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Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
Alabama Crimson Tide NCAA Opinion/Editorial

Alabama Football: Tide’s First True Test Exposes Mortality

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The Alabama Crimson Tide faced their toughest test of the season when Coach Ed Orgeron’s LSU Tigers came into Tuscaloosa hungry for their first win against Alabama since the so-called “Game of the Century” in 2011.

This matchup was very even throughout the game, which is highlighted by the 7-yard difference in total yards between the two teams, with LSU actually outgaining Alabama 306-299. The real difference in the game was the ability (or inability) of both teams to finish drives, limit turnovers, and flip field position in the punting game, which were all won by the Crimson Tide. The Alabama defense was able to make enough plays at key times to stop extended LSU drives, and the offense was able to be consistent enough in both the passing and rushing attacks to win in a comfortable manner by a score of 24-10.

The Tide were led by quarterback Jalen Hurts, who went 11-24 for 183 yards and 1 touchdown passing, as well as 44 yards rushing with a touchdown. His completion percentage looks a little gaudy, but the Alabama receivers didn’t really help in that effort, having dropped a few passes in the course of the game.

Hurts’ composure in the face of pressure was quite impressive, avoiding heavy pressure from the LSU defensive line, who gave the Bama offensive line fits all night with their penetration, stepping up in the pocket and scrambling for first downs, making throws under duress inside the pocket, and throwing the ball away when no receivers were open.

Even when the running game struggled for the Tide, which was a common theme for the Tide throughout the game, Hurts remained in the moment and was able to deliver when he needed to.

The Tide’s defense was challenged all night by LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s high-motion, misdirection offense that is intended to move the eyes of the defense to different things going on pre-snap. These shifts and jet sweeps that LSU employed were effective in creating running lanes and open receivers in the play-action passing game. LSU found some success in running the football up the middle, with Derrius Guice and Darryl Williams racking up 154 total rushing yards, which is much higher than LSU’s 81.8 yards-per-game average against Alabama over the previous 6 meetings.

Danny Etling also found success in the passing game early, connecting for some deep passes over the Bama secondary, but his success quickly faded as the game progressed as Alabama figured out what the scheme that LSU was employing was, which culminated in a late first-quarter interception by Ronnie Harrison, which set up Alabama’s second touchdown, a 9-yard Bo Scarborough run off of right tackle.

After that touchdown made it 14-0, LSU never got closer than 11 points, as JK Scott was able to control the field position, averaging 51.6 yards per punt while pinning LSU inside of their 20-yard line multiple times. That control of the field position was very crucial to Alabama’s success, as it consistently put LSU in precarious situations working out of their own end zone.

In a tough SEC environment where physicality is a big part of the game, Alabama couldn’t escape the injury bug, as linebackers Shaun Dion Hamilton, who is the team’s second leading tackler, and Mack Wilson both sustained season-ending leg injuries. These injuries are crushing for a linebacker unit that has had 6 players injured, with 4 of those being season-ending.

The Tide’s defense will need redshirt juniors Keith Holcombe and Jamey Mosley, freshmen Dylan Moses and Christopher Allen, and redshirt sophomores Joshua McMillon and Mekhi Brown to all take steps forward in their production to fill the void that those two players leave in the middle of the defense.

There has been talk of 2 of those linebackers that are supposedly out for the season in Terrell Lewis and Christian Miller potentially coming back at some point in the near future, as they were injured during the Florida State game at the beginning of the season.

If they were able to return and produce at a high level, those two players can be very crucial to a deep College Football Playoff run for the Tide.

Alabama travels to Mississippi State next Saturday for a 7 PM Eastern Time kickoff on ESPN, while LSU returns home to face the Arkansas Razorbacks at 11 AM, also on ESPN.

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