BATON ROUGE, La. — Alabama’s visit to LSU on Saturday night should have been shot in black and white. It should have been captured on spools of film, developed in a darkroom and then shipped to Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge theaters to be shown between “Steamboat Willie” and newsreel updates from Normandy.
Your final score: Crimson Tide 10, Tigers 0. No, that wasn’t the score at the end of the first quarter or even the half. It was indeed the final score.
“People are always saying they want old-school football,” LSU’s Ed Orgeron said as he looked over a one-sheet box score that had just been handed to him, mere moments after being handed his first loss in four games as interim coach. “That was as old school a game as I can remember in a while. I’m sure some will say it was ugly, but that’s probably because it was just different than what they’re used to these days.”
Just take a look at the very day this game was played. This was one of only two contests between members of the College Football Playoff committee’s top 25, and they combined for ten points. Of the 20 members of that poll who were in action on Saturday, 10 scored 40 or more points, six topped 50 and three exceeded 60. Another, 17th-ranked Baylor, scored only 20 but surrendered 62 to unranked TCU.
This is a season of spread offenses and 500-yard passers and 200-yard rushers and basketball-ish final scores of 66-59. It has been a video-game season. But while others have been playing on PS4s, the Tide and Tigers weren’t even using an Atari 2600. They were playing bumper pool.
Nick Saban started his postgame news conference by saying, “Talk about winning ugly.” By the time he had wrapped up his remarks 10 minutes later, on the TV behind him Washington and Cal were already at 28-20 with 505 yards of offense … with 6:02 remaining in the second quarter. At that same point in Death Valley, the teams had combined for zero points and 220 yards of offense at halftime, total.
How ugly was it? Even the descriptions were ugly.
“This was a game that’s going to test your nuts,” Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson said after logging six tackles and a sack. “You know what I mean, it was old school.”
Old school, like the 102,321 fans in attendance should have been asked to check their smartphones at the door and told they could call home via a bank of pay phones in the concourse. Don’t worry, Sarah the operator will patch you through.
The contest started with an Alabama drive that ended with an interception and an ensuing LSU drive that was thwarted via a sack and a blocked field goal. It had a failed fourth-and-1, a pair of missed field goals, a pair of interceptions, 13 punts and a yards-per-play average of just a Band-Aid’s thickness over 3.5.
During one particularly unseemly stretch, an LSU run out of bounds turned into a shoving match that turned totally WWE, complete with a bent folding chair, trampled by fleeing reserve LSU linemen. Veteran SEC referee Matt Austin even threw in some theatrics, rattling off the four offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties with a pace and a pecking order that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Minutes later, on the opposite sideline, LSU was slapped with a flag for a late hit that was borderline at best, but the real hit was when quarterback Jalen Hurts was clotheslined by teammate O.J. Howard as the tight end was trying to catch him before he fell … but only after a member of the SEC chain crew was flattened in the process.
“This game has been so rough that it’s spilled over into the rest of us, too,” a longtime Tiger Stadium security guard said as he was helped from the ground after being run over by a pair of LSU tacklers trying to chase down Hurts.
That task was one that became more and more difficult as the night wore on.
“It felt like one of those games where if the field ever started to tip just a little bit, just a little opening, then that might be the difference,” Orgeron recalled.
He was right. After three quarters of zeroes on the scoreboard and three quarters of each team being forced to start drives deep in their own territory, Alabama’s starting lines began to slowly shift from the 14 or the 12 or the 9-yard lines to, in the third quarter, the 40, 46, and 42.
“Finally,” Orgeron confessed, “We just gave the kid too much to work with.”
“The kid” was Hurts. And when this medieval rack of a night had finally been clicked one round too far, it was Hurts who broke free. The most old-school contest of 2016 was won by the youngest player on the field. Less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, he impossibly wove his way through LSU’s tackling machine defense for a 21-yard touchdown run.
Only one player managed to put a three-digit number beside his name in the final box score, and Hurts did it twice, with 114 yards rushing and 107 passing. A game played in a nearly 92-year-old stadium between a pair of teams meeting for the 81st time, who were turning the clock back on modern football at least 40 years was decided by an 18-year-old true freshman who one year ago was getting ready for the Texas high school state football playoffs.
The nation’s No. 1 team entering the weekend will still be its No. 1 team at weekend’s end — still the queen, beauty or otherwise.
“People know that we can compete in the track meets because we’ve done that plenty,” said Saban, reminding that his team had averaged nearly 44 points per game in the eight contests prior to Saturday night. “Now we know we can win when we play ugly, too. There will be a lot to learn from this film, but it’ll be ugly film to watch.”
Coming soon, to a nickelodeon near you.
Extra! Extra! Alabama outlasts LSU in old-school slugfest – ESPN