TUSCALOOSA — Najee Harris put Alabama on his back with a career-high 190 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns Saturday, including 108 of his career-best 146 rushing yards during a second-half rally.
But it wasn’t nearly enough to out-muscle senior quarterback Joe Burrow and No. 2 LSU, who outproduced their SEC West rivals just enough to pull out a 46-41 road win inside a crowded Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“We fell off in the first half and that’s on us,” junior right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. said. “I feel like we picked (it) up later on, but it was too late.”
With celebrities and even the President of the United States in attendance, the Tigers (9-0, 5-0 SEC) edged the Crimson Tide 559-541 in total yards to claim divisional supremacy despite Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa throwing for 418 yards, as Burrow combined for 393 yards on 31-of-39 passing and three scores Saturday.
DeVonta Smith led the Tide through the air with seven catches for 213 yards — including 147 in the second half — and two touchdowns while fellow junior Jerry Jeudy added five receptions for 71 yards and one touchdown.
“Offensively, we certainly scored a lot of points and onside kicks are difficult,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “The ball has to bounce your way. But we gave ourselves a chance to win in terms of the way we fought back in the game. Very proud of our players for that.”
Najee Harris and Tua Tagovailoa mount valiant second-half comeback
After not even getting a carry in the second quarter, Alabama junior tailback Najee Harris did his best Derrick Henry impression in helping power the Crimson Tide in its second-half rally.
Harris opened Alabama’s second series of the third quarter with a 31-yard run and then turned a screen pass from Tagovailoa into a 23-yard gain one play later to jump-start a meandering Tide offense in the first half.
“That was very important, it kind of set the tempo for the offense and (forced) them to adjust and actually fit the box and fit the run,” Wills said of Harris’ third-quarter plays. “It was something we wanted to make a statement with.”
Tagovailoa, who threw for 246 of his 418 yards in the second half, connected with Henry Ruggs III for 22 yards on third-and-10 and then found Harris for a 15-yard touchdown 5 plays later to pull within 33-20 with 4:51 left in the third.
Harris continued his charge with a 12-yard gain on fourth-and-1 on the first play of the fourth quarter and then capped the nine-play, 78-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard touchdown that cut LSU’s lead to within 33-27 just 27 seconds into the final frame.
“The second half was important,” Harris said. “Obviously, things didn’t work out the way we wanted, but that’s how we train. We practice this stuff. It just shows that we won’t quit.”
Tagovailoa added passes of 21 and nine yards to DeVonta Smith on the next series, the last coming on fourth-and-4, before connecting with Jerry Jeudy on a 5-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing fourth-and-2 to once again pull within a touchdown of LSU.
“I feel like we (knew we) had to come out and score as fast as we can, run the ball, punch it down the field, kind of pick of the pace (to) get back in the game,” Wills said.
But each time their LSU counterparts counter-punched, including touchdown runs of five and seven yards from Clyde Edwards-Helaire to seal the victory.
First-half mistakes, penalties prove costly
Alabama couldn’t get out of its own way in the first half, as turnovers and an inability to move the ball with any consistency ultimately doomed the Tide despite a sensational comeback attempt.
“(They were) things you can’t have in a big game — mental errors and things like that,” Wills Jr. said.
Tagovailoa inexplicably lost a fumble on a scramble despite no one hitting him that halted a productive first series, and LSU answered with a six-play touchdown-scoring series of its own to take the early advantage.
Walk-on punter Ty Perine then mishandled a fourth-down snap that set the Tigers up inside Alabama territory ahead of a 40-yard field goal by kicker Cade York for a 10-0 lead.
“I’d say we came out really strong and then had those couple of turnovers and that just kind of killed the vibe, people started putting their heads down,” Wills said.
Those issues continued into the second quarter as Tagovailoa’s first pass of the Tide’s seventh offensive series was intercepted by LSU linebacker Patrick Queen with 11 seconds left. That turnover was compounded with a personal foul penalty against junior center Landon Dickerson that moved LSU into Alabama’s red zone and allowed Burrow to find Edwards-Helaire for a 13-yard touchdown to go ahead 33-13 at halftime.
“We were trying to throw a chunk play and maybe hit a big play. We have a lot of capability to do that, and we trusted the quarterback to make a good decision,” Saban said of Tagovailoa’s interception. “They played zone and intercepted the ball. Based on what happened, I definitely, if I have a do-over, and I know that was going to happen, we would’ve kneeled on the ball.”
Added Ruggs: “You can’t focus on mistakes, adversity’s going to happen.”
Special teams issues continue
Alabama special teams were a mixed bag once again Saturday.
On one side of the coin, Jaylen Waddle took a first-quarter punt 77 yards to the end zone, they blocked a LSU extra point and the Crimson Tide kick coverage was fairly good all afternoon.
But a missed extra point by Joseph Bulovas still spells the need for improvement in this department for Alabama. When it looks good, it’s never good enough.
Andre Toran contributed to this report.