UPDATE: LSU hangs tough but falls short at No. 1 Bama

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If nothing else, LSU playing Alabama doesn’t look as hopeless as it often has for the Tigers. 

Alabama knew the Tigers were here Saturday night.

One problem.

“We came here to beat Alabama.” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said.

Wasn’t happening.

“Our guys busted their tails on the game plan,” he added. “We just didn’t make the plays when we needed to.”

“There’s a lot of belief in that locker room. Those guys would be ready to play (Bama again) tomorrow morning.”

Instead the Tigers woke up knowing only that they gave the No. 1-ranked Tide a battle before falling 24-10.

“We had not had a hard test yet,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Hard defines you. We did not play a great game … but give LSU’s players some credit.” 

LSU had to settle for covering the biggest point spread (21.5 points) the long, traditionally hard-fought series had seen in 24 years.

No. 19 LSU (6-3, 3-2 SEC) still got saddled with its seventh straight loss in the series. Alabama stayed unbeaten at 9-0, 6-0.

The Tigers had their moments — they actually outgained the Tide 306-299.

And they had their chances — so many of quarterback Danny Etling’s shots downfield that were the core of the game plan came tantalizingly close to connecting. 

But after hitting on a 31-yarder on LSU’s first possession, Etling and his receivers never quite connected deep again.

 “If we hit those deep balls, we can beat these guys,” LSU receiver Russell Gage said. “We’re not just going to have a moral victory over not executing.

“For it to be the way we draw it up, basically, and not complete it, it’s frustrating.”

Etling was 12 of 26 for 137 yards with one costly interception, only his second of the year. LSU even gave freshman quarterback Myles Brennan is first taste of SEC action on its  final drive.

“We had a good game plan,” said Etling. “We were pretty comfortable in moving the ball. We’ve just got to finish and make the plays.”

So Bama is still Bama — and the Tide and Saban’s famed Process was immune to the nutty craziness that infected a wide swath of the nation’s top 10 Saturday.

The Tigers never really threatened to join the upset parade, but hung around all night scheming and fighting  and mostly waiting for the one big game-changing play that might turn the Tide.

It never came.

“Obviously they’re very good on defense,” Orgeron said. “But we moved the ball sometimes. We just didn’t make the plays we’re supposed to make, convert and put the ball in the end zone at the end.”

It wasn’t for lack of trying.

LSU better than matched the Tide yard for yard — total offense: LSU 306, Alabama 299 — and even outrushed Bama by stacking the box and holding the Alabama machine to a mere 116 yards on the ground, 218 yards below its SEC-leading average.

“We didn’t have a lot of consistency on offense,” Saban said. “But we made enough plays when we had to.”

Mostly, it was Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts.

The Tigers  sacked him four times, but the water bug also made most of the night’s biggest plays while throwing for Bama’s first touchdown and the running for the last one.

He threw for 183 yards and his 44 yards rushing — scrambling, mostly — was more than anything the Tide’s deep stable of running backs managed.

It was part of the price for stacking the box against the Tide running game — and it surprised Orgeron.

“I did not think their receivers would challenge us like they did,” he said. “That was the difference in the game. 

“We could not cover their receivers man-to-man like we usually do.”

Still, Dave Aranda’s LSU defense held the Tide to a season low in yards.

Offensively, LSU’s Matt Canada  tried it all, even adding the “Wildcat” formation to the Tigers’ arsenal with Darrell Williams and Derrius Guice taking direct snaps.

Williams got loose with one for 54 yards to set up his own 2-yard power dive that got LSU to within 21-10 early in the fourth quarter.

Alabama built on a 14-3 halftime lead when it finally took advantage of a third-quarter punting contest for enough field position to drive 56 yards and take a 21-3 lead on Hurts’ 3-yard run.

Bama punter J.K. Scott was an unsung hero, with his 51.6-yard average on high towering punts insuring that LSU started six of its drives inside its own 13-yard line.

LSU answered with Williams’ runs to cut it to 21-10, but a Hurts scramble kept alive an Bama drive for a  40-yard field goal that put it away.

LSU never really threatened again.

 The Tigers had their chances in the first half, when they also outgained the Tide (176-166) with more first downs (9-7).

LSU was even 6 for 10 on third down conversions while the Tide was but 2 of 6.

The difference for Bama’s 14-3 lead was Etling’s ill-advised pass late in the first quarter –— on the first play of LSU’s only brush with good starting field position, their own 38  — that was intercepted by the Tide’s Ronnie Harrison at the LSU 37-yard line.

“That was critical,” Orgeron said. “Got to talk to Matt. I’m sure the throw wasn’t right.”

Alabama scored four plays later on Bo Scarborough’s 9-yard run for a 14-0 Tide lead.

The Tigers, on the other hand, had to settle for a field goal at the business end of an impressive 71-yard drive midway through the second quarter despite setting up first-and-goal from the 5 after DJ Chark’s acrobatic catch from Etling.

“Alabama made the plays they were supposed to,” Orgeron said. “We didn’t.”””

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts tries to avoid LSU linebacker Corey Thompson during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Brynn Anderson

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