The Louisiana State University Tigers marched into Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and took a swing right at the kings of college football, knocking off the Crimson Tide in a late-game shoot out.
A lot of the Tigers’ success was found by capitalizing on Alabama’s mistakes, which started on the first drive when the Tide were in the Tigers’ red zone. Heisman candidate quarterback Tua Tagovailoa escaped the pocket and tried running the ball for the first down, but poor ball-handling caused Tagovailoa to fumble the ball. Following a Louisiana fumble recovery, Heisman candidate quarterback Joe Burrow and the Tigers marched right down the field and took an early 7-0 lead.
Alabama’s imperfections continued on their next drive. Following a third-down stop by the Tigers, head coach Nick Saban elected to punt the ball back to the Tigers and hopefully pin them in within their own 20-yard line. Punter Ty Perine mishandled the ball off of the snap, enabling the Tigers’ punt block defense to swarm him before he could get rid of the ball. Alabama’s defense was able to minimize the damage by holding the Tigers to a field goal.
The Crimson Tide finally found a spark, as receiver Jaylen Waddle returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 10-7. Burrow and the Tigers offense answered immediately when Burrow found wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. for a 29-yard touchdown pass, albeit a missed point-after-attempt following the score.
Tagovailoa and Alabama answered again, as wide receiver Devonta Smith was able to shake free from defenders and scamper his way into the end zone for a 64-yard score. Alabama’s special teams unit would match the Tigers’ missed PAT with one of their own, leaving the score at 16-13.
Louisiana State’s offense was able to keep it rolling with Burrow continuing to carve through the Crimson Tide’s defense with ease, including an incredible sideline throw to wide receiver Thaddeus Moss that set up the Tiger’s on Alabama’s one-yard line. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire got the call from there, running up the gut for the one-yard score. It looked like the Tigers were going to head into the half with a 26-13 lead, but a costly interception by Tagovoiloa set up the Tigers offense within scoring range before the half expired. Burrow uncorked another dime, finding Edwards-Hilaire for a 13-yard touchdown to blow the game open to a commanding 33-13 lead at the half.
As college football has seen over the past decade, one cannot simply count out Alabama, no matter the score. The Crimson Tide answered back with two touchdowns of their own to close the gap to 33-27 in the third quarter. After trading touchdowns, Alabama found themselves in a 46-34 hole with under two minutes remaining.
Tagovailoa connected with Smith for another long touchdown, 85 yards, to give the Tide another pulse. After Louisiana State recovered the ensuing onside kick, Edwards-Helaire delivered once again for the Tigers bulldozing his way through the Crimson Tide for a first down that would set up Burrow to kneel out the clock.
So what does this game mean for both teams going forward?
The Tigers are now in the driver’s seat to qualify for the College Football Playoffs as they have leapfrogged Ohio State for the first seed in the country. As for Alabama, they fall out of the bracket for the meantime, as they drop to the fifth seed, with Georgia taking over as the fourth seed. It was questionable for Georgia to take the spot over Alabama, as a 46-41 loss to the best team in the country seems better than Georgia’s loss to unranked South Carolina. Alabama will likely have a chance to make up for their loss and sneak into the playoffs, but they have to win out the rest of the season. Alabama will also be banking on Clemson, Ohio State and Georgia to lose to an inferior opponent for the selection committee to put them back into a playoff spot.
As for the Heisman race, Burrow may have secured his place on the ballot for the 2019 Heisman trophy after outplaying Tagovailoa on his home turf. Burrow is now fourth in all of college football in passing yards and third in passing touchdowns, with only four interceptions on the season and the Tigers to be the best team in the country. Throughout most of the football season, college and NFL, there has been speculation for the lower echelon of teams in the NFL, as they race to “tank for Tua” as in Tagavoilao. Going into the football season, it seemed like Tagovailoa was destined to be the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, but given the way the season has gone, the narrative may have flipped to Burrow being the top quarterback (and player) in this year’s draft. It is not a knock at Tagovailoa, who has also been excellent this season and will still very likely be a top-five pick in the draft, but more so praise for Burrow, who has been excellent in his first season as a starter.