting and jet-sweeping hasn’t fixed the LSU offense yet, and the full renovation isn’t going to be complete until the Tigers recruit and develop a better quarterback.
In the meantime, LSU did keep its defense off the field and it steadily kept knocking out defensive players that no team without Alabama’s depth could afford to lose. Whether the Crimson Tide can take much more depends on several diagnoses, including that of Minkah Fitzpatrick, Mack Wilson and Shaun Dion Hamilton to go along with the previously injured. By the time it was over, Alabama seemed like Clint Eastwood in one of his later Westerns, having killed everyone in town but looking bruised and bloodied and generally worse for wear.
That left observers frantically working out whether this win made Alabama better than Troy using the transitive property — it did — and whether it was smooth and steady progress toward the team’s championship goals. That point is more argumentative.
Alabama didn’t look especially fresh, as if it had been scrimmaging against roving packs of grizzly bears during the open week. The bread-and-butter running game was something short of a dull loaf. But it looked good enough to survive the annual meat-grinding that LSU games have become. That did not please anyone looking for a work, although one can argue that November isn’t a month for pleasing aesthetics but is simply one for survival — the way things were in a more grueling time.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.