Through September, Tua Tagovailoa’s touchdown pass total (23) were scary close to his incompletion total (35). It was a product of being precise and explosive, two values that often conflict each other in college football.
In the University of Alabama’s biggest test of its football season to date, the explosiveness made for an entertaining second half. The lack of precision that came before it ended that second half in despair.
In allowing LSU to amass 559 yards of total offense and go 8-for-15 on third down, the UA defense still granted its offense some opportunities to erase an early deficit. In many of those moments, the offense fell short, doing so too often to finish the comeback in a 46-41 loss.
“It’s probably just the focus and energy wasn’t there,” wide receiver Henry Ruggs III said. “We came out first half, started out fast and ended in a turnover, that probably just killed the spirit. We have to learn to bounce back from adversity.”
That Tagovailoa lost fumble inside the 10-yard line did contribute to the early deficit, when LSU scored six plays later, but many of the missed opportunities came later.
When UA regained possession early in the second quarter, down 16-7, a third-and-13 completion injected some life into the offense — quickly eradicated by a false start penalty on the ensuing set of downs.
Those five yards proved to be crucial, as UA resorted to a fourth-and-1 run that was stopped short.
“I just don’t think we executed on all cylinders, you know? Got a few penalties that put us behind the 8-ball,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “We have to have more balance and consistency on offense. We make a lot of big plays, which is great, but when you play a team like this that is a very good offensive team themselves, having the balance on offense that you can control the tempo of the game with your offense is also important.
“We just didn’t have that consistency in the first half, and when you throw the turnovers on top of it, we really put ourselves in a hole.”
The consistency in execution was particularly crucial in the final four minutes of the first half, when a three-point deficit turned into 20.
Still, there were chances, as early as the other side of halftime.
In the first three minutes, Xavier McKinney poked the ball out of Joe Burrow’s hand right into Terrell Lewis’ lap. It gave the UA offense the ball near midfield, just for a three-and-out.
Even as the offensive exploded for four touchdowns in its five second-half possessions, there were miscues that could have given UA another chance.
A second-and-10 deep post to Jerry Jeudy was bobbled and dropped incomplete; UA had to convert on third-and-10 to keep the drive alive, then run four more plays to score. One of those four plays was a Tagovailoa ball over the head of Jaylen Waddle, another play that could have expedited the scoring process.
Then in the fourth quarter, there was an open Najee Harris going unnoticed on second-and-2 and a ball going through Jeudy’s hands on the ensuing third down. Jeudy made an impressive catch to score on the next play, but the time cost from those plays and the ones in the third quarter could have proven valuable: it may have forced LSU to get a second first down on its final drive, giving the UA defense one last chance.
“A couple of mental errors we can’t have in a mental games like this,” right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. said. “We have to be more crisp and more sound in an environment like this.
“Things you can’t have in a big game. Mental errors and things like that.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson