LSU offense overwhelms Alabama in historic fashion


LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire dives over the goal line for his first of four touchdowns. He is the first player with four touchdowns against Alabama in the Nick Saban era. (CW / Joe Will Field)

In the game some had christened the “Game of the Century 2.0,” LSU’s offense did something that hadn’t been done since last century.

Before the Tigers’ 46-41 victory over Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, which snapped the Crimson Tide’s 31-game home winning streak, the last team to exceed 45 points against a Nick Saban-coached defense was the 1999 Purdue Boilermakers.

“The only disappointment that we have is that we want people to do their job,” Saban said. “We had a couple busts in the secondary that were very critical. But they do a lot of things — a lot of different formations, a lot of empty, a lot of reloads — that take a lot of adjustment.”

LSU senior quarterback Joe Burrow, who was the Heisman Trophy front-runner even before razing Saban’s defense with 393 passing yards and three touchdowns, had an answer for everything.

When he was pressured, he shook off pass rushers’ desperate arms and scrambled for positive yardage. When he had a clean pocket, he dissected the defense with one pinpoint throw after another, finishing 31 for 39.

With Alabama closing its deficit from 20 to six points in the third quarter, Burrow quieted the frenzied crowd in a hurry to start the fourth.

On third-and-3, with multiple defenders closing in on him, he saw receiver Justin Jefferson over the middle and threw a strike for a 13-yard gain. First down.

On third-and-10 he stayed calm in the face of a blitz to find running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the flat and threw him a short pass, which Edwards-Helaire somehow turned into a first down.

On third-and-5 in the red zone, the Tigers lined up with an empty backfield. Burrow saw open space and ran for the first down, which led to a touchdown on the next play.

“I think Joe has a really good handle on what they’re trying to do,” Saban said. “[LSU’s offense] is challenging to defend and it utilizes the people that they have. They have no weaknesses on offense. … I can’t give them enough credit for what they do.”

Alabama managed to sack Burrow five times, including two each by junior safety Xavier McKinney and senior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings. Jennings’ two sacks came at key moments, as they brought up third-and-17 and third-and-16 for LSU.

Despite the defense’s pressure on Burrow, McKinney said after the game that there was “a lot of confusion” among the defenders because of LSU’s varied playbook. 

Whether it was a receiver lining up as a running back, the Tigers sending all five skill players out to run routes or LSU’s receivers somehow continuing to get open, the Crimson Tide was on the ropes in a way it has rarely ever been in its 13 seasons under Saban.

“We seemed to be a little out-of-sorts in the first half, which I’m responsible for the mindset of our team, so obviously I didn’t get that done with them,” Saban said.

The worst of it came in the second quarter, in which LSU scored 23 points and racked up 196 yards of offense. The Tigers covered 65 yards in just five plays courtesy of several missed open-field tackles. The drive ended with a busted coverage that allowed a 29-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to wide receiver Terrace Marshall, which put the Tigers ahead 16-7.

Later, with Alabama back within three points after a deep touchdown, redshirt junior outside linebacker Terrell Lewis forced Burrow into a sack on third-and-9 and the Tigers settled for a field goal. 

After that, things came unraveled.

LSU converted first downs on four of its first five plays of its next drive, the last of which was a controversial catch by tight end Thaddeus Moss at the 1-yard line. Video boards in the stadium showed Moss stepped out of bounds before making the catch, but the reception was upheld because officials ruled that he was forced out and then re-established himself in bounds. 

Edwards-Helaire scored up the middle two plays later, the first of his four touchdowns from scrimmage during the game.

His second score came just 20 seconds of game time later, as LSU capitalized on excellent field position after an Alabama interception and unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The Tigers took a 20-point lead into the locker room, while the Crimson Tide had to wonder what just happened. 

“It was a lot of talking, it was a lot of yelling trying to get everybody going,” McKinney said. “We knew it was a bad first half so we tried to come out there and have a better second half.”

The third quarter was better, as Alabama allowed just 93 yards and gave its offense an opportunity to come back. But as soon as the game closed within one score, Burrow engineered a nearly-flawless fourth quarter that won him the game, possibly the Heisman Trophy and undoubtedly a spot in LSU lore. 

While the Tigers’ sights remain set on winning the SEC, going undefeated and other activities common to No. 1 teams, Alabama must face the reality that it no longer controls its own destiny.

“Of course, it was a wake-up call for us, and we know that. We don’t think it’s over yet,” McKinney said. “… All we can do is worry about us and worry about getting better, which we will do. Next week we’ll be better. I promise that.”