Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer 13d

No. 2 Alabama guts out victory over LSU to remain unbeaten



TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- This wasn't the level of domination we'd become accustomed to.

No. 2-ranked Alabama wouldn't just shove No. 19 LSU around like it did everyone else it faced this season. The Tigers were too talented for that, too motivated to pull off the upset in Tuscaloosa.

And while the upset never came, Nick Saban's squad would get everything it could handle during a 24-10 win at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night.

First, Minkah Fitzpatrick went down with what appeared to be a pulled hamstring. Then, a few minutes later, Alabama's star defensive back took a hit to the head that sent him back to the sideline. He'd return in a limited capacity, but not all his teammates were so lucky.

Starting inside linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton and backup linebacker Mack Wilson both sustained injuries that sent them to the locker room, never to return again.

Between the white lines, not everything would come easy for the undefeated Crimson Tide. The running game, which had broken the will of so many opponents before, met its match in LSU. Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough & Co. couldn't find the usual wide-open running lanes and rushed for a season-low 116 yards on 36 carries.

Instead, it was up to Jalen Hurts to shoulder the load.

The reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year wouldn't post Heisman Trophy-type numbers, but he was awfully effective. Dodging constant pressure from the LSU pass rush, he completed 11 of 24 passes for 183 yards and one touchdown. When he needed to, he tucked the ball and ran 14 times for 44 yards.

It wasn't the kind of clinic we'd witnessed from Alabama all season, but it got the job done. The defense bent plenty, allowing 306 total yards, but didn't break. Danny Etling was able to make a couple of big plays through the air, but LSU's veteran quarterback wasn't allowed in the end zone and was picked off once.

The question of the moment for Alabama should no longer be whether it deserves to be No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, but what kind of team it will be able to field moving forward.

Fitzpatrick's return, albeit in a limited capacity, was a positive sign for this season, but something to pay close attention to. And Hamilton's and Wilson's injuries could further hamper a linebacker corps that lost outside 'backers Terrell Lewis and Christian Miller to possibly season-ending injuries back in Week 1 against Florida State.

While there's no reason to doubt the level of talent on this Alabama defense -- Saban's recruiting speaks for itself -- the question of experience could come into play, especially when you consider the road ahead.

Things won't get any easier for Alabama, which will travel to cowbell-infested territory next weekend to face a No. 16 Mississippi State team that is trending upward after four straight victories. Then, after a home date with Mercer, it's on to the Iron Bowl and a showdown with archrival and No. 14-ranked Auburn on the road in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Survive that and No. 1 Georgia will be waiting in Atlanta for the SEC championship game.

What happened on Saturday against LSU doesn't change the fact that Alabama is one of the safest bets to reach the playoff, but it does pick at its aura of invincibility.

This wasn't another four-quarter beatdown. This was a team overcoming injuries and less-than-perfect execution, finding a way to win and move on.

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