Alabama put an exclamation point on the control of their own destiny. With their win over LSU on Saturday night, the Tide will decide where their new year’s plans will be spent.
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron’s 14 for 20 through the air for 180 yards was a good outing, even compared to Mettenberger’s 16/23 for 241 yards. But the “game manager” moniker stuck a little too close to AJ’s overly tattoo’d chest. AJ missed just six passes, four of them overthrown go-ahead touchdowns, including a perfectly-timed flea flicker play in the second half. McCarron may have been deliberately avoiding an interception on long throws, but he also forced the issue a little too much. The play calls were right, keeping it away from LSU’s secondary was important and signature for AJ, but throwing long balls past the receiver has been a problem this year. Earlier in the year I thought maybe Cooper was slowed coming off his injury, or White and Bell were slow off the line. None of that was true against LSU. The balls were simply overthrown, and it seems to be a pattern.
Still, AJ passed John Parker Wilson for Alabama’s career passing yards leader, adding to his record as the winningest starting QB in Bama history. That’s living history. McCarron had one touchdown pass in three starts against LSU, but Saturday he had three pass TD’s against the Tigers. For all the arguments about FSU’s case for the top spot, this is the only area I think they really exceed Alabama so far. It’s a fixable issue, but the bottom line is, the Tide is a couple of yards too long per long throw shy of murdering the opponent each Saturday. Of course, when that happens, legitimate or not, the commentary becomes more about how bad the opponent is rather than how good Alabama is.
But LSU is not bad, and Alabama is the best football team in the country.
Here’s the thing. Alabama is #1, but the only question remaining is Alabama’s strength of schedule. Some would argue that Stanford is the best team in spite of a Utah loss. Sure, you’re not going to be ranked in the top-ten anymore after a loss to Alabama; nobody is. Maybe you can come back later in the season like Texas A&M has, but LSU was a punt return fumble away from beating Georgia. And yes, we can argue Alabama would win Stanford’s games, even Oregon (albeit with some controversy), and Alabama wouldn’t have lost to this year’s Utah.
But this Alabama team is beating the teams on their schedule better than anyone else, and LSU is no exception. Jeremy Hill, LSU’s star running back, ran for a season-low against Alabama. If you like comparisons, looking ahead to November 30, Hill had a career-high against Auburn. For inside rushes, Hill was the best in the land.
That was before he came to Tuscaloosa.
LSU held every team this year to less than 100 yards when rushing inside the defensive line, but T.J. Yeldon alone ran more than 100 yards inside the tackles against them, not to mention “The Drake” averaging 6.5 yards on ten carries. All of this coming after LSU’s bye-week. The Bayou Bengals hadn’t been held to less than 100 yards on designed runs all year. Bama held them to 72.
Neither quarterback in the game yielded an interception, but it’s hard to pretend Alabama shouldn’t have picked off at least four. Yes, LSU had miscues and turnovers early that hurt them badly. If you want to take away LSU’s two early turnover mistakes, then I’ll raise you Alabama’s four missed interception catches, one of which resulting in a big LSU gain leading to a tie score early in the second half.
Starting the second half, CJ Mosley nearly caught a throw directed at LSU tight-end Dillon Gordon…a very seldom used LSU target. In the annual chess match between Saban and Miles, it was a clear (and intelligent) coaching decision to confuse the Alabama defense. Gordon came down with a fantastic catch for a huge gain off Mosley’s tip…but the Bama defense held the drive to a field goal.
That was the last time LSU scored.
In the second half Alabama did what Alabama does: Dominate. I always look to see what happens at halftime because I believe it’s when the coaches affect the game the most. LSU got a field goal, Alabama took over the game with three touchdowns. Alabama stopped one out of seven third-down conversions in the first half, yet stopped six in the second half. Mettenberger missed zero throws of more than 15 yards in the first half (90 yards on those plays). But he was 1-for-3 in the second half for 22 yards (including the catch Mosley missed on Gordon). Even that final LSU field goal was made possible by a 15-yard face mask penalty by Ed Stinson.
Remember that 60 minutes feature from this past week about Alabama’s strength and conditioning? Last Saturday we saw four quarters where Alabama only got better. The Crimson Tide outlasted the Tigers without question. LSU had a bye-week to rest and prepare. So did Alabama. Cementing the game with four consecutive sacks was icing on a 600-pound cake. For all the complaints from LSU about their own turnovers and “a lot of calls toward Alabama’s favor that were kind of questionable and kept their drives alive,” one team looked better-prepared than the other to last 60 minutes.
And as Alabama head coach Nick Saban always preaches, the fans are as much a part of a game like this as the players. In that regard, Tide fans deserve a special shout-out. LSU isn’t often affected by playing outside of Baton Rouge, but the crowd noise in Bryant-Denny Stadium certainly seemed to contribute to that second turnover, among other things.
So where do things go from here? Easily winnable games remain on the Tide’s regular season schedule, though a quick look at Bama’s Nov. 30th opponent will make the football-challenged fans raise an eyebrow. A closer look reveals an opponent that can be made one dimensional very easily, the death blow to any team facing Nick Saban and Kirby Smart.
But Bama’s win over LSU solidifies this team’s place alongside the title contenders of 2009, 2011 and 2012. This team belongs right where it is, and it appears it is well on its way.