TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Baby steps, especially against your big brother Bama, basically since the 1970s.
No. 19 LSU took several positive steps in its 24-10 loss to No. 2 Alabama Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
-First of all, the Tigers beat the dog out of the point spread, which had them as a 22-point underdog. For those of you scoring in Vegas, LSU won 32-24.
-Secondly, LSU out-gained Alabama 306 yards to 299. In the Tigers' last two losses to Alabama combined - 10-0 last year 30-16 in 2015 - LSU totaled 307 yards and allowed 757. That is a step in the right direction.
-Take away a rare interception by LSU quarterback Danny Etling late in the first quarter with LSU down just 7-0 that set Alabama up at the Tigers' 37-yard line for a 14-0 lead, and it could have been more interesting.
-Right after that, LSU drove 70 yards impressively in 11 plays to a first and goal at the Alabama 5-yard line as Etling completed 3 of 6 passes for 57 yards. And the Tigers could not punch it in, settling for a field goal and 14-3 deficit midway in the second quarter. And it remained that way through the first half.
-LSU's defense kept it in the game as it did in the 10-0 loss last year that was 0-0 after three quarters. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's unit forced four punts in the first half, including back-to-back three-and-outs to end the half after the Tigers cut it to 14-3. The defense forced two straight three-and-outs to start the second half, too. LSU had three possessions in the third quarter to draw closer than 14-3, but failed to do so.
-Then after Alabama took a commanding, 21-3 lead, the Tigers embarked on their most impressive drive of the game - 67 yards in four plays for a touchdown to cut it to 21-10 late in the third quarter. Tailback Darrel Williams took a direct snap and rushed 54 yards to the Alabama 2, and later scored the touchdown. Nice bit of offense there.
-Finally, LSU kept competing, kept moving the ball like it hasn't against Alabama in too long and gained some respectability. More importantly, the Tigers (6-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) clearly look like they can finish 9-3 and 6-2 with remaining games against lowly Arkansas and Tennessee and a suddenly struggling Texas A&M.
A 9-3 and 6-2 season was a pretty common prediction before the season. It didn't include a loss to Troy or Mississippi State, but it could end up being a very good season for Coach Ed Orgeron.
Wouldn't start celebrating, though. It was disturbing that LSU did not even call a timeout over the last few minutes of the game to try to get within 24-17 and try an onside kick.
Orgeron was apparently happy with the 24-10 score. Considering some of the scores Alabama has won by this season - 59-0, 66-3, 41-9 and 45-7 - I guess that is understandable, but a bit strange.
But improvement nonetheless.
Now, if LSU could just start better against these schools from the state of Alabama, it can improve more.
-Troy takes a 17-0 lead in the third quarter and goes up 24-7 in the fourth quarter before LSU starts playing, but cannot come back all the way and loses 24-21 back on Sept. 30.
-No. 11 Auburn takes a 20-0 lead in the second quarter before LSU wakes up and wins 27-23 on Oct. 14.
-No. 2 Alabama takes a 21-3 lead in the third quarter here Saturday night before LSU finally started playing.
Alabama took a 24-10 lead with 13:25 to go in the fourth quarter on a 40-yard field goal by Andy Pappanastos after an 11-play drive of 52 yards in 3:32. And it remained there.
The Tigers were consistent throughout the game at moving the ball. They gained 176 yards in 37 plays in the first half to 166 on 28 plays by the Tide. LSU had 73 rushing yards total on 21 carries after netting 33 on 27 carries in a 10-0 loss in 2016 when former Tiger Leonard Fournette led LSU in rushing with 35 yards on 17 carries.
The Crimson Tide took a 14-0 lead with 14:17 to go in the second quarter on a nine-yard touchdown run by tailback Bo Scarbrough. Alabama needed only drive 37 yards in four plays for the score because of Etling's early Christmas present. Free safety Ronnie Harrison intercepted Etling with eight seconds left in the first quarter to set the Tide up at LSU's 37-yard line. Etling was throwing for Guice, but he was well covered by Harrison, and Etling threw it behind Guice to boot.
But Etling came right back, completing passes of 13 yards to wide receiver Stephen Sullivan and 21 and 23 yards to Chark for that first and goal at the Alabama 5.
Alabama took a 7-0 lead with 6:08 to go in the first quarter with a 90-yard dive in nine plays, eating up four minutes and 10 seconds. Quarterback Jalen Hurts hit sophomore tight end Irv Smith Jr., of Brother Martin High in New Orleans on a 4-yard pass for the touchdown. Smith is the son of former Saints tight end Irv Smith, a first round pick in 1993 out of Notre Dame.
Hurts set up the touchdown with a 47-yard deep ball to wide receiver Henry Ruggs, who beat cornerback Kevin Toliver II on the play.
The first quarter was somewhat even as Alabama had 106 yards on 18 plays to 72 yards on 15 plays by the Tigers.
In the end, there is hope. LSU was supposed to lose by 22 points, and no one seemed to argue with that - even much of the Tigers' often delusional fan base.
Today the point spread. Tomorrow, Alabama?