The 2011 matchup between LSU and Alabama, billed as the "Game of the Century," was all defense in a 9-6 LSU win. The 2019 edition had its own "Game of the Century" feel, but it produced the complete opposite result. No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Alabama went on offensive clinics in a that looked more like a traditional Big 12 game than an SEC grudge match.
The outcome itself wasn't all that surprising as both teams entered Saturday with top-five scoring offenses and Heisman Trophy-contending quarterbacks in Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, respectively. But it does show how far these teams have come in the past few years. We're certainly far removed from Alabama coach Nick Saban wondering if this is "what we want football to be."
So how did LSU pull off what few teams have done in Tuscaloosa, Alabama? since the turn of the decade? Obviously, it starts with its superb offense. "They have no weaknesses on offense," Saban said afterward. That's true. Consider that the Tigers achieved the following by posting their 45 points
- Most allowed by Alabama in the Saban era
- Most allowed by Alabama in any game since 2003, and that was a five-overtime loss to Tennessee
- Most scored by LSU against Alabama in series history
- More points than what LSU has scored against Alabama in their five prior meetings
The 87 combined points, which shattered the over/under in the third quarter, were also the most in series history.
LSU established that tone early. Burrow finished with three touchdown passes on 31-of-39 passing and completed his first 14 passes. All three of Burrow's touchdown passes came in the first half. Per Jason Starrett of The Athletic, Burrow became the first visiting quarterback to throw at least three first-half touchdown passes at Bryant-Denny Stadium vs. Saban. He's also just the second quarterback to accomplish such a feat in either half against Saban in Tuscaloosa.
Though Alabama was certainly capable of coming back -- the Tide scored 28 second-half points and pulled to within a touchdown three separate times -- LSU did a great job of asserting itself early. The 33-13 halftime deficit was the most by Saban at Alabama, besting the 15-point deficit the Crimson Tide faced in the College Football Playoff National Championship last season. In fact, Saban was 1-4 all-time when facing a 20-point deficit before Saturday evening, per Sopan Shah of ESPN Stats and Info.
We've established that LSU has been able to do what it wants when it wants against whoever it wants on offense, but what about the defense? Certainly, this is not the Tigers' strongest defensive unit. The Tide still racked up 541 yards of total offense at nearly 8 yards per play. It's the second time this season LSU has allowed more than 500 yards in a game. But credit defensive coordinator Dave Aranda for getting pressure on Tagovailoa. Though the Tigers recorded only one sack, it hurried Tagovailoa five times -- and Tagovailoa has been dealing with a high ankle sprain. As noted by CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd earlier in the game, Aranda wasn't afraid to bring help from the secondary to knock Tagovailoa off-center.
Coach Ed Orgeron and his staff had the right game plan to beat Alabama. They got out to a big lead and weathered the Crimson Tide's furious comeback with response after response. Two of Alabama's second-half touchdown drives were followed by LSU touchdowns to stay at arm's distance. Burrow was also money in key second-half situations. In the second half alone, he had two first-down passes in third-down situations and picked up two more third downs with his legs. He finished the day with 64 yards on the ground.
LSU had to play just about perfect to beat Alabama on the road. Based on the numbers above, it's hard to say they did anything less.