By RON HIGGINS, Journal Sports
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – LSU’s hopes of winning a second consecutive SEC’s West Division title all but disappeared Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
For the No. 14 ranked Tigers, it was a different locale and the same story repeated at critical moment throughout this 2023 season.
A Heisman Trophy-worthy performance by LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, before he was knocked out of the game early in the fourth quarter, was once again a footnote thanks to the Tigers’ defense again getting ripped to shreds by another dual-threat quarterback.
Alabama QB Jalen Milroe threw for 219 yards and ran for 147 yards and four TDs, the most ever in a single game by a Tide signal-caller, as No. 8 ’Bama closed on a 21-0 run for a 42-28 victory.
LSU (6-3 overall, 4-2 in the SEC West) took the second-half kickoff and marched 75 yards for a Josh Williams 2-yard TD run for a 28-21 lead with 11:14 left in the third quarter.
From that point until the final horn, Alabama scored three TDs and gained 222 yards on 34 snaps on five possessions while LSU had just 70 yards on 18 snaps. The Crimson Tide finished with 507 yards on 69 plays, the third straight road game the Tigers allowed 500 or more yards. LSU had 478 yards on 58 plays.
“In the second half, a lot of guys were just not doing their jobs,” said LSU linebacker Greg Penn III, who led the Tigers with 10 tackles. “Fatigue set in from staying on the field a long time.”
Alabama running back Roydell Williams’ 16-yard scoring scamper tied the game at 28-28 with 7:30 left in the third quarter.
After LSU was forced to punt when a Tigers’ possession got killed on a Will Campbell holding penalty that nullified a 25-yard Daniels run, Milroe’s 11-yard TD run capped a 68-yard drive that gave Alabama a 35-28 lead with 1:01 left in the period.
Then on the first snap of the fourth quarter, just as it happened in the Tigers’ 45-24 season-opening loss to Florida State, Daniels threw an interception.
His pass was tipped by the Tide’s inebacker Dallas Turner and intercepted by Terrion Arnold who returned it 10 yards to the LSU 25.
With the shortest porch to the end zone Alabama had seen all night, running back Jace McClellan ran for a 10-yard TD on the third snap of the series for the final margin of victory with 13:01 left in the game.
On the first play of LSU’s next possession, Turner leveled Daniels with a helmet-to-facemask blow after Daniels released a deep incomplete pass for Nabers. A personal foul was whistled on Turner, but the replay officials in the SEC office determined there was no targeting.
“Anytime that there’s contact to the head or neck area, you’re thinking there must be some form of targeting,” said LSU coach Brian Kelly. “We asked them (the officials) and they said the replay booth was reviewing the play for targeting. They reviewed it, they felt it wasn’t, so we moved on.”
Backup QB Garrett Nussmeier replaced Daniels. LSU’s medical team cleared Daniels to return to the game. But after the Tigers committed a false start penalty, LSU called timeout with 11:59 left to play and Daniels was pulled when the medical team quickly re-evaluated and determined he wasn’t fit to play.
Daniels finished with 383 total offense yards (219 passing, 2 TDs and 163 rushing and 1 TD. En route to a 21-21 halftime tie, he accounted for 301 (164 passing, 137 rushing) 137 of LSU’s 351 yards and 3 TDs (2 TD passes, 1 rush).
Milroe had 267 (165 passing, 102 rushing) of Alabama’s 290 first-half total offense yards and 3 TDs (all runs).
“It was a great team win, but our offense controlled the tempo of the game in the second half, ” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban, whose team is now 8-1 and 6-0 in the SEC and needing just a win next Saturday at Kentucky or an Ole Miss loss at Georgia to win the West Division. “The key was converting 11 of 13 third downs and keeping the ball away from them. This is probably as close to a complete game as we’ve played.”
Milroe made the majority of his big plays as LSU’s defense allowed him to break the collapsing pass pocket repeatedly for sprints into wide-open spaces.
He had seven plays – four passes and three runs – of 20 yards or more that accounted for 184 yards and two TDs on runs of 23 and 21 yards.
“There are still things that I need to improve,” Milroe said afterward.
Daniels had nine plays of 20 or more yards – five passes and four runs – that totaled 267 yards and two TDs.
It isn’t known yet if Daniels will be available for next Saturday’s home game vs. Florida. Nussmeier finished the ‘Bama loss completing 5 of 10 passes for 53 yards.
“We knew we were going on the road playing a top 10 team at their place,” LSU’s Kelly said. “You got to play better and you got to coach better when you have these opportunities and we just didn’t reach that elite level tonight.”