Jalen Hurts unfazed by Death Valley, runs Alabama past LSU
Tiger Stadium is one of the most intimidating environments in college football, even more so under the lights.
Fortunately for Alabama, quarterback Jalen Hurts doesn’t get intimidated. Just one year removed from high school, the true freshman was the equalizer Saturday for the Crimson Tide in a 10-0 shutout of rival LSU.
For three quarters, this was a defensive slugfest unlike any we’ve seen to date in the SEC — or the rest of the country for that matter. It was the first scoreless tie at the FBS level going into the fourth and final frame all season. The Tigers were up to the challenge hosting the No. 1 Crimson Tide.
However, Hurts finally found some cracks in the Bayou Bengals defense in the last 15 minutes and ran ‘Bama to 9-0.
Not effective through the air, Hurts was 10-of-19 passing for 107 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. The INT came on the Tide’s first possession, as LSU announced to the capacity crowd early that this was going to be a battle.
But Hurts ran 20 times for 114 yards and a TD, with the majority of his damage — highlighted by a 21-yard scamper that started the scoring — coming in the fourth quarter. Alabama turned a one-score game into two with a late field goal. On that drive, Hurts converted a 3rd-and-15 and a 3rd-and-9 with his legs.
While Tigers quarterback Danny Etling didn’t lose the contest, in the end he proved to be incapable of winning it.
The Purdue transfer was only 11-of-24 for 92 yards with no TDs and a pick. Harassed from start to finish by the Crimson Tide front seven, Etling (below) was sacked five times and hurried almost every time he looked to throw.
To be fair, his job became much more difficult with his primary weapon, running back Leonard Fournette, again unable to break through against ‘Bama. Held to 31 yards on 19 carries a year ago in Tuscaloosa, the Heisman Trophy hopeful didn’t fare much better in Baton Rouge with 35 yards on 17 attempts.
In three career games against the Tide, Fournette has 57 rushes for 145 yards and just one touchdown. And three losses.
Having missed three games in 2016 due to injury, there was hope that Fournette could get back into the Heisman discussion after a 284-yard outing two weeks ago vs. Ole Miss. Instead, Alabama likely canceled any plans for New York.
LSU put together a spirited effort on defense for the better part of three quarters. Crimson Tide tailbacks Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough did combine for 105 yards, although their yards-per-carry average of 4.6 — neither had a run longer than 13 yards — was rather pedestrian. Hurts was also under wraps until, all of a sudden, he wasn’t.
Once the ‘Bama defense answered the Hurts touchdown with a pick of Etling on the next possession, Death Valley became deathly silent.
In addition to the Bayou Bengals falling to 5-3 and out of the West race, coach Ed Orgeron’s bid to remove the “interim” tag from his title went out the window, too. Now he’s just like the fired Les Miles: He can’t beat the Tide.
Ultimately, Orgeron’s chances of becoming the top Tiger in town — Pelican State native or not — were slim to none anyway. If LSU stands any chance to compete with Alabama coach Nick Saban, it can’t settle for a well-traveled defensive line guru who’s an ace on the recruiting trail and popular with locals.
The difference between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers right now is coaching. It takes more than collecting blue-chip talent.
Saban has empowered offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to modernize his scheme and take advantage of the dual-threat ability of Hurts. And then defensively, you’d never know that long-time coordinator Kirby Smart is no longer there.
Fournette (above) is described by pro scouts as a generational talent — maybe the best they’ve seen since future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson was at Oklahoma a decade ago. Nevertheless, he’s now 0-for-3 facing Saban and Co. and again was essentially a non-factor. His longest play from scrimmage was a paltry 9 yards.
I’ve professed most of this season that ‘Bama can’t be beaten unless it throws up all over itself and gives one away.
The Tide committed twice as many turnovers as LSU did (2 to 1). They were also flagged for twice as many penalties (6 to 3). It still wasn’t enough, though. Hurts made the plays necessary in crunch time to keep his club unbeaten.
In all likelihood, one score would have been enough the way Alabama is playing defense right now. The Bayou Bengals managed just 125 yards and 6 first downs in a 60-minute football game — at home in front of an electric crowd, mind you. They were 4-of-15 on third down and came up empty on a pair of fourth-down tries.
With Mississippi State and Chattanooga on tap the next two weeks, both at home, the Crimson Tide should be 11-0 heading into the Iron Bowl.
Auburn might be the only team in the SEC capable of beating ‘Bama at its own game. Even if the Tigers struggled to put away Vanderbilt in Week 10, they are winners of six straight and will test the Tide’s top-rated rush defense.
The game will be at Bryant-Denny Stadium, which is another obvious advantage for Alabama, although the lone blemishes on Auburn’s résumé to this point are defeats to Clemson and Texas A&M — they were Nos. 2 and 4, respectively, in the first College Football Playoff rankings that were released this past Tuesday.
LSU gave the Tide everything they could handle for 45 minutes. It wasn’t enough. Perhaps the other Tigers can go a full 60.