BATON ROUGE, La. — The relief on the University of Alabama sideline was palpable.
It didn’t come until there was just one minute, 52 seconds remaining on the clock, when Alabama knew it could run it out. Everyone sort of exhaled emotionally and started celebrating, especially the players recruited out of Louisiana who still have hometown bragging rights.
Alabama had survived its test against LSU, again, this time 10-0, and like usual the game was nothing short of a grind. Although neither side notched a point through the first three quarters, which is about as unlikely a score as you’ll see in college football these days, no one who has followed this rivalry since Nick Saban landed in Tuscaloosa in 2007 could have been surprised.
“It’s always the game to test your nuts,” senior linebacker Ryan Anderson said. “I don’t know if I can say that, but it’s old-school football. You watched it; it’s pound and pound and pound. That’s what it is. You’re going to see who’s been in the weight room all year, who’s been in the best condition all year.
“That’s why I came to Alabama, to play in these types of games.”
Auburn may be the rivalry matchup at the end of the season, yet the annual showdown with the Bayou Bengals has been a huge benchmark over the past decade. LSU has consistently been the one team that physically, and in terms of talent, matches up with Alabama. Every game has been the football equivalent of a slugfest.
Going in, the Crimson Tide have always thought they’ve been a good team. But every time they beat the Tigers, they know how good they really are.
“I agree with that,” senior defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson, who like everyone else on the Crimson Tide roster is undefeated against LSU. “Feels amazing. I love coming down here and playing them.”
Although this was in many ways a typical Alabama-LSU game, it was also a completely different type of tilt for the Crimson Tide. The defense was geared to be better against uptempo teams; some feared it wouldn’t fare well against such a smashmouth opponent.
Yet it continues to prove that no matter what an opponent does, No. 1 Alabama not only has an answer, but it can probably do it better. It’s also done so numerous times against teams that seem to be peaking.
It knows it can dominate defensively, having notched its second shutout of the season.
Want to get into a shootout? Fine, it did that at Ole Miss and outpaced the Rebels.
Spread, run-option attacks and quarterbacks who can run like those at Tennessee and Texas A&M? Actually, Alabama’s gotten good at that itself with freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts.
You have Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice, touted as the best running back combination in college football? On Saturday, Fournette gained just 35 yards on 17 carries, with the longest being just nine yards, and Guice had eight total yards.
“Perseverance,” Saban said about this win. “You can talk about winning ugly. It may not have always been pretty, because we certainly didn’t always execute and do things the way that we like. But you have to give LSU a lot of credit. Their defense played really, really well. Their team is playing really well, and it was a tough atmosphere out there.
“But our defense was outstanding.”
It was. LSU’s offense totaled just 125 yards, 41 of which came when quarterback Danny Etling threw up a deep sideline ball that D.J. Chark came down with. The Tigers had just two other plays that gained more than 10 yards.
Overall, No. 13 LSU converted only four third-down opportunities and had just one first down in the second half. The closest it came to scoring was on its first possession, a field-goal attempt that the Tide’s Ronnie Harrison partially blocked.
“Huge,” Saban said of keeping the Tigers off the board so early.
Meanwhile, Alabama’s first-half possessions started at its 14, 32, 12, 2, 9 and 5 before it got the ball at the 42-yard line with one second left until the break. It showed patience and then took over the game in the second half.
It also overcame a lot mistakes. For example, Hurts had two turnovers in his own end, and when Alabama went for it on fourth down at the LSU 1, he appeared to go the wrong way and was promptly sacked.
He also had the 21-yard touchdown run to open the scoring, finished with 114 rushing yards and led the 15-play drive that ate up 9:51 of the clock in the fourth quarter as Alabama kicked a field goal to put the game out of reach.
“There are things that we have to do better, at every position,” Saban said. “There are things that we need to do at the quarterback position. We made some errors early in the game that were costly, and we made some plays at the end that his athleticism allowed him to make.
“As we grow with him we’re going to have to live with both … and I like the second part a lot better than the first.”
Coming into the season, perhaps the greatest concern regarding Alabama was its Southeastern Conference road schedule—at Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU—and sure enough, all four teams were ranked when Alabama played them.
Alabama beat them all and now just has Mississippi State, Chattanooga and Auburn, all at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
All the Tide want to do during the final stretch of the regular season is mirror what they did in Death Valley: pull away. And they don’t care how.
“Fourth quarter, that’s when we dominate,” defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. “That’s what we’re built on.”
Anybody. Any style. Anywhere. Alabama has the answer. It proved it again Saturday night.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.
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