BATON ROUGE, La. – In the waning moments, victory long since secured, a small group of fans along the visitors’ sideline started a familiar chant:
“We want ‘Bama! We want ‘Bama! We want ‘Bama!”
These were Alabama fans, and so this goes down as a superb troll job, yes. But consider for a moment, after the Crimson Tide’s 29-0 victory against LSU, that it is entirely possible that they are correct:
The only ones who want ‘Bama are, well, ‘Bama.
When the beatdown was complete, Nick Saban let everyone know that his team had wanted to make a statement, and senior running back Damien Harris helpfully explained what it was:
“We’re for real,” Harris said “And I think we proved that to ourselves more than anybody else.”
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We’re not sure it needed proving to anybody else. And let’s be real, the idea of a showdown Saturday night sounded good, but if you’d watched the teams’ journeys to get to Tiger Stadium, it also seemed more than a little forced.
But the immediate context, from the Tide’s perspective, was of dominance against a soft schedule. At 7-1, with a very good defense and a No. 3 ranking in the initial College Football Playoff release, LSU at least presented a credible challenge. And that’s before accounting for the atmosphere, with decibel levels ratcheted somewhere past ridiculous.
But ridiculous also describes Alabama’s brilliance. Through nine games, no one has wanted ‘Bama. Does anyone?
It begins – we already knew this – with Tua Tagovailoa. Although the touchdowns did not come as easily, it still looked at times as though the sophomore quarterback was at the controls of a video game.
He tossed darts to wide open receivers who zig-zagged through the secondary. He dropped a teardrop into the arms of tight end Irv Smith, a devastatingly perfect connection near the end of the second quarter that sent Alabama into the locker room at halftime ahead 16-0 – and sucked all of the roar out of Tiger Stadium. And in the third quarter, Tagovailoa ran 44 yards for a score, “galloping the last 30 yards,” he said, after tweaking something in that right knee.
But as important was an all too familiar defensive performance – but which we hadn’t seen this season. Alabama held LSU to 196 total yards, and 12 rushing yards. Take out the lost yardage from sacks, and LSU’s rushing total skyrocketed to 41.
“They just overpowered us,” LSU Coach Ed Orgeron said, “and there was nothing we could do about it.”
What did it all mean?
“Twenty-nine nothing,” Tagovailoa said. And then he paused for a minute and looked, at the far end of the field, toward the giant videoboard, where the score was long gone.
“All we did was come out here and play football,” he continued, and then a few moments later, he added: “It shows you what kind of things we can do against basically anyone.”
Alternate explanation: LSU was so offensively-challenged, it had little chance to pose a threat. Orgeron has galvanized LSU, which fell out of realistic playoff contention but still might be headed for at least 10 wins. But in the end, what we suspected was exposed.
Despite that 7-1 start and the lofty ranking, LSU is not elite, and it’s because of the same ol’ offensive issues that have dogged the program for years. Never mind the raucous atmosphere. Never mind a defense that was easily the best Alabama had faced.
LSU had no chance.
But maybe, neither does anyone else.
Inside the SEC, at least, that certainly seems true. Alabama continued a string of dominance within college football’s proudest conference that is astonishing. It is hard to gauge how good the competition in the league actually is. Preconceived notions die hard – which is how, as one example, a middling, two-loss Florida team was somehow ranked No. 11 by the playoff committee last week, largely based on its win against LSU; Missouri blew out the Gators Saturday in Gainesville.
But look around college football at the contenders jockeying for playoff position. Which of them seem likely to truly want ‘Bama, much less to beat them?
The list might begin and end with Clemson, which seems built with the kind of complete structure – superb defense, potent offense with a quarterback who is getting better each week. We could be headed toward yet another showdown of Tide vs. Tigers.
Anyway, we can at least fast-forward Alabama into the SEC championship game against Georgia. No, really. Both clinched their divisions Saturday, the earliest it has happened.
Saban first questioned whether a reporter was correct in citing that fact, and then began tamping down talk about the bigger picture. Up next is Mississippi State. Then comes the traditional November FCS pastry (this year it’s The Citadel). And then Auburn.
Given what we’ve seen so far, it seems safe to assume those final three regular-season games are simply more statements waiting to be made (and Georgia, let’s not forget, lost by 20 points in Baton Rouge a few weeks back). Just don’t try to tell it to Saban.
“Our focus,” Saban said, “is gonna be, ‘You did a great job in this game and I’m proud of you, but we’ve got to do it again.’ That’s got to be who we are.”
Not that it really needed proving – but they are for real.
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