A few bonus observations, notes on Alabama’s loss at LSU

A few bonus observations, notes on Alabama’s loss at LSU

No need to sugar coat this.

Forget the playoffs, the rest of this Alabama football season will be about salvaging pride and building for the future after Saturday night’s 32-31 overtime loss to LSU. All the familiar problems returned in the second loss in a three-game span that officially torpedoed a season that began with a preseason No. 1 ranking.

So let’s get right to the weekly Sunday Rewind with notes and observations via DVR replay of Alabama’s latest loss.

— It was interesting to see the graphics and discussion right after kickoff discussing LSU QB Jayden Daniels’ running threat. That’s been Alabama’s defensive problem for a long time, and obviously we know how this game ends now, so it was an early hint of what’s to come. It’s also worth noting that Daniels only ran three times for seven yards before halftime, but has since become a real factor.

— Another ominous warning sign: a no-pass flag on the third play of the game. It was the first of nine penalties for 92 yards in what has been the theme of a frustrating season.

— But there were definitely flashes of old Alabama all night. There were missed coverages and broken plays, but the Tide recorded six sacks among 11 tackles for a loss. Anecdotally, it looked like LSU hit something for big yardage right after a punt or a big defensive play.

— With an offense that has struggled at times, Kool-Aid McKinstry’s punt returns have been an early season boost. In fact, he still leads the nation with 17.7 yards per punt return. Opponents, however, limited his opportunities. The LSU game was the third straight in which he didn’t get a punt return, followed by the Texas A&M game when he had just one attempt for negative two yards.

— Another important number is six. That’s the total number of turnovers Alabama has committed in nine games. That’s tied for second fewest in the nation. Dallas Turner’s touchdown return at Tennessee is remarkable for a defense that has changed games with non-offensive results.

— Bryce Young came out hot with three straight completions for 19, six and 21 yards, respectively. Jahmyr Gibbs ran strong in what looked to be the perfect energy boost coming off a bye week. But after he got to the LSU 4, Bryce Young’s signature play went awry for a change. A Steph Curry-like move in the open ended with a pass behind JoJo Earle. It looked like he got stopped on one of those plays that froze the DB in previous games, but the ball wasn’t thrown in front of Earle and things went south from there.

— Young’s next five passes were incomplete as he went 4-for-12 early in the second quarter as poor field position limited options. It was just back-and-forth field position over the next few possessions as LSU punted on each of its first four drives. LSU punter Jay Bramblett was consistent with a 41.8-yard average and a long of 55 on six punts.

— It’s also worth noting that Alabama punter James Burnip has seen dramatic improvement this fall. He averaged 47.7 yards with a long of 58 at LSU.

— I tried to spend more time watching the Alabama WRs run routes downfield at LSU and the lack of separation from the DBs was the most consistent observation. Young tried several times to fasten it tightly to the non-existent windows, but didn’t get much help.

— In addition to Ja’Corey Brooks catching seven passes for 97 yards, his teammates chipped in for four receptions and 38 yards. The running backs had 11 catches, while tight end Cameron Latu had three for 50 yards. This production is a stunning drop from last year when Jameson Williams and John Metchie changed the game.

— Young was sacked twice, but LSU recorded 10 quarterback hurries. There were several plays where the RBs seemed to miss their blocking assignments, which was always a key prerequisite for Alabama to beat the ball. Young was forced on nearly every throw in those three consecutive possessions starting at the 10- or 11-yard line.

— LSU did a good job getting freshman TE Mason Taylor into mismatches. He had a catch early in the second quarter on a play that looked a lot like the game-winning two-point conversion he caught in overtime. Two plays after Version 1.0 of that play, running back John Emory was left uncovered on a 30-yard catch that included a great open-field move on Alabama safety DeMark Hellams.

— After an INT and three straight punts, Alabama scored on 7 of its next 8 possessions. That sounds more efficient than it actually is because 4 of those 7 were field goals and only one was less than 30 yards. But there’s also something to be said for having a reliable shooter like Reichard who hasn’t missed in the past two games.

— Still, a 65-yard catch from Jase McClellan looked like it could have been a TD on the first of four FG drives. The Tide drove to the 10-yard line for a second time, but had to settle for a 3 when nobody was open again on third down. Young was fired.

— Drives like this show how Alabama can outscore LSU 465-367 and still lose. Also, remember, Alabama had two more offensive yards than Tennessee in that loss.

— LSU didn’t go three times Saturday night. Alabama had four such possessions.

— Alabama caught a real break on a Latu fumble that was nullified by a rule that seemed like news to everyone involved. I remember wondering what they could possibly discuss in a video review for so long. That ended with another FG and the halftime score 7-6.

— After the break, both Alabama and LSU went on long, long drives. The Tide drove 55 yards in 15 plays to get things going. It was 6:49 out of hours.

— On the drive Roydell Williams established his role as a short-yardage back. He converted twice on fourth-and-one plays and later scored a pair of two-yard TDs. The Hueytown product’s stat line wasn’t one for the scrapbook, but his seven carries for 11 yards gained positive yards each time.

— Alabama had one of the highest sack rates of its game, but only had five stops at or behind the line Saturday.

— A third straight FG drive gave Alabama its first lead at 9-7 after that 15-play march. It was the first in a series that continued until the last shot. Several times it looked like Alabama had the hits it needed to get some air, but the proper defensive stops never came.

— After a 15-play Alabama drive, LSU went 11 plays and 75 yards on a touchdown drive that cut 4:41 down. Touchdowns vs. Field Goals. Repeat again.

— Kayshon Boutte is LSU’s top receiver who didn’t have a catch in nearly 20 minutes of action, but ended up being the Tigers’ top target. His seven catches led the team, three of which went for first downs. Among the biggest was going third-and-seven on an 11-play TD drive. The catch came with former teammate Eli Ricks in coverage to set up a touchdown.

— Ricks appeared to play well most of the night, but was targeted late in his second start at Alabama. He was flagged for pass interference a few plays after Boutte’s third-down conversion.

— Alabama appeared in trouble when it went 3-and-out for the fourth time of the night after an LSU touchdown with a 14-9 deficit. The Tigers returned it after gaining one first down.

— While the WRs struggled, it’s fair to say Young’s accuracy wasn’t as sharp on a number of throws. He completed less than half of his passes for just the second time as Alabama’s starter, going 25-for-51 with 328 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

— Gibbs’ 34-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter hinted at a frenzied pace that would continue the rest of the night. Alabama entered the quarter in jeopardy of its first game without a touchdown since a loss to LSU in 2011, but scored twice before halftime.

— The key play in the fourth quarter came after Alabama took a 15-14 lead. Facing third-and-five at the Alabama 45, LSU converted thanks to a pair of Tide flags on the same play. The Tigers ruled offside and conceded Ricks’ second pass interference of the night. Damion Ramos hit a 32-yard field goal to restore the lead a few plays later, 17-15.

— For all its offensive woes, when Alabama needed points in the fourth quarter, it worked out. After gaining just 57 yards in the third quarter, the Tide put up 173 (7.9 per game) in the fourth. That converted 2 of 3 third downs in the fourth quarter on a night when Alabama was 5-for-15.

— No third down was bigger than the run to find Brooks for a 41-yard touchdown with 4:44 to play. Again, it was a moment. At least it would have been in previous generations of this Alabama program that had that instinct to finish off a wounded opponent.

— A couple of plays on the next LSU drive summed things up for a tired-looking Alabama defense. Daniels’ 31-yard run pushed the ball past the 50, but it was Josh Williams’ third-and-seven run that felt like a metaphor for Alabama’s season. The Tiger RB ran over several Tide tackles and carried several more to the 7-yard line. LSU needed a touchdown to keep pace and that third play set up Mason Taylor’s TD on the next play.

— Again, Alabama answered to force OT. Young had three completions for 15 yards on the drive. Latu, Burton and Earle each had one, but with the game-winning touchdown within striking distance, Alabama had three consecutive fumbles from the 28-yard line. Brooks was targeted on all three throws.

— Alabama trusted Reichard to make a FG after several shots in the end zone.

— In OT, Alabama turned to Roydell Williams again when it needed yards between tackles. RG Emil Ekiyor cleared the hole for Williams to break through to give Alabama a 31-24 lead.

— This would be over in two LSU snaps as Daniels lost for a first-play 25-yard TD. Dallas Turner was beaten at the rim before Jaylen Moody and Brian Branch were blocked in the open field. DeMarcco Hellams had no corner to stop the QB and the touchdown made it a one point game.

— Brian Kelly didn’t hesitate on a two-point play that Saban later said he didn’t expect. Alabama then called a timeout, but was nearly caught with 12 men in formation for the deciding play. Malachi Moore escaped just in time, but Daniels to Taylor cut it shut to slam the window for Alabama’s national title run.

Thank you for reading to the end.

Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.

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