Alabama didn’t go away. But Joe Burrow didn’t shrink either.
No. 2 LSU held on for a 46-41 win over No. 3 Alabama on Saturday thanks to a sparkling performance by the Tigers quarterback. Burrow picked apart Alabama’s defense time after time, especially in the second half after Alabama had cut into LSU’s lead.
The Tide pulled within a possession on two different occasions in the fourth quarter. And each time LSU responded. After Alabama cut LSU’s lead to 33-27, LSU went on a 12-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a rushing touchdown by Clyde Edwards-Helaire to extend LSU’s lead back to 12.
When Alabama got within five at 39-34, LSU marched down the field again. The drive ended with an Edwards-Helaire rushing touchdown, but the biggest play was an 18-yard third-down run by Burrow that immediately preceded it.
Alabama somehow pulled within five again after Tua Tagovailoa found DeVonta Smith inexplicably in single coverage for a long touchdown. But LSU ran out the clock after that thanks to a bulldozing run by none other than Edwards-Helaire.
Burrow, a transfer from Ohio State, has put up a passing season that’s unprecedented in LSU history. He finished Saturday’s game 31-of-39 passing for 393 yards and three touchdowns while adding 64 rushing yards. Edwards-Helaire scored three rushing touchdowns and caught another.
Burrow entered Saturday’s game as the Heisman favorite. He’s now in an even stronger position. As long as LSU keeps winning and he keeps extending his lead in the LSU record books there’s no other player who can beat him.
Tua wasn’t 100 percent
Tagovailoa limped off the field after the game, his first since suffering an ankle injury against Tennessee on Oct. 20.
He played a fantastic game as well despite clearly being less than fully healthy. However, Tagovailoa had a crucial mistake that Burrow didn’t.
LSU scored late in the second quarter to go up 26-13. After Alabama got the ball with the chance to cut the lead to a possession before halftime, Tagovailoa threw an interception on the first play to Patrick Queen. The return combined with a personal foul on an Alabama offensive lineman after the play, put the ball inside the Alabama 15 with 11 seconds left.
On the very next play, Burrow found Edwards-Helaire for a 13-yard touchdown and a 33-13 halftime lead that Alabama couldn’t fully overcome.
Tagovailoa finished the game 21-of-40 passing for 418 yards and four touchdowns. And he also fumbled early in the first quarter too while he was scrambling deep in LSU territory. That fumble led to an LSU field goal and an early 10-0 lead for the Tigers.
What are Alabama’s playoff chances now?
Here comes the big question: Does Alabama have the necessary strength of schedule to make the College Football Playoff if it finishes the season at 11-1?
It’s not a question with an easy answer either. Assuming a win over Auburn at the end of the season, Alabama will have just one victory over a ranked opponent. While losing to LSU is about as good of a loss as a team can have, it’s not easily countered with just one victory over a ranked foe.
That means it’s easy to envision Alabama getting left out of the four-team field at the end of the season. If LSU wins the SEC, Clemson wins the ACC and goes undefeated, Ohio State or Penn State wins the Big Ten with one loss and Oklahoma and the Pac-12 champion end the season with one loss, Alabama should be on the outside looking in. Four (or more) one-loss champions should leave a title-less Tide on the sideline.
Will that scenario play out? This is college football, after all. Expect the unexpected. That’s why you can’t rule out Alabama from the playoff. But it sure feels more likely than not at the moment that the Tide will be on the outside looking in come December.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports
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