Alabama is still rolling. This week the Crimson Tide held LSU to one touchdown in a 24-10 win. Here is the report card:
Rushing Offense: C-
This was always going to be the most brutal and bruising encounter of the year so far for Alabama. The rushing offense had yet to face a defensive front as physical and uncompromising as the one that LSU boasts and it showed as the Crimson Tide was unable to open up the big holes for the running game that had become so common over the last month or so of the season.
This game was much more about the running game being used as a weapon of attrition, as Alabama never moved away from the ground game and ended up rushing 36 times for 116 yards and two touchdowns as a team. Jalen Hurts had a couple of timely runs on his way to 44 yards and a touchdown, while Bo Scarbrough was his uncompromising self in the ground game as he rushed for another 39 yards and a score.
Passing Offense: B-
With the rushing offense slowed down, the passing offense had to step up. While Hurts was far from perfect through the air – he went 11-of-24 for 183 yards and a score – he was able to control the tempo of the game while leading the Alabama passing attack. The best part about playing quarterback at Alabama for Hurts is that his defense is just so good. The quarterback knows that he doesn’t have to take risks or push the ball into tight windows because a punt is never a bad option for Alabama.
Hurts was able to spread the ball around in this game. He hit Calvin Ridley three times for 61 yards and had the biggest offensive play of the day for the Crimson Tide when he hit Henry Ruggs III for a 47 yard gain. The only surprising aspect of that play was that it didn’t result in a touchdown for Ruggs.
Rushing Defense: B-
LSU has one of the premier running backs in the nation (again) on their squad this year. Alabama though gave Derrius Guice the Leonard Fournette treatment and completely shut down the Tigers best offensive weapon in this one.
Guice had 71 yards on 19 carries with every single one of those yards were hard fought and hard hitting. Guice is a back who is used to breaking big plays and running past defenders, but Alabama focused on shutting him down and making the LSU passing attack win the game. LSU had a total of 151 yards on the ground, but 54 of those came on the one play Alabama would like to have back. It was a play where the Crimson Tide got out schemed as Darrel Williams took the ball in for a touchdown out of the Wildcat formation. Take that one play away and the Crimson Tide rushing defense was dominant.
Passing Defense: A
Nick Saban knew that LSU quarterback Danny Etling wasn’t good enough to pick apart his defense. Not with the amount of pressure and the variety of different looks in the secondary that the Alabama defense was about to show the quarterback.
That is exactly how this played out as Etling went 12-of-26 for 137 yards without a touchdown (and with an interception) against Saban’s defense. The blanket thrown over Etling was so suffocating that Ed Orgeron actually brought in backup Myles Brennan to try to rescue the game late when the Tigers were down by only two scores. The only downside here is that Alabama picked up a couple of big injuries on defense – specifically to Shaun Dion Hamilton and Mack Wilson – that will need to be cleared up.
Special Teams: B+
There were no fumbled punt returns! I repeat, there were no fumbled punt returns!
That is enough for a passing grade on its own, but then you have to consider the work done in the other phases of the special teams game. JK Scott had a monster first half punting the ball for the Crimson Tide. Three of his four first-half punts caused LSU to start drives from inside its own 13-yard line. The Tigers offense relies on good field position to get drives going and making LSU drive over 90 yards for a touchdown was always going to put Alabama in a position to win this game.
Saban knows what he is doing as a head coach in these physical games. He knew going in that LSU did not have a quarterback that could beat Alabama, so he stuck eight in the box on defense and dared Orgeron to let Etling try to win the game. The LSU quarterback tried his best, but he was never going to provide the firepower needed. With LSU stuck in first gear, Saban used to run to shorten the game and struck through the air with enough regularity to put points on the board. It was a very effective game plan and it was one executed in the way you would expect from one of his teams.