BATON ROUGE, La. — Tua Tagovailoa carried his postgame snack with him onto the Tiger Stadium field to do interviews Saturday night. In his left hand he had a bag of Maui Style onion-flavored potato chips, comfort food from his home state of Hawaii.
“These are the best,” the Alabama quarterback said, beaming.
Thus, we have the definitive proof: Tua really is all that and a bag of chips.
The prohibitive Heisman Trophy favorite might have locked up the award in Death Valley, throwing for 295 yards and two touchdowns and running for 49 yards and another score as the No. 1 Crimson Tide throttled No. 3 LSU, 29-0. Tua’s touchdown passes were gorgeous — a slant on the numbers to Henry Ruggs III early and a rainbow to the corner for tight end Irv Smith Jr. late. His TD run was startling, a 44-yard scramble that served as a reminder that a guy who has been a reticent runner this season has the wheels to make big plays on the ground, too.
There were some struggles along the way — Tua threw his first interception of the year, and his 129.5 pass-efficiency rating was nearly 100 points lower than his season average. For the first time all season, he didn’t get Alabama in the end zone on its opening drive, taking a shot to the groin from LSU’s Grant Delpit that put him on the sideline for a play on that first possession. (“He hit me in the goodies,” Tua explained.) But overall it was an excellent performance against what had been the No. 4 pass defense and No. 7 scoring defense in America.
“He made some tremendous plays tonight,” said LSU coach Ed Orgeron. “He’s one of the best players I’ve seen.”
This Alabama team may be one of the best we’ve seen as well, having just handed the Tigers their worst home loss in 16 years (since a Nick Saban-coached LSU team lost 31-0 to Alabama). In their biggest challenge of the season, the team with the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense informed college football that it still can play a little defense, too.
Pitching a shutout, forcing punts on LSU’s first nine possessions and holding the Tigers to less than 200 yards total offense was the kind of smothering defensive effort that has defined the Tide during the Saban Era. But until Saturday night this season has been so sharply different, with one explosive offensive performance after another, that Alabama’s D has been overlooked and underappreciated.
After being No. 1 nationally in total defense the previous two years, the Tide was “only” 16th heading into this game. But the signs of improvement from a relatively young unit have been there in recent games — ‘Bama held Missouri to a season-low 212 total yards, then held Tennessee to a season-low 31 yards rushing.
The improvement continued here Saturday. LSU’s 196 yards was its lowest total in three years, since a 2015 loss to Alabama. With defensive tackle Quinnen Williams disrupting everything, the Tide totally owned the line of scrimmage. They allowed 12 rushing yards and sacked overmatched Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow five times.
It was a reminder that for all the sensational skill-position talent on this Tide team, it still has a vast physical advantage up front over almost everyone in America.
“They dominated us the whole night,” Orgeron said. “They whooped us. We’re not there [in the trenches]. … It wasn’t even close tonight.”
Who is close to this Alabama team? Maybe perennial College Football Playoff combatant Clemson. Maybe. Outside of Dabo Swinney’s team, everyone else appears susceptible to a severe beatdown.
This was the game that removed any small shreds of doubt about Alabama’s dominance. This was a quality opponent, on the road, in an absolutely berserk atmosphere, and it was a complete mismatch.
“We really wanted to make a statement in this game,” Saban said. “A lot of people talked about our schedule.”
The schedule talk can stop now. This dominating performance immediately becomes the No. 1 quality win for any team in 2018. Alabama will certainly be the CFP No. 1 seed if it finishes the season 13-0, and may have enough cache to get there at 12-1 if it loses the Southeastern Conference championship game against Georgia.
That matchup became official Saturday, when the Bulldogs pounded Kentucky to win the SEC East and Alabama locked up the West. Saban said he actually wasn’t aware that this victory clinched the division for his team. That sounds like a dubious statement, but he might also have been so locked in on beating LSU yet again that he hadn’t paid much attention to the standings.
Because beating LSU is what Saban has done best in recent years.
This game was reminiscent of the one that started Alabama’s current eight-game winning streak over LSU — the 2011 BCS championship game. In that one, it was starkly evident early on that the Tigers’ unimaginative offense stood little chance against the Crimson Tide defense. This was the same thing.
LSU needs to win some more recruiting battles against ‘Bama to close the gap. Right now, it’s a chasm. The last four wins in the series have been by double digits.
This one was in hand early enough that LSU fans began evacuating the stadium early in the second half. By the time the clock wound inside the final four minutes, the loud and proud Alabama fans were chanting “We want ‘Bama!” They were spoofing anyone and everyone who has been foolish enough to think they could hang with the Tide.
Good luck to the rest of America. Alabama is rolling unimpeded toward another national title. And Tua Tagovailoa, all that and a bag of chips, is rolling unimpeded toward becoming the school’s first quarterback to win the Heisman.
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