Written by: Reid Handler
The #2 LSU Tigers traveled to Tuscaloosa, Alabama this past Saturday to take on the Crimson Tide, who as a shock to some were #4 in the new college football playoff rankings. This was finally the matchup that everyone was anticipating, Heisman favorite Leonard Fournette of LSU versus an overshadowed Derrick Henry of Alabama. I was lucky enough to see this slugfest first hand from the south end zone of Bryant-Denny Stadium with my own two eyes.
The setting–wet, cold, and rainy—couldn’t not have been better for a game that was already anticipated to feature a run heavy attack from both sides. When I pulled up to my younger sister’s house Friday night I thought, “what did I get myself into?” I quickly realized this would be quite the opposite by the time I left Sunday. The miserable weather left me with no option but to hangout with family and friends and talk football (not complaining).
Who was going to have the better game on the ground? Was Fournette going to go over 100 yards on Kirby’s (Smart) defense? Whose quarterback is going to step up make a play when needed? My opinion: it was going to be a hard hitting, physical game and that is exactly what we got.
Waking up and walking to ESPN’s College GameDay set Saturday morning, I had made up my mind that Alabama would win by 3 and I was sticking to that prediction. Lee Corso didn’t see it that way, however, picking LSU on a wet and sloppy College GameDay set Guest picker rapper Rick Ross happened to be the only one to pick Alabama from among the College GameDay principals.
After watching GameDay a great tailgating afternoon ensued of close football games that kept me flipping from channel to channel at tailgate. Georgia started off the afternoon with a convincing 27-3 victory over Kentucky, and the subsequent games brought plenty of nail biters.
In the 3:30 game I was glued to Clemson versus Florida State to see if the Tigers could live up to their new #1 ranking and not “Clemson” it away in a loss to the Noles. Florida State running back, Dalvin Cook, did all he could to rush the Noles to victory (running for 194 yards), but Deshaun Watson and Clemson proved too strong pulling out a 23-13 victory.
At this point I am soaked in rain and mud but loving every minute of it and I realize Ole miss and Arkansas are in overtime. Somehow, someway Arkansas pulled out a stunning 53-52 victory. That loss for Ole Miss opens up the SEC West for the two teams that will square off right in front of me on the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
When you talk about sports euphoria, I was there and walking into the main event. The atmosphere could not have been more electric with 101,000 screaming fans that had been waiting all day for this, including myself.
The game started out fast and physical; these boys were laying the wood. One thing was apparent in the first quarter however: Alabama was not going to let Leonard Fournette beat them.
This was the first time anyone had seen Fournette not able to break it to the second level and get into gear. Why is this? Because every time the ball touched his hands Alabama defenders swarmed him.
It was apparent that Alabama had delivered the first punch in this game, showing the ability to limit Fournette to an average of 1 yard per carry in the first quarter. In the second quarter is when the Tide began to turn it on offensively and show off a running back of their own, Derrick Henry who looked like what most were expecting from his counterpart, Fournette.
He was able to run through cavernous holes and excellent blocks from the Alabama offensive line, who did a tremendous job winning in the trenches. This is when it became apparent to me that Alabama came to play– and they were dominating every aspect of the game.
After an Alex Henry Field Goal gave the Tide a 3-0 lead, Derrick Henry continued to pound away at that LSU defense, which was on the field frequently due to the lack of production be the Tiger offense. After a Henry run of 20+ yards plus taking the Tide to the 3-yard line he was able to punch it in on the very next play, giving him 14 straight games with a rushing TD, tying former Florida great Tim Tebow.
I was sitting in a sea of Alabama fans watching all of this unfold not believing what I am witnessing. The score is 10-0 with six minutes left to go in the half?? Is LSU really going to go out like this? With a whimper? Tiger’s quarterback Brandon Harris must have read my mind, because he threw a 50-yard bomb for a TD to get the Tigers right back into game and regain some momentum.
This was quickly sucked away when a poor LSU kick off allowed Alabama to line up for a 55-yard field goal attempt to end the first half. People in the stands were terrified that it was going to be “Kick Six 2.0” including myself but Griffith was able to nail it giving Alabama the lead 13-10 going into the half.
Once the second half started any hope that LSU had was picked off right away when Brandon Harris threw his 1st interception of the year on the very first play. From then on out for the most part it was the Alabama defense, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry show. Drake a local product from the Georgia out of Powder Springs finished with 68 yards on 10 carries.
Alabama was in the driver’s seat and was not letting its foot off of the gas. At the end of three quarters, Fournette had rushed for only 13 yards on 15 carries while Henry was at 129 yards and 3 TDs on 27 rushes.
After a rare fumble by Henry to start the fourth quarter, LSU was able to recover in Alabama territory. This is when Fournette was able to bust out his longest run of the night, 18 yards. After a short touchdown run for Fournette, that was it for him, as he finished the day with 19 rushes for 31 yards and 1 TD.
This is when in my opinion the LSU defense started to tire and Derrick Henry proved he does just the opposite. He gets stronger. Defenders wanted nothing to do with #2 (Henry) at this point. He wore out the LSU defense for the rest of the game finishing with 218 yards on 38 carries, and 3 TDs.
You look at the numbers and see the highlights and you think that Fournette did not have a good game. He might tell you that he didn’t play well and he needs to get better. This is true, but that also true for everyone else in that LSU locker room. Fournette had a bad game because LSU as a team was outplayed by Alabama as a team. Alabama’s defensive front simply manhandled LSU’s offensive line.
Fournette didn’t have any yards rushing because he had nowhere to rush not because he was running out of bounds to avoid contact. Trust me– from 20 rows up I could literally hear the collisions.
If there was one game to visit my little sister (who graduates from Alabama this December) this was it. I had a great time with friends and family and got to see a tough-nosed hard-fought game all in one weekend. Alabama proved that their front seven is the real deal and it will be a force to be reckoned with in the post-season.