Thousands of purple-clad Louisiana State fans lined North Stadium Drive to cheer the nation’s third-ranked college football team. Music thumped. Players danced, holding their phones aloft to capture the moment on video. Coach Ed Orgeron could barely control his excitement, reaching over barriers to slap hands with spectators, his growling voice swelling to a bellow.
The gleeful parade Saturday down Victory Hill is a pregame tradition known as the “Tiger Walk.”
Soon enough, the visitors responded with their familiar ritual — the Alabama cakewalk.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide, which had built an 8-0 record on a steady diet of creampuff teams, made light work of a good one with a 29-0 victory in front of a mostly exasperated crowd of 102,321 at Tiger Stadium.
It was the fourth time the Tigers were shut out at home in the last 25 seasons, with all of those coming against Alabama (1996, 2002, 2016 and 2018).
“We really wanted to make a statement in this game,” said coach Nick Saban, who coached Louisiana State from 2000 to 2004. “A lot of people talked about our schedule. We had a lot of respect for LSU and their team. I think we played a pretty good game.”
The Tigers, two-touchdown underdogs, had to settle for a moral victory. They were the first to pick off a pass by Tua Tagovailoa, who entered the game with 25 touchdown passes. But Tagovailoa exacted his revenge with two touchdown passes and a career-best 44-yard scoring run.
“We had some pressure on him,” Orgeron said. “He avoided the rush very well. We rushed three, we rushed five, we rushed six. We did everything we could. On the run, we had every gap filled. One guy got out of his gap — touchdown.”
Alabama secured a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game against Georgia, which beat Auburn in that game last season. It’s the 12th time the Crimson Tide will play in the SEC title game, tying Florida for the most appearances.
Coming into the game, the only ranked team Alabama had beaten this season was then-No. 22 Texas A&M, which lost by 22 points. Every other game was even more lopsided in favor of the Crimson Tide, which arrived in Baton Rouge averaging 54.1 points per game.
Defense is Louisiana State’s strong suit, and the Tigers did a respectable job on that front for most of the game. But the offense couldn’t hold up its end of the deal, struggled to budge, and repeatedly sent exhausted defenders back onto the field.
Alabama had 12 more total yards than its gaudy average of 564, rolling up 281 on the ground and 295 in the air. Not surprisingly, the visitors also had a lopsided advantage in first downs (29 to 13) and time of possession (35 minutes 18 seconds to 24:42).
Louisiana State’s 11 possessions ended thusly: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, missed field goal, interception.
“We tried to get the ball down the field,” said Orgeron, whose team had minus-one yard rushing in the first half. “We couldn’t protect. We thought we could get some receivers open. Some guys were open. We just couldn’t get nothing going.”
The Tigers had to play the first half without one of their defensive stars. Linebacker Devin White, a Butkus Award candidate, had to sit out the first two quarters after he was flagged for targeting in the fourth quarter of the Tigers’ previous game, against Mississippi State.
The field was so loaded with pro talent, it was like a sneak preview of the NFL combine. At least 30 of these players will be in an NFL training camp next summer, one of the scouts in attendance said, and that’s not accounting for a lesser-known player who might test off the charts at a campus pro day.
For the home team, what began with the Tiger Walk ended with a trudge.
“We got beat at the line of scrimmage. We couldn’t block their defensive line. …That’s not a very good night,” Orgeron said.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer