For the fourth time since 2005, Alabama and LSU were not able to determine a victor after four quarters.
For all but two drives in regulation and one in overtime, Alabama quarterback Blake Sims was sub-pedestrian. However, much as he has all year, when the Tide needed Sims, he stepped up big.
Sims, who had been a solid performer for much of the 2014 campaign for Alabama, completed just 20-of-46 for 209 yards on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. It took until the final drive of regulation for Sims to complete a pass 20 yards down the field or greater. He also completed a 24-yard pass on the first play of overtime. However, for all of his struggles until the final drive of regulation, this point stands: When it mattered, Sims came up the biggest and led the Tide to the Promised Land.
In the tying drive and overtime, Sims was 6-of-8 outside of a spike to kill the clock. For the remainder of the game, he was 14-of-37. Coming into the game, Sims had completed 65.5 percent of his passes for the season with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. The numbers were uneven, but they sparkled when Alabama required Sims to be at his best.
The final drive of the fourth quarter for Sims was necessary to force overtime. An injury and fumble by T.J. Yeldon in the last two minutes led to a go-ahead field goal by the Tigers with under a minute to go. With his team trailing, 13-10, Sims took the Tide 55 yards in the final 50 seconds for the tying field goal before completing a fade to DeAndrew White in overtime for the eventual game winning score.
This game included strong defensive adjustments on each side. However, one was much more effective than the other, while played a major role in the outcome.
LSU dominated the time of possession and the amount of plays in the second half. The Tigers’ method on defense revealed what they were not able to do in the first half – get off the field on third down. On offense, the solution was equally simple – run the ball right at the Tide and move the chains. The Tigers ran the ball 56 times for 183 yards. LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings had 13 of those carries. However, Alabama adjusted to the mobility of the Tiger quarterback by utilizing more zone defense and trying to keep the ball in front of both the linebackers and defensive backs.
While Alabama was able to limit Jennings in the final period, it was LSU running back Leonard Fournette who wore down the Alabama defense. Fournette carried the ball 21 times for 79 yards, most of which were hard earned between the tackles. This is typically an area of strength for the Tide defense, which had allowed just 78 yards per game coming into the contest.
Alabama started the game with Sims unsuccessfully attempting to get the ball down the field. This approach gave way to a shift in focus and an effort to establish the running game. When this occurred, the Tide started moving the ball at the end of the first half. However, in crunch time, LSU put seven or eight in the box each play and forced Sims to beat them. Alabama’s young signal caller was not able to do so until the final drive in regulation.
Amari Cooper caught only two passes for 11 yards in the second half, after putting the team on his back in the first half with six catches for 72 yards and a score. However, Sims’ inability to get the ball down the field for much of the second half really handcuffed Cooper. In addition, Cooper dropped a couple of easy ones late in the second half. Despite the tough 30-minute stretch, there is no way that the Tide would be victorious without the 6-1 junior wideout.
However, it was not just Sims’ struggles in regulation which made the night difficult for Alabama: special teams plagued the Tide again. Adam Griffith missed a 27-yard field goal that ended up playing a huge factor in allowing the game to go to overtime in the first place. However, Griffith redeemed himself by drilling an equally short 27-yard field goal to create overtime on the next-to-last play of regulation. On the LSU side, kickoff specialist Trent Domingue kicked the ball out of bounds right after the Tigers took their 13-10 lead. That error set up the tying drive for Alabama.
While the game was exciting, it was not the cleanest of games. The contest included several drops each way: key penalties, and nine punts by each team. Alabama was 8-20 on third downs, while LSU was 9-22.
As far as the journey moving forward, LSU has been relegated to spoiler as the Tigers have officially been eliminated from any spot in the College Football Playoff and the SEC title. Conversely, Alabama still controls its own destiny and hosts both Mississippi State and Auburn, its two toughest games remaining. The Tide have Western Carolina sandwiched in the middle.
Prior to the victory, Alabama really had not accumulated any strong victories. The Tide boasted of a season-opening non-conference win against West Virginia, but fell to Ole Miss, 23-17, in the only other matchup they had against a ranked opponent. The LSU victory gives them another win against a top-25 team, plus momentum moving forward.