Instant Analysis: Alabama takes control in SEC West with win over LSU

Alabama beat LSU, 30-16, in Tuscaloosa on Saturday to take control in the SEC West. Here are three thoughts on the Crimson Tide's win.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — No. 4 Alabama strengthened its case for a College Football Playoff berth with a 30-16 win over No. 2 LSU on Saturday. Here are three thoughts on the Crimson Tide’s victory:

1. Derrick Henry won the Battle of Running Backs

Alabama running back Derrick Henry didn’t enter the matchup with LSU as the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, and he probably left Bryant-Denny Stadium with a chip on his shoulder.

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Henry overshadowed LSU super sophomore Leonard Fournette, who has led the Heisman race most of the season. Henry carried 38 times for 210 yards with three touchdowns. His two-yard scoring run in the second quarter marked his 14th consecutive game with a rushing score, tying a record set by Florida quarterback Tim Tebow during the 2006-07 season. Henry did it all against an LSU defensive front that came into the game allowing just 3.3 yards per carry, which ranked 16th in the country.

Fournette, meanwhile, struggled on perhaps the biggest stage of his career. He rushed for only 31 yards on 19 carries. His previous season-low was 150 yards against Western Kentucky on Oct. 24. A’Shawn Robinson, Reggie Ragland and Alabama’s deep and talented front seven suffocated Fournette and the Tigers’ offensive line all night.

One game doesn't define Fournette's season. The Tide had been holding teams to 2.6 yards per carry this season, the third-best mark in the FBS. Fournette simply ran into a buzz-saw of a defense. But true Heisman contenders shine on the biggest stages against the best opponents. Now Fournette faces an uphill battle in vying for college football’s top award. Henry, meanwhile, boosted his own campaign just in time.

2. Brandon Harris helped keep LSU afloat early, but it wasn’t enough

LSU’s quarterback seemed to have found his groove in recent weeks. In Harris’s last three games, he’d thrown seven touchdown passes against zero interceptions. On Saturday the Tigers needed Harris in tough situations, and he kept his team alive early on.

LSU somehow entered halftime down only 13-10. This was surprising because Fournette’s first-half performance (nine carries for nine yards) was subpar. That put the onus on Harris to step up. Late in the first quarter he found Travin Dural for a 37-yard pass to help LSU escape a third-and-18 deep in its own end zone. Harris also hit Dural with a 40-yard touchdown pass midway through the second quarter. Those two plays accounted for 77 yards of the Tigers’ measly 127 yards at the break.

Unfortunately Harris couldn’t carry his offense for four quarters. He threw an interception on the first play of the second half that led to an Alabama touchdown three plays later. In the end he finished with a pedestrian 128 yards on 6 of 19 passing with one touchdown and one interception. Harris isn’t going to blow up any box scores, but he took enough shots against the Tide to show that he can occasionally take pressure off Fournette.

3. Alabama controls its destiny in the SEC

The Tide entered the night needing a little help to reach the SEC championship game. A few minutes before they kicked off against LSU, that help came: Arkansas beat Ole Miss in overtime, 53-52. That marked the Rebels’ second SEC loss, so even though they’d beaten Alabama on Sept. 19, the one-loss Tide suddenly controlled their destiny in the conference.

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Alabama took the first step in that journey against LSU on Saturday. The unbeaten Tigers were perhaps the biggest obstacles left in the Tide’s path. Alabama only has SEC road games against Mississippi State and Auburn remaining, with Charleston Southern sandwiched in between. Those are very winnable contests.Barring a complete collapse, the reigning SEC champs can book a repeat trip to Atlanta. They will enter the Georgia Dome as a heavy favorite over Florida. If the Tide take home the SEC title, they’ll be in the playoff. And that’s after many declared the Alabama dynasty dead only a few weeks ago.