Alabama defense steps up when called upon, No. 3 Crimson Tide hold on for ugly win vs. LSU
Ugly wins still count in the record book as wins, but that win sure was ugly.
No. 3 Alabama did just enough to survive an upset against LSU, mainly thanks to its defense. The Crimson Tide (8-1, 5-1 SEC) defeated the Tigers 20-14 at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.
Here are our observations and takeaways from the game:
Defense steps up late when needed
LSU was driving, on play 13 of a late fourth-quarter drive, and Alabama defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis stepped up.
On third-and-8, he pushed through his man to get to LSU quarterback Max Johnson, forcing the incompletion, although it was initially ruled a fumble. Either way, that didn't give Johnson any chance to make a play downfield and score the six points that would have tied the game at 20 with just a few minutes left.
The defense then made another stop on fourth down to make the 14-play, 74-play drive immaterial. Alabama's defense had some troubles stopping LSU at times, but the Crimson Tide stepped up when needed.
Then, after a sack-fumble that LSU recovered, the Alabama defense held strong. The Crimson Tide forced yet another incompletion on fourth down as Alabama got the ball back with less than three minutes left in the game.
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Then, it broke up a final Hail Mary attempt in the end zone.
Special teams errors cost Alabama early
Alabama's opening drive on offense had promise before it stalled. At least the Crimson Tide appeared to be in field goal range.
Or so it thought.
After a less-than-desirable hold, Will Reichard hit the crossbar on the 49-yard field goal attempt. The score remained 0-0.
On the ensuing drive, LSU found itself in a fourth-down situation. It called timeout, signaling something might be up. Nonetheless, Alabama couldn't stop the fake punt as the Tigers pulled off a fake-run, jump-pass that extended the drive. Shortly after, LSU scored off an 8-yard pass to take a 7-0 lead with 8:33 left in the first quarter.
Alabama struggles to run in lackluster offensive performance
The Crimson Tide offense couldn't get much going on the ground throughout the game. Alabama finally scored its first touchdown late in the first half off a short run from Brian Robinson Jr., but that took the Crimson Tide using its jumbo package and churning out some tough yardage.
Alabama doesn't have to be a team that primarily relies on the run, but it needs to be more effective than it was against the Tigers defense. It was one-dimensional, and that one dimension – passing – was inconsistent.
Will Anderson Jr. leads stifling defense in first half
The first touchdown of the game was not a great look for the defense that let a receiver release to the flat with no one in coverage. But, after that, Alabama didn't give much of anything to LSU for the rest of the first half.
After the first drive, the Tigers managed only 14 yards on 17 plays through the rest of the first half. Will Anderson Jr. led the way in stuffing LSU's offense. In the first half alone, he had seven total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
The most defining play in the first half might have been when Alabama forced a turnover to give the ball back to the offense. Christian Harris, the former high school cornerback, deflected a pass that jumped into the hands of Jalyn-Armour Davis. Shortly after, Alabama took a 14-7 lead right before halftime.
The offense needed this kind of performance from the defense in the first half, considering it couldn't find ways to finish drives for much of the first half.
John Metchie III becoming favorite receiver
It's pretty clear who has become quarterback Bryce Young's favorite target: John Metchie III.
Sure, Jameson Williams caught the 58-yard bomb in the third quarter, but Metchie showed he's definitely the guy Young wants to go to in countless moments.
If it wasn't clear already, Young made it clear Saturday. In the first half, often facing blitzes from LSU, Young usually looked the way of Metchie. Young targeted Metchie 12 times in the first half alone, completing eight of those passes.
Metchie didn't always deliver. He dropped what would have been a touchdown pass that he could have caught running along the right sideline late in the first half.
But he redeemed himself on the next drive when he caught a touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone to put Alabama up by a touchdown heading into halftime.
Contact Alabama football reporter Nick Kelly: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @_NickKelly