LSU vs. Alabama: 10 Things We Learned in the Tide's Win
Top-ranked Alabama survived another slugfest with rival LSU and emerged with a critical 38-17 victory.
Alabama’s defense forced two pivotal fumbles that helped them stave off the Tigers' early momentum.
Nick Saban’s successful fake punt call sparked the Tide’s offense to score 21 unanswered points to finish the game.
For Les Miles, the Tigers’ early miscues were too much to overcome in an upset bid that had moments of promise heading into the second half.
What are the biggest takeaways from the Tide’s hard-fought win over LSU?
10. Mettenberger Valiant in Defeat
Until around midway through the third quarter, it looked as if LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger was destined to make the Alabama defense sweat until the final whistle.
However, the Tide’s defense was able to turn up the pressure on Mettenberger, sack him four times in the second half and pressure him on numerous occasions.
Mettenberger’s final numbers (16-of-23 for 241 yards and one touchdown) look decent, but several of his passes nearly ended up in the hands of players wearing crimson.
Ultimately, the Tigers' inability to sustain a rushing attack left Mettenberger with little chance to keep his club in the game.
9. Secondary Struggles Again vs. Tigers
Alabama’s defense has acquitted itself well since it allowed Texas A&M to explode for more than 600 yards of total offense and 42 points back in September.
However, the argument could be made that LSU presented the Tide’s secondary with its stiffest test since they left Kyle Field.
Although the defense settled down in the second half, the secondary, particularly corner Deion Belue, struggled to disrupt LSU’s receivers in the early going.
The pass rush helped their efforts considerably in the second half, but the secondary still has room to grow as the season comes to a close.
8. LSU Defense Playing Below Tigers Standards
The biggest difference in this year’s LSU outfit is the subpar play of the defense.
John Chavis’ unit is clearly a few levels below the outfits he’s produced in recent years. Gone are feared pass-rushers such as Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.
The secondary, which has featured game-changing talents such as Morris Claiborne, Eric Reid and Tyrann Mathieu, failed to slow down Alabama’s passing attack.
Against the Tide, the Tigers were unable to make McCarron uncomfortable and failed to make tackles in open space against Alabama's backs and receivers.
For the Tigers, replenishing the defense with talent and depth should be a top priority for Miles and Chavis to address heading into 2014.
7. O.J. Howard Blossoming
Alabama’s passing game was largely stuck in neutral in the first quarter. After earning its first third-down conversion of the game via an LSU defensive penalty, freshman tight end O.J. Howard provided the Tide’s first big play on offense.
The 6’6”, 237-pounder took a slant pass from AJ McCarron and outraced the entire LSU secondary 52 yards for the Tide’s first touchdown.
That reception ended up being Howard’s only catch. However, it was a pivotal play that changed the tone of a game that had largely been dominated by the Tigers up to that point.
6. Self-Inflicted Wounds Will Haunt Tigers Again
LSU had several miscues that cost it against Alabama in last season’s 21-17 defeat in Baton Rouge.
Two first-quarter fumbles, especially fullback J.C. Copeland’s muff as he was crossing the goal line on the Tigers' first drive, gave Alabama time to recover from a sluggish start.
The Tigers dominated for portions of the game, but their inability to get out of their own way at times led to another painful defeat at the hands of the Tide.
5. Landon Collins Becoming Dominant Force at Safety
Since stepping into the starting lineup in the place of injured safety Vinnie Sunseri, Landon Collins has gotten stronger with each week that passes.
Against his home-state school, Collins was all over the field making plays on special teams, in pass coverage and in run support.
As Alex Scarborough of ESPN noted, this win has to be especially sweet for Collins—who was the subject of an intense recruiting battle between Alabama and LSU.
Getting Collins to settle in at the spot opposite Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is huge for the Tide's secondary moving forward.
4. AJ McCarron Delivers Again vs. LSU
In a game that represented AJ McCarron’s final chance to perform in front of Alabama’s home crowd on a prime-time stage, the Tide’s most prolific passer in school history delivered a performance that is a microcosm of his career at the Capstone.
McCarron was efficient, gritty and executed the game plan almost flawlessly. He went 14-of-20 for 179 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover. The victory also marked his third win against LSU in four career meetings.
While his stats aren’t the type to make Heisman voters light up, it was a performance that was good enough to put him in the race for college football’s most prestigious individual award heading down the final stretch of the season.
3. OL Meets the Challenge in the Trenches
Despite Alabama’s recent stretch of strong play along the offensive line, there were still some skeptics, considering the Tide’s weak October slate of opponents.
However, after paving the way for T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake to rush for a combined 198 yards on 35 carries with two scores, the questions surrounding that unit are beginning to subside.
It’s worth noting that Alabama also allowed just one sack to LSU, and the line gave McCarron ample time when he dropped back to pass throughout the game.
Against an opponent, such as LSU, that prides itself on playing physical, Mario Cristobal’s troops answered the bell in an emphatic performance that fueled the Tide’s strong showing on offense.
2. Tide Solves Third Down Woes
One of the biggest areas where Alabama struggled against LSU in last season’s meeting was converting on third downs. Last year, Alabama was unsuccessful on 14 of its 18 third down attempts.
Alabama continued that trend by coming up empty on its first three tries against the Tigers on Saturday night.
However, the Tide kept the chains moving on five of its final seven third down attempts.
Given their third down struggles against the Tigers in recent meetings, it was a pivotal hurdle for the offense to clear.
1. Saban One-Ups the Mad Hatter
Les Miles has a reputation of being unafraid to gamble with a trick play when the game is on the line.
However, Nick Saban has shown the same tendency, but without nearly the fanfare of his successor in Baton Rouge.
Saban made a critical gamble early in the third quarter that helped his team secure control of a game that was deadlocked at 17-17.
On his own 41-yard line, facing a fourth down, Saban opted to run a fake punt with Jarrick Williams taking a C.J. Mosley pitch, getting six yards and a crucial first down that led to a go-ahead touchdown by T.J. Yeldon.
Considering the stakes, it was a gutsy call that helped the Tide capture the momentum and score the game's final 21 points.