In the end, LSU's Dwayne Thomas was only half right about Alabama

BATON ROUGE – In the end, LSU defensive back Dwayne Thomas was half right. LSU’s defense did "dominate" No. 1 Alabama’s offense Saturday night, holding the Crimson Tide to its lowest point total since it lost to LSU, 9-6, in overtime in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in the 2011 season.

But LSU’s offense was still miles away from dominating Alabama’s patented defense as the Tide limited the Tigers to 125 yards in a 10-0 victory in front of an at times deafening crowd of 102,321 at Tiger Stadium. LSU had not been held to that low a yardage total since managing only 123 in a 17-0 loss at Arkansas in 2014.

The Tigers (5-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) fell from No. 14 to No. 19 in the USA Today Coaches poll Sunday after netting just 33 yards rushing – their lowest since 2009 when they finished with 30 in a 30-26 win at Mississippi State. Tailback Leonard Fournette followed his school record 284-yard performance against Ole Miss two weeks ago by gaining 35 yards on 17 carries, which mirrored his total in a 30-16 loss at Alabama last year when he gained 31 yards on 19 carries.

Fournette did increase his average yards per carry against Alabama from 1.6 last year to 2.1 this year. As a team, LSU saw its average gain per play against the Tide fall from 4.0 last year to 2.4 on Saturday. The Tigers never got closer than the Alabama 30-yard line and were shut out at home for the first time since a 31-0 loss to Alabama in 2002.

Alabama improved to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the SEC with its 21st consecutive win – the longest streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision. It was not dominated.

“I feel like we’re going to dominate the game,” Thomas said during the open week. “I really see us dominating this year.”

Perhaps he meant just his side of the ball. But it didn’t matter because apparently the damage was done.

“We have some pretty hateful guys that play defense around here that are pretty good competitors,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said after the game, then delivered a possible connection to Thomas’ comments that were downplayed by Alabama’s players publicly last week.

“And when they get challenged, they usually respond, and I thought they responded really well tonight,” he said.

That comment led to a question concerning Thomas’ comments and if they provided extra motivation.

"We don't really pay attention to all that stuff," Saban said. "We know what we have to do."

Alabama’s defense, particularly, knows how to stop Fournette, who is expected to leave LSU a year early for the NFL Draft after this season as he is projected as high first round pick. In three games against Alabama, which finished second in his recruitment in 2013, Fournette has averaged 2.5 yards a carry as he has gained 145 yards on 57 carries with zero touchdowns. His only reception against Alabama in three years was for eight yards Saturday.

And Fournette’s last two Alabama games mirrored one another in more ways than just his final numbers.

“Our guys did it last year, and we played a lot of the same stuff we played a year ago,” Saban said. “We played a 3-4 front. Everybody’s got a gap. Everybody’s got to win the block on the line. Everybody’s got to create a new line of scrimmage and keep contain on a guy. We can’t have one guy tackling. When you play a great player like that, everybody has to really focus on doing their job. We know what we have to do and we know how we have to play against great players, and Leonard Fournette may be as good a player as there is in college football.”

Saban has been saying that for three years now, but he has yet to see his words backed up in person.

“Our defense was outstanding,” Saban said.

“We struggled. Obviously, we struggled to run the ball,” LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron said.

LSU did lose starting left tackle K.J. Malone of Ruston in the first half to an arm injury. Maea Teuhema and Josh Boutte played some left tackle. The Tigers did get starting right tackle Toby Weathersby back after he had missed the last four games with a foot and ankle injury.

“They have a great defensive line,” LSU left guard William Clapp said. “We knew what they were going to do. It just didn’t work out for us. The offensive line has to play better. Our offensive line didn’t allow us to go out there and allow us to get long, sustaining drives. As a group, we all need to play better, including myself. It starts with us on Monday. It is going to be a real emphasis.”

LSU plays at Arkansas (6-3, 2-3 SEC) at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN. The Razorbacks upset No. 9 Florida, 31-10, on Saturday.

LSU’s defense, on the other hand, probably played its best game of the season under first-year coordinator Dave Aranda as it held the Tide to a season-low 323 yards, which was 175 yards below its average. Alabama’s 10 points were 33.9 below its SEC leading average. After three quarters, the game was 0-0.

“We didn’t score for three quarters. They didn’t score for four,” Saban said. “You have to give credit to LSU. Their defense played really, really well.”

Alabama has rarely been held under 20 points in recent seasons. Its previous low point total this season was 33. The low in 2015 was 19, and the low in 2014 was 14, which is the low for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin at Alabama as he started that season.

“They’re a good offense,” Orgeron said. “Last time I looked, they were scoring about 44 a game. I thought the defense just gave a valiant effort tonight.”

LSU’s defense dominated Alabama’s offense for most of the game, and Dwayne Thomas was in the center of it. He started for the first time this season as he opened as an extra defensive back and finished with nine tackles with three for losses, two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. Alabama had just five first downs in the first half before getting seven in the fourth quarter as it scored all 10 points in that period.

Quarterback Jalen Hurts led Alabama with 114 yards rushing on 20 carries. He gained 70 on nine carries in the final period with a 21-yard touchdown run on third and nine with 13:08 to play for a 7-0 lead. On LSU’s 50-yard, 15-play drive for a field goal that ate up 9:58, Hurts rushed for a 23-yard gain on third and 15 from the LSU 40. On third and nine, he rushed again for 11 yards and the first down. Four plays later, Adam Griffith put the game on ice at 10-0 with 2:41 to play with a 25-yard field goal.

“On two of his big runs, I could have had a sack on him,” defensive end Arden Key said. “I missed him, and it hurt us. My frustration level is at a 10. We played well defensively, but we didn’t do too well offensively. It is very frustrating. It is the sixth consecutive year we lost to them, and we thought we had them this year. It wasn’t the case.”

Coverage of LSU and commentary by Glenn Guilbeau supported by Hebert’s Town & Country Automobile Dealer in Shreveport located at 1155 East Bert Kouns Loop. Research your next Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep or Ram at http://hebertstandc.com/.

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