Alabama totally shut down Leonard Fournette and the LSU rushing attack Saturday en route to taking control of the SEC West. The longtime Heisman leader had just 31 yards on 19 carries.
The narrative emerging from the game is that Alabama sold out to stop the run and that LSU failed to adjust, only throwing 19 passes.
But that's not how I remembered it, so I went back and looked. Did Alabama really load the box (the middle 25 yards of the field within eight yards of the line of scrimmage, roughly) with extra defenders?
The purpose of loading the box is to outnumber the offense at the point of attack, creating an unblocked defender. Against a typical I-formation run, there are seven potential blockers nearby (the QB does not block, and the tailback is going to run).
Seven defenders in the box is an advantageous alignment for such an offense. Eight means an unblocked defender, but that's a common look, and running backs can often make the eighth defender miss. Nine defenders in the box against seven blockers is very difficult to run against, and teams have to be able to counter by throwing the football.
So Alabama loaded up the box, right? Let's go to the tape.
I went through each LSU play before the Tide went up by 20 points in the fourth quarter. I also excluded plays in which LSU was using three or more receivers or facing third-and-long, because the threat of the run is reduced in those situations. I removed goal line, because that's a different calculus.
Uh, no. In the 16 plays examined (yes, LSU only had 45 offensive snaps), Alabama brought an extra defender into the box just six times and never brought two extra.
Alabama did not gamble or sell out to stop LSU's run. It did not invite LSU to throw. It did not outnumber LSU at the point of attack, but outmuscled a very good LSU line. Plays like the one below were common. Here, all but one LSU blocker was pushed into the backfield:
It's also worth noting that LSU was without its starting tight end and fullback, and those reserves were whipped worse than the offensive line.
LSU fans are asking why the Tigers didn't make adjustments and throw the football, but throwing into these looks would have likely yielded even worse results. LSU did not have a numbers advantage in the passing game.
The idea that Alabama loaded the box all night and that LSU failed to adjust is false.
Alabama's front seven is well-coached and disciplined, but mostly, just amazingly talented. Alabama recruits much better than any other team in the country, and that's especially true in this area. The Tide have several backups who would be starting for other elite teams.
If LSU cannot run on Alabama, can anyone?
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