Sometimes football is a simple game. Me vs. you. Not a lot of space. Who can gain the most ground?
There were two turnovers forced by LSU, in Alabama territory, and nothing came of it. UA forced one and the ensuing drive led to the field goal that effectively ended the game. Quality over quantity, right? I guess.
The 'Bama D held the Tigers to 125 total yards and held all-world running back Leonard Fournette under 40 yards for the second-straight year. Jalen Hurts nearly ran for more yards Saturday night, 114, than Fournette has in his career against the Crimson Tide (145). That means something, surely. Those conflicting arguments are more important when looked upon at the time of effectiveness, which in Hurts' case was in the second half and fourth quarter, where UA scored all of its points in the shutout win.
We take a closer look at each and much more in this week's Glance.
Hurts, Doesn't It?
Okay, so Hurts wasn't the best player on the field on this night, not by a long-shot. Too many defenders to name in that category, but he responded to perhaps the most adversity he has faced in his young career. It wasn't vicious hits or a big road deficit like he had in front of him early at Ole Miss, but this was about the margin for error. The freshman had to be near perfect as both a passer and a runner for UA to get out of town with a win. He wasn't. It showed up early with the interception just three plays into the game, a pass that should have been redirected based on Ardarius Stewart slowing on the route because interceptor Jamal Adams was finishing the corner route for him. Throw it behind, on purpose, or throw it out of bounds. Hurts did neither and LSU was in business, though the defense held up and blocked a field goal soon after (much more on that below). In the third quarter, he was loose with the ball in the pocket and was stripped. The Tigers again gained possession in UA territory.
But Hurts rebounded on his very next drive. His second-best pass of the night (the first was the down-the-field dime to Stewart before UA was stuffed at the goal-line on four straight running plays) was a beam on the sideline to a wide open Miller Forristall for 22 yards to get the offense going despite it being second-and-15 from its own 5 yard-line. After a penalty, he ran for 12 yards. After a few plays, the quarter ended and Bo Scarbrough got going, picking up 11 yards on his next three carries. It set up a third-and-9 from the LSU 21 and you guys remember what happened at that point, it's this week's breakdown.
Lane Kiffin had a pair of pass-catchers on each side of the formation with Scarbrough in the backfield, alongside him in shotgun formation. After the snap, he pumped to his left, towards Calvin Ridley, before reversing the other way (like a designed half-spin) before a sprint out the other direction, to the right. Up front, Jonah Williams and Lester Cotton doubled down on the now front-side defensive tackle while Scarbrough was to kick out the defensive end, coming in on a wide rush because of Hurts' running ability (it may have been a holding, but wasn't called). Hurts then accelerates between the two key blocks, breaks Duke RIley’s tackle near the line of scrimmage and then has a one on one with Kendall Beckwith in what wouldn't have even been a first down at the point of contact. A side step, half hurdle, then burst to get by the leader of the Tiger defense and the remaining 15 yards was clear for an easy finish. 'Bama was on the board and it would be plenty on this night.
Should that have not been enough, he was at it again after UA got the ball back. It didn't take long, as a Ryan Anderson hit altered Danny Etling's first-down pass, landing in Minkah Fitzpatrick's hands for the only turnover the No. 1 team in the land forced. Again, Hurts was in a third-and-long (15). Again, a designed run was called, this time a QB draw, and he again broke multiple tackles to continue the drive and more importantly keep the clock rolling. It ended up being a 15-play drive, taking nearly 10 minutes off of the fourth-quarter clock and it included another third-down conversion via his legs. Alabama added a field goal to virtually end the game. Hurts and the offense held the ball for all but 1:25 in the final frame.
Jalen Hurts was a star and the name to know coming out of 'Bama-LSU, but that's only because so many defensive players for both sides simply put in great work. It was a longer night's work for the Tiger D, perhaps part of the reason Alabama's offense got progressively better, something UA's D should get considerable credit for.
Nope, we'll roll out with Anfernee Jennings and Marlon Humphrey. They combined for 12 tackles, including zero for loss. That is nothing special, right? Wrong. Those two helped to set the tone and defend Fournette as much as the linemen and linebackers who get so much of the credit. Jennings was able to take some reps from Anderson, believe it or not, and he completed a nice impression of the senior leader, sealing the edge against offensive tackles and tight ends in order for teammates to make plays against the top back or others. LSU averaged 1.2 yards per carry. It was a true team effort and few exemplified this like Humphrey. Listed at 6-foot-1, 198 pounds, Humphrey played much bigger than that. Sure, he had some nice hits on the outside against wide receivers, something we all expect at this point, but he did the same inside. On multiple Fournette totes, the tape showed clear angles for No. 7 should he hit the edge, with only Humphrey in the way. In three such cases, Humphrey prevented the loss of contain, taking on a pulling tackle successfully on one occasion. The legacy talent has been so very critical to Alabama's 2016 success in all facets of the defense.
Up front the group of course was dominant but the biggest flasher this week was Daron Payne. It wasn't just on the one play where he drove through the guard, placing him on his back, nearly sacking Danny Etling in the process. On several other plays, he was quickest off the ball, yes even with Williams in the game, and it created early re-directs from Fournette and Darrius Guice soon after touching the ball. The key to stopping those two top backs was redirecting and gang-tackling, each of which were executed, even when Fournette would gain nine yards on the tail-end of making three or four defenders miss. Payne was the key cog in his initial surge.
When Etling did complete passes, with only one of his 11 completions going for better than 13 yards, tackling in the secondary would be essential as well. Ronnie Harrison, who got his hands on the only LSU scoring attempt, Humphrey and Tony Brown each held their own at the back end. Harrison was matched up in man-coverage quite a bit and he held up, ending multiple drives with stops short of the sticks. He capped the defensive effort with back-to-back passes broken up to give the ball back to the offense to run the clock out. Humphrey and Brown, who played the nickel spot, got off of LSU blocks well on the outside and proved physical at the point of attack. Brown was used as an extra blitzer at times, rushing one third down Etling throw to the point he missed a wide open target. LSU would punt.
11 carries for 52 yards doesn't sound like much, but in a game where first downs were hard to come by and where power was the weapon of choice, former 5-star recruit Bo Scarbrough looked like one on this night. He lowered his shoulder on early downs for a few extra yards and did the same on the edge, but he flashed an array of moves we hadn't seen as a compliment to the leg drive. There was the stiff-arm, a high-step through one tackle and even a spin move that would have made Eddie Lacy proud within the 11 carries. Scarbrough, named Offensive Player of the Week by the UA coaching staff, was also the back on the field when the game was on the line Saturday night.
But even more impressive for Scarbrough was his pass-protection. He sprung Hurts on one third-down run that looked like a first down, picked up the blitz well on passing downs and of course made the key (though questionable) block on the lone touchdown on the night. There is still a heavily-taped left thumb on Scarbrough, but he can still carry the ball in that hand despite the lack of flexibility with all of his fingers. Could that have played into the referee's decision to keep his flag in his pants? We may never know, but Scarbrough was a major offensive key for the Crimson Tide's big win.
* Cameron Robinson had another big game. We wondered if he could follow up his elite play against Myles Garrett with a trip to Arden Key's house, and he did just that. Key was a non-factor in the game compared to what he had been doing to opposing offenses. Hurts was sacked just once.
* Kiffin deserves credit for adjusting. On many of the big plays (Stewart catch, Hurts score, Hurts third-down run), he adjusted to looks LSU had presented earlier in the night with great effectiveness. They had edge pressures by design on certain UA looks, but Kiffin played off of it for the key conversions. It wasn't pretty, but it was enough.
* Humphrey was great against the run and again in position all night long versus the pass, but again didn't make a play on the football. LSU tested him three times down the field, with the first two hauled in for catches despite near ideal positioning. Only one counted, Chark's, as the second was hauled in out of bounds on a poor throw. The third attempt was incomplete and showed Humphrey's best quality down the field, his ability to stack and legally alter the route. This is a sure-fire way not to lose the ball in the air.
* Alabama will be tested a bit more in the back-end in the next few weeks, so the replacing of Eddie Jackson wasn't quite realized versus LSU. It was a lot of man coverage and run support both ways.