Yes, Alabama’s defense was dominant from start to finish last night. LSU crossed midfield just once in the entire game. You’d have to go back a ways to find a #1 team that was so stymied offensively.
But while the D for the Tide was good, the D for the Tigers wasn’t bad. At least not against the run. At least not until late.
The difference in the game was Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s ability to connect in the short passing game. As we pointed out yesterday, McCarron was effective with dump-offs and short-range passes in the squad’s first meeting back in November. Clearly, Jim McElwain decided to go West Coast offense more often in Round Two… using short passes to take the place of a running game that was averaging about 3 yards per carry up until Trent Richardson got loose late for his game-sealing touchdown.
Nowhere was McCarron’s success more evident than on first down. Of the Tide’s first 23 first down plays, 20 were passes:
First Down Calls
That chart shows all of LSU’s first down calls on the night, but it does not show Alabama’s clock-killing drives late that resulted in eight consecutive runs on first down.
Alabama’s 1st 23 first down calls — 3 runs for 5 yards, 20 passes for 165 yards.
LSU’s 15 first down calls — 9 runs for 32 yards (including a 19-yard scramble by Jordan Jefferson), 6 passes for 20 yards
All told, until clock-killing time, the Tide averaged 7.3 yards per first down play. The Tigers averaged 3.4 yards per first down play (2.2 without Jefferson’s scramble).
That was the difference in the ballgame in the early going. Alabama was able to keep its offense on schedule despite a tough night running the football. LSU could not. McCarron and the Bama offense faced shorter second down and third down plays. Jefferson and LSU were in long down and distances all night.
Credit McElwain for being so willing to break tendency and pass so often on first down. As for Greg Studrawa and the LSU gameplan, well, it sure looked like the Tigers just wanted to try and do what they did in Round One. And as we also noted yesterday, Alabama is too good to be bested by the same team — with the same gameplan — twice.