The deep shots were there in Bryant-Denny Stadium, more than a half-dozen of them.
Remember? Remember how they rained down, one after another, falling incomplete?
“We had D.J. (Chark) open a couple times,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Monday, recalling the Tigers’ 24-10 loss at Alabama a season ago, when the former wide receiver dropped one pass from Danny Etling and watched others fall off the mark.
“We hit those deep balls and make those plays, we could beat these guys,” former receiver Russell Gage said afterward.
A year has passed, and the No. 3 Tigers enter their showdown with No. 1 Alabama with an offense that has capitalized on timely explosive pass plays from graduate transfer Joe Burrow.
“We’ve got us a damn good quarterback in Joe,” defensive end Rashard Lawrence said. “We know he’s going to make the throws. He’s done it all year.”
First there was Burrow’s debut against Miami, when he unleashed a 37-yard pass to Justin Jefferson that set up a field goal.
How about his 40-yard Hail Mary touchdown to Stephen Sullivan against Southeastern Louisiana?
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Or when Burrow threaded a 71-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Dillon between a cluster of Auburn defenders, initiating the comeback victory that vaulted the Tigers into the Top 10?
There was the time Burrow connected with Jefferson on a downfield play-action pass against Ole Miss, where Jefferson sped 65 yards past defenders for a touchdown, and there were the three passes of more than 35 yards in LSU’s 36-16 win over then-No. 2 Georgia.
“Well, I do believe that Joe has proved that he can throw the deep ball,” Orgeron said. “Again, we’re going to have to protect.”
LSU gave up a season-high six sacks to Alabama last season, and the Crimson Tide are tied seventh nationally this season with 26 sacks.
The Tigers limited Mississippi State — 28th nationally with 22 — to two sacks, and this week, the offensive line gets left guard Garrett Brumfield back from a knee injury he suffered against Louisiana Tech on Sept. 22.
“I think this is going to give us a big boost,” Orgeron said.
If LSU can keep Burrow upright, the Tigers have a shot at cutting into Alabama’s pass defense, which ranks fifth in the Southeastern Conference (194.5 passing yards allowed per game).
There aren’t many highlight reels for the eight opponents who have combined to lose to Alabama by an average of 38.2 points per game; but explosive pass plays against the Crimson Tide have produced points.
The five passes of more than 30 yards Alabama surrendered this season each led to touchdown drives — including a 75-yard touchdown pass from Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta’amu on the Rebels’ first play of the game.
The Crimson Tide shrugged off the score by scoring a mere 62 unanswered points.
Alabama has played one ranked opponent this season, then-No. 22 Texas A&M, and Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said Wednesday that he thinks LSU “will be a real challenge for our team.”
“Joe (Burrow) has played very, very well,” Saban said. “They’ve made a lot of explosive plays. People try to stop the run and they make a lot of explosive plays on people. They have as good a balance as anybody we’ve played this year.”
LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger has been able to play off a successful run game with the combination of Nick Brossette (697 yards rushing) and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (521), who both rank within the conference’s top 15 in yards rushing per game.
Brossette added to the explosive plays himself with a 50-yard touchdown run against Miami, and Edwards-Helaire’s 47-yard run against Georgia set up the Tigers’ first touchdown of the game.
The LSU Tigers were set within range of national championship contention when the season’s inaugural College Football Playoff poll placed them…
Plays like those can give LSU a chance to snap its seven-game losing streak to Alabama.
“It’s hard to win big games like this when you don’t create explosive plays,” said Burrow, who has passed for 1,544 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions this season. “That’s my focus going into this week of practice: continue that connection.”