BATON ROUGE, La. - No one gave LSU a chance to beat Alabama, and heading into the game Saturday night, it seemed like for good reason. The Crimson Tide were the No. 2 team in the country. The Tigers didn't have nine key defensive players. The spread was 28.5 points.
But LSU gave itself an opportunity, trailing by six points throughout the fourth quarter. The game was only decided when sophomore quarterback Max Johnson's final pass fell incomplete in the end zone, and even though LSU lost 20-14, coach Ed Orgeron ran off the field beating his chest and raising his arms.
Every week, we rewatch the game to figure out what went right or wrong, determine three players of the game and choose three defining stats. Let’s review what almost became one of the biggest upsets in LSU history.
Before the open date last week, LSU had allowed 115 points combined over its previous three games. The coaches reviewed the tape and found the defensive schemes were too predictable. They installed eight new looks, Orgeron said.
The changes appeared on the first play. LSU, which often uses a 4-2-5 to cover spread offenses, came out with three linebackers. Personnel might have also demanded the adjustment because of LSU’s depleted secondary.
Defensive coordinator Daronte Jones blitzed often out of the scheme, a stark philosophical change. LSU entered with the lowest blitz rate (13.6%) among Power Five teams. By our count, the Tigers blitzed on roughly half of Alabama’s 63 plays.
The approach worked to near perfection. Alabama, which had scored 45.9 points per game, gained 308 yards total. The Crimson Tide punted six times, and two other drives ended in a turnover on downs and a fumble.
When it looked like Alabama would run away with the game up 20-7 in the third quarter, LSU forced three straight three-and-outs, the fumble and another three-and-out to give the offense a chance. Alabama gained 34 total yards over its final five possessions.
About the fourth quarter.
It’s not like LSU’s offense suddenly went cold in the final stretch of the game. Other than their two touchdown drives, the Tigers had gained 40 total yards before the start of the fourth quarter. The issues glared more with a chance to complete the upset.
LSU had three full possessions in the fourth quarter. The first started promising as junior running back Tyrion Davis-Price ripped off a 37-yard gain on fourth down to put LSU at Alabama's 8-yard line.
Davis-Price gained 1 yard on the next play. Then Johnson threw two incomplete passes, the second being a fumble overturned after review. LSU called another pass on fourth down. Johnson took too long to release the ball and overthrew Trey Palmer in the end zone.
Perhaps Orgeron should have settled for a field goal, but his approach the whole game was to pull out all the stops. He understood LSU needed touchdowns to win.
But the offense turned the ball over on downs again on its next possession as Johnson backpedaled away from pressure and overthrew freshman Jack Bech on fourth down.
By the time Johnson’s last pass fell incomplete in the end zone as time expired, LSU had wasted too many opportunities to upset Alabama. Orgeron wished the offense had a better plan, particularly in the second half.
The fake punt
We could see Avery Atkins and Jack Mashburn practicing the fake punt after practice Thursday evening before Orgeron started his news conference. Who knew it would actually show up in the game?
The call reflected Orgeron’s mentality of going for it all to beat Alabama. A fake punt. Fourth down attempts. He tried everything in his arsenal to beat the Crimson Tide.
After Orgeron used a timeout to call the play, the fake worked to perfection as Atkins ran toward the line of scrimmage, drawing Alabama’s defenders away from Mashburn, who snuck behind the defense. No one covered him, and Atkins popped the ball to him like a basketball shot.
LSU had tried a similar fake punt pass in 2018 against Auburn. It didn’t work then, and after the timeout, it was a wonder that Alabama didn't realize something fishy was about to happen.
Regardless, the call paid off, setting up LSU for its first touchdown and providing one of the highlights of the season.
Three defining stats
7: Orgeron had no reservations about going for it on fourth down. LSU attempted seven fourth-down conversions. It went 4 for 7.
6: LSU held Alabama to 6 net rushing yards, the lowest single-game total of coach Nick Saban’s tenure.
13: Alabama scored 13 points off turnovers, capitalizing on LSU’s mistakes to take the lead within five minutes of game time.
Players of the game
Will Anderson, OLB, Alabama: The star of Alabama’s defense, Anderson made 12 tackles, four tackles for loss and 1 1/2 sacks. He even broke up a pass.
Neil Farrell Jr., DL, LSU: A lot of LSU’s defensive players could be recognized, but Farrell led the team with 2 1/2 tackles for loss, including one sack.
Bryce Young, QB, Alabama: LSU mostly contained Young. He still threw for 302 yards and two touchdowns to ensure Alabama escaped with a win.