TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—Alabama started the game off a little bit out of character.
It got stuffed on a 3rd-and-1 and needed to run a fake punt to keep a drive alive. The defense had to be bailed out by a timely turnover and costly error by LSU.
But when No. 1 Alabama needed to put the game away, it got back to what it does best and came away with the biggest win of the season in its hunt for a third straight national championship: running the ball.
The Crimson Tide racked up 193 rushing yards, but 129 of them came in the second half. Alabama put together drives of 7:50, 4:44 and 5:00 in the second half to run away in a 38-17 win over LSU that only solidified Alabama’s No. 1 ranking.
“We just kept pounding away,” redshirt junior right tackle Austin Shepherd said. “And finally they gave.”
And it was the steady and reliable T.J. Yeldon who led the way for Alabama on the ground. Yeldon struggled to get anything going in the first half, gaining only 29 yards on seven carries, but finally broke through as the game wore on. Yeldon finished the night with 133 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.
“The way they ran the football decided the game,” LSU coach Les Miles said after the game.
Yeldon punched in both of his touchdowns in the second half. The first was a four-yard run at the end of the third quarter and the second was a one-yarder in the early fourth. The runs gave Alabama a two-score lead that it never relinquished all night.
“That guy makes us look good,” Shepherd said of Yeldon. “You miss a block, that guy’s gonna make the play for you. He’s an outstanding back, and I love blocking for him.”
For Alabama, the commitment to stick with the run game was critical in the win. It had tried and tried to pound away in the first half with little success. But it kept coming in the second and allowed Alabama to pull away in the game.
On Alabama’s final drive, up two touchdowns and looking to make it more, it went down the field the same way.
The Crimson Tide went with a steady dose of Yeldon and fellow sophomore Kenyan Drake, but then ran its signature goal line play: a play-action pass to fullback Jalston Fowler.
“Any time those big boys start screaming and are hyped up, you know something’s going good,” quarterback AJ McCarron said. “They kept coming back to the huddle, talking a lot, which is good. You could feel that we had momentum.”
But the big advantage for Alabama was keeping the Tigers offense off the field. LSU put up 232 yards of total offense in the first half, and were it not for a goal line fumble and a mental error on a snap that hit Zach Mettenberger in the chest, the game could have been much different.
With LSU’s offense off the field for long stretches of time in the second half, the Tigers only mustered 53 yards of offense.
“When we got ahead in the game we were trying to milk the clock a little bit. I thought our guys did a good job,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We didn’t want to give their offense the ball back and get a quick score.”
Alabama always preaches about the emphasis it puts on finishing. The Crimson Tide will need to do plenty of finishing if it wants to get to Pasadena.
And against one of the toughest teams they will face all year, Alabama broke the will of its opposition. It went with what it does best.