BATON ROUGE, La. – All that gumbo, all those adult beverages, all the “Not Today Saban” T-shirts. All the energy and hype, all the hash tags (#freedevinwhite) wasted in and around Tiger Stadium for Game of the Century Whatever Roman Numeral You Want to Put Behind It.
Stuff all of it, just like No. 1 Alabama stuffed No. 3 LSU, reminding the Tigers and the country Saturday night: The Tide are who we thought they were.
And maybe a little more.
Alabama’s 29-0 win was not quite as cartoonish as its other eight wins, but it was clearly the most impressive of the season.
The defense that was questioned — 16th in the country, the horror! — pitched its third shutout of the Tigers since 2012 (all in Louisiana).
Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was just as lethal, throwing a career-high 42 times (completing 25), but he revealed some actual human traits in the process. Tagovailoa threw his first interception of the season in his 179th throw of the campaign. That affected him not even a little. He followed that up with a career-long 44-yard third-quarter touchdown run to put a sleeper hold on the festivities.
The only drama from Tua — a grimace and a limp as he left the field — brought to mind that sprained knee suffered earlier this season. Tua called it a “tweak.” Saban called it something less than that.
“He doesn’t have a knee injury anymore,” Saban said. “He’s really recovered pretty well from that. He looked like he could run pretty well to me.”
What seemed worse — for the long-term health of Alabama’s championship hopes — was a sack on the game’s first drive that was wiped out by a false start. On the game’s 11th snap, Tagovailoa was sandwiched between safety Grant Delpit and Kary Vincent Jr.
With Tua slow in getting up, the decibel level in Death Valley reached 109 — roughly the sound of chainsaw revving next to your ears.
The actual “injury” is best left unsaid, but let’s just say males can relate.
“I’m not going to tell you where he got hit,” Saban said. “I was actually happy to hear that’s where he got hit because I knew he’d be right back.”
Tagovailoa missed all of one play. Striking through the air was clearly the strategy by Saban. With 31 throws at halftime, Tagovailoa already surpassed his prior career-high (30). And for those who had the over in Tua appearing in the fourth quarter for the first time this season, cash your tickets. Turns out the kid can play in the final 15 minutes, too. But we already knew that from January.
Not that Saban needed him on Saturday. Unless LSU linebacker Devin White was going to play defense and offense, this one had the feel of being over at halftime. White, suspended for targeting in the first half, had eight tackles in the second half. In the same space, Alabama added 13 more points.
On the same night those 109 decibels assaulted the ears, there was the slow release of energy from the 102,000 who had waited all day from some Crimson Tiger bait.
They got a result shoved in their face.
“I wouldn’t say [we’re] unstoppable or unbeatable,” Tagovailoa said. “I feel like we get into this mode where it’s like we’ve got a good rhythm going as an offense. We’re going to try to make every opportunity count.”
Against an elite defense, Bama gained 576 yards piling up 29 first downs. Meanwhile, LSU gained no or negative yards on 20 of its first 35 snaps. That betrayed the effort the Tigers put into the pregame. Coach Ed Orgeron came out early fist-pumping to the student section.
Defensive end Breiden Fehoko was out early with a couple of teammates and did the Polynesian Haka dance. The crowd went nuts. The Tigers fell flat.
So flat they were outrushed 281-12 by the Tide. The Alabama defense posted 10 tackles for loss and five sacks. Joe Burrow, LSU’s previously inspirational quarterback, was running for life most of the night.
“Our offensive line was getting beaten one-on-one,” Orgeron said. “We had max protection. Those guys were beating us. They stunned us. We tried everything we possibly could.”
The Tide have as much of a lock on a College Football Playoff spot as there can be four days into November. With the win, they locked up the SEC West.
It’s safe to assume Bama can afford a loss from here on in and still get to the CFP. Even if it’s to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game four weeks from Saturday night.
That is unless that loss is to The Citadel on Nov. 17, which is not even worth mentioning.
After what we’ve seen and what they’ve accomplished, would you drop them out of the top four?
When did Alabama’s schedule become that of UCF? You know, the much-derided slate of the Knights who on Thursday played (and beat) their first team with a winning record.
Alabama now has beaten two top-25 teams by a combined 51 points. (The other being Texas A&M, 45-23 on Sept. 22). It turned out it doesn’t matter who Bama plays. It’s just this good. Again.
“We really wanted to make a statement in this game,” Saban said. “A lot of people talked about [our] schedule.”
Alabama’s performance fell short of its average victory margin (38) and average points (54), but that was to be expected against a top-10 scoring defense.
This was a nationally televised confirmation of the obvious: In a way, Alabama has become everything SEC loyalists are known for hating — flashy, (at times) finesse, high-scoring.
If this was BYU redefining the game in the 1970s and 1980s, those loyalists would be making fun of this offense. Because it resembles Clemson in many ways, they must respect it. Clemson has beaten Alabama once in the College Football Playoff, and things are trending toward a fourth consecutive meeting in the CFP in two months.
But back to the present. There was wonder all over the country what crunch time would look like for Bama. Tagovailoa, the Heisman Trophy front-runner, had taken less than 60 percent of the snaps all season. The kid and his team hadn’t been rattled.
I asked Saban in the run up about keeping his team sharp for that crunch time when Alabama was winning games by more than five touchdowns. He said he could only use a boxing analogy: Drop your gloves and you’re going to get hit in the mouth. Nick loves boxing. Just a hint, but he’s falling in love with this team.
“There was going to be a choice everybody was going to have to make in the game today,” Saban concluded. “Whether they were going to keep on fighting or surrender to the circumstances.”
It was the purple and gold revelers and their team that eventually capitulated.
At least the gumbo tasted good.
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