by Chuck Culpepper

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even the moon, a sliver shy of full, came peeking out over Bryant-Denny Stadium in fading daylight late in the first half here Saturday as if it, too, had to get a glimpse of the unfathomable. Here had at long, long last arrived the day when LSU, that jalopy long trammeled in primitive offense and thumping defeats, came to Alabama and stormed up and down the field like some attacking symphony.

The No. 2 Tigers’ 46-41 win over the No. 3 Crimson Tide upended a slew of norms right in front of a squirming 101,821 and a visiting president and first lady. LSU, which mustered 26 points total in its previous four meetings with Alabama, sprang for a 33-13 lead by halftime. LSU, which crawled to 809 total yards across those four unsightly slogs, zoomed to 559 in this game alone.

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LSU, having lived so long near the Alabama bugaboo in this Alabama era, had the gumption to calmly march 75 yards and 75 yards again when Alabama narrowed the lead to 33-27 and then 39-34. It overcame even the considerable 418 passing yards and four touchdowns from gutty marvel Tua Tagovailoa, springing back from his sprained ankle. It overcame even one of the best punt returns in the eccentric annals of punt returns, a first-half spectacle where Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle got slingshotted back 10 yards from a defender’s flying grab of Waddle’s face mask, then wheeled around and headed left for 87 loud yards on, statistically, a 77-yard scoring return.

It looked like LSU overcame all that, the whole Alabama mountain of it, because it appeared to have the better football team.

“I told them on Monday, ‘You’re the better football team,’ ” the third-year coach and native Louisianan Ed Orgeron said. “I’ve never told this team that, going into Alabama.” Soon he said, “This won’t be the last. We’re coming. We’re coming. This won’t be the last.”

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Yet LSU, which hadn’t beaten Alabama in the past eight meetings all the way back through the decade to 2011, clearly has a virtuoso quarterback in Joe Burrow, a deeply admirable running back dragging defenders around in the 5-foot-8 Clyde Edwards-Helaire, state-of-the art receivers and the know-how to use all of it. After so long as a puzzle with splashy recruiting classes and good-but-not-great seasons, it had become the nation’s must-watch Southeastern Conference team, a mantle so long residing in Tuscaloosa it seemed to have built a mansion.

Alabama’s 31-game home win streak ended, and the best tears streamed down Orgeron’s face.

Onto teammates’ shoulders went Burrow, who transferred from Ohio State two summers ago when that quarterback job went to one Dwayne Haskins.

Edwards-Helaire, from Baton Rouge no less, reminded listeners he’s only 20, so that such a large percentage of his life had involved LSU losing to Alabama, so now he found this just about indescribable.

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“Overwhelming,” he said in the corner of the end zone following his four touchdowns, his 103 rushing yards, his nine catches for 77 yards, his visible will and his three crucial late plays bulling through antagonists. “I mean, it’s hard to explain. You really have to be in the moment to understand how special it is.”

“That was, uh, that was pretty special,” Burrow said of his rare ride upon shoulders, after his 31-for-39 masterpiece, his 393 passing yards and his crucial 64 rushing yards. “Having these guys embrace me the way they have, just some quarterback from Ohio who came in June of last year.”

Most evocatively of all, Orgeron said, “I might be able to go to the 7-Eleven now and get me a Monster or a Red Bull and they [fans] won’t have to tell me, ‘Coach, you have to beat those guys.’ I’ll tell ’em, ‘I beat ’em, you watched the game.’ ”

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He beat them in part because he exhibited a humility last summer, that of a 58-year-old coach bringing in a 29-year-old game-film geek in Joe Brady, from the stat-gaudy New Orleans Saints, to coordinate the long-creaking passing game. A team that lost to Alabama 29-0 in 2018, 24-10 in 2017 (seen then as somehow encouraging), 10-0 in 2016 and 30-16 in 2015 (even with the great Leonard Fournette but no distracting passing attack), redefined itself and rampaged over Alabama (8-1, 5-1). “You don’t see a lot of teams go from where we were offensively last year,” said Burrow, the son of a longtime coach, “to where we are this year.”

The whole thing looked imaginative, irresistible. The Tigers (9-0, 5-0) converted three huge third-down plays on the drive for a 39-27 lead just when the noise in Bryant-Denny seemed as if audible in Mississippi. On the drive for a 46-34 lead, Burrow pulled off a fake run where he passed to Ja’Marr Chase for a 29-yard gain, a tremendous fake handoff to Edwards-Helaire when Burrow took off left for 18 major yards.

From there, Edwards-Helaire went right into the considerable grasp of a defender on his seven-yard touchdown run, then went right out of that grasp in to the end zone. He also scored a fourth-quarter touchdown with a glorious spin move that freed him of the frightening Xavier McKinney and set Edwards-Helaire toward open terrain, leftward. He also went right into about half the Alabama defense on his 11-yard run for a clinching first down with 1:12 left, and he seemed to carry all that humanity with him the last few yards.

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“Throw your heart across the line and your body will follow,” Edwards-Helaire said, echoing his favorite quote.

“Clyde is Clyde, how about that? He fights for the extra yards,” said receiver Chase, who caught seven passes for 140 alongside Justin Jefferson (7 for 79) and tight end Thaddeus Moss (6 for 46). All of them, together, with their 17 points in the six minutes before halftime, their interception from a hiding Patrick Queen in the closing seconds of the second quarter, their striking pass from Burrow to Edwards-Helaire six seconds before halftime, had sent dynastic Alabama Coach Nick Saban into a mantra: “Don’t let a failure go to waste.”

They had pushed Alabama to the outer edge of College Football Playoff consideration, a matter generally inconceivable the way things had gone this playoff decade. They had reversed the norms, reached the fore and reminded everyone that redefinition can be something to see.

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In-game updates

by Jacob Bogage in Washington

4th Quarter

The “Game of the Century” lived up to its billing. In a drama-filled night before a presidential audience, No. 2 LSU shocked No. 3 Alabama, 46-41, in Tuscaloosa.

Tigers running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire had 180 total yards and four touchdowns, none bigger than his last scoring run with just more than a minute left, breaking three tackles and squirming into the end zone from the 7-yard line. Quarterback Joe Burrow made his best case for the Heisman Trophy with a three-touchdown, 393-yard performance on 31 of 39 passing.

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“I feel like my heart can’t be measured,” Edwards-Helaire told CBS’s Jamie Erdahl after the game. Tough to argue.

Or not: Did we speak too soon? Tua Tagovailoa hit DeVonta Smith for an 85-yard touchdown pass, a lightning bolt down the left sideline, on Alabama’s first play from scrimmage after falling behind by 12. That cut LSU’s lead back down to five points. LSU recovered Alabama’s onside kick attempt to get the ball back, but this game isn’t over. (LSU 46, Alabama 41, 1:21 4th quarter)

That should do it: Clyde Edwards-Helaire nailed Alabama’s coffin shut with his fourth touchdown of the game. The Tigers marched 75 yards in seven plays and took 3:55 off the clock before Joe Burrow handed off to Edwards-Helaire at the 7-yard line. The running back broke three tackles and scooted inside the pylon at the right corner of the end zone. He has 91 rushing yards on 19 carries and three scores, and nine catches for 77 yards and another score. Most importantly to LSU, the TD put them up 12 with just over 1:30 left. (LSU 46, Alabama 34, 1:37 4th quarter)

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Alabama won’t go away: And just like that, the Crimson Tide cut LSU’s lead right back down. Tua Tagovailoa hit Jerry Jeudy on a quick out route from the 5-yard line on fourth and two. But LSU’s touchdown on its last drive means Alabama needs another touchdown of its own to retake the lead. The scoring play was Alabama’s second fourth-down conversion of the drive, and put the pressure squarely on the shoulders of Joe Burrow and the LSU offense. Tagovailoa is up to 20 of 39 for 333 yards and three touchdowns. (LSU 39, Alabama 34, 5:32 4th quarter)

LSU responds: The Tigers answered with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that took more than four minutes off the clock. Clyde Edwards-Helaire spun out of a tackle in the backfield on first and goal at the 5-yard line and walked into the end zone. The Tigers went for two, Burrow’s pass to Edwards-Helaire was incomplete. Edwards-Helaire had kept the drive alive earlier with a powerful catch and run on the near sideline with LSU facing third and 10. Edwards-Helaire now has 157 all-purpose yards and three TDs, two rushing and one receiving. (LSU 39, Alabama 27, 10:07 4th quarter)

Buckle in for a wild fourth: Najee Harris powered over the right tackle for a touchdown to complete a nine-play, 78-yard drive that cut LSU’s lead to six points. Harris has 175 all-purpose yards, 131 of them rushing, and two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving. Alabama has completely dominated the second half after looking on the verge of getting run out of its own stadium. (LSU 33, Alabama 27, 14:33 4th quarter)

3rd Quarter

We’ve got a ballgame: Alabama went 95 yards in 10 plays, capped by Tua Tagovailoa’s back-shoulder throw on the far side to running back Najee Harris for a touchdown. It cut LSU’s lead to a manageable 13 points with plenty of time left for a comeback. Harris had 88 total yards on the drive. (LSU 33, Alabama 20, 4:51 3rd quarter)

Quick pick: The Tide’s defense got a break when Xavier McKinney came off the edge and put a hit on Joe Burrow, causing the ball to flutter out of his hand and into the chest of linebacker Terrell Lewis for a fumble. Alabama took over at its own 42-yard line, but went three-and-out for the third time in the game. (LSU 33, Alabama 13, 11:08 3rd quarter)

Halftime

The No. 2 Tigers have left Bryant-Denny Stadium stunned with perhaps the best half of football played by a Power 5 conference team this year. They lead No. 3 Alabama, 33-13, at the half, a score befitting the shellacking Coach Ed Orgeron’s team has inflicted from the get-go.

Quarterback Joe Burrow, a Heisman Trophy hopeful, has thrown for three touchdowns and 252 yards on 18 of 20 passing. The LSU defense has forced the Crimson Tide into four turnovers: two takeaways, two on downs.

The margin could be worse for Alabama if not for an electric 77-yard punt-return score by Jaylen Waddle. LSU will get the ball to start the second half.

2nd Quarter

Blowout in the making?: Burrow played nearly a perfect half of football and capped it with a 13-yard scoring strike to halfback Clyde Edwards-Helaire with six seconds left in the first half. The TD came two plays after Tua Tagovailoa’s third interception of the season with 11 seconds left in the first half, but it could hardly have come at a worse time. One snap after LSU went up 26-13, linebacker Patrick Queen picked off Tagovailoa’s pass over the middle and set LSU up in scoring position.

Burrow is 18-20 for 252 yards and 3 TDs. And CBS’s Brad Nessler is stunned.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this. LSU by 20,” he said on the broadcast. (LSU 33, Alabama 13, 0:06 2nd quarter)

A circus catch and the Tigers push further ahead: What a crucial drive for the Tigers, who went 61 yards in eight plays — and it only took 2:13 off the clock. Edwards-Helaire catapulted over a scrum at the line of scrimmage for a one-yard touchdown plunge that extended LSU’s lead to 26-13. The Tigers will also get the ball to start the second half. The drive was helped along by a spectacular catch by Thaddeus Moss that gave LSU the ball inside the 1-yard line. Upon replay, it appeared Moss stepped out of bounds before making the tightrope grab, but the call on the field was a completion and it was confirmed after review. (LSU 26, Alabama 13, 0:26 2nd quarter)

York extends Tigers lead: Cade York hit his second field goal of the day, a boomer from 45 yards. This scoring drive for LSU — seven plays. 48 yards — feels like a win for both sides. The Tigers kept clicking on offense and added three more points. The Tide will take solace in keeping LSU out of the end zone and preserving a one-score game. (LSU 19, Alabama 13, 4:20 2nd quarter)

Tagovailoa finds a groove: A busted LSU coverage left DaVonta Smith wide open for a 64-yard touchdown catch and run to cut the Tiger lead 3, after the point-after attempt was no good. It capped a four-play, 90-yard drive in which all but five yards came from Tagovailoa’s arm. He’s now 10 of 16 for 174 yards and a touchdown. (LSU 16, Alabama 13, 6:43 2nd quarter)

The World Series, this was not: President Trump was greeted with a rousing, roaring round of cheers and applause as he and first lady Melania Trump were formally introduced at Bryant-Denny Stadium during the first quarter of the Alabama-LSU game. As the stadium’s giant screens showed the first couple waving and applauding, the crowd of more than 100,000 overwhelmingly cheered for nearly a minute, while Crimson Tide fans shook their red-and-white pompoms.

Some boos broke out partway through, as did enthusiastic chants of “USA! USA! USA!” The response was markedly different than the reception Trump has received in his recent outings at sporting events.

Trump was roundly booed when he attended Game 5 of the World Series in overwhelmingly Democratic Washington on Oct. 27. He followed that up with a visit to an Ultimate Fighting Championship match in New York Nov. 2, where he was met with a mix of boos and cheers.

The president watched the game with several Alabama lawmakers, including Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R), Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R) and Rep. Bradley Byrne (R).

Seung Min Kim in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Alabama turns it over again: This time it’s a turnover on downs at the LSU 49-yard line. Alabama needed one yard and tried to pick it up out of the wildcat formation, but a surge from the Tigers stopped ball carrier Slade Bolden short and handed possession right back to that hot LSU offense. (LSU 16, Alabama 7, 9:48 2nd quarter)

Tigers bounce back fast: Alabama’s defense was all out of sorts at the end of an eight-play, 75-yard drive and Burrow hit Terrace Marshall for a 29-yard touchdown. Burrow is 9 for 9, a career-best mark to start a game, with 146 yards and two scoring passes. York’s point-after attempt was blocked. (LSU 16, Alabama 7, 13:03 2nd quarter)

1st Quarter

Alabama cuts into LSU lead: The Crimson Tide are on the board. After Alabama’s defense forced a three-and-out that featured a sack of Burrow, Waddle fielded a punt and ran it back 77 yards for a touchdown. (LSU 10, Alabama 7, 1:14 1st quarter)

Tigers push lead into double-digits: The Tigers picked up a first down off Alabama penalties, but the Tide defense held. York hit a 40-yard field goal for the Tigers to up LSU’s lead. (LSU 10, Alabama 0, 4:54 1st quarter)

Oy, Alabama: The Tide ran out of downs and tried to punt, but punter Ty Perine mishandled the snap and had to fall on the ball inside Alabama territory. The very next snap, the Tide had 12 men on the field on defense, which negated a Joe Burrow interception. (LSU 7, Alabama 0, 7:55 1st quarter)

LSU strikes first: The Tigers took the Alabama turnover and marched 92 yards in six plays. Burrow connected with Ja’Marr Chase for a 33-yard touchdown down the right sideline. Burrow was 3 for 3 for 74 yards on the drive. (LSU 7, Alabama 0, 9:15 1st quarter)

Alabama’s great start goes awry: Tagovailoa tried to scramble for the end zone, but the ball squirted loose as he tried to tuck it away. LSU recovered and took over at its own 8-yard line. (LSU 0, Alabama 0, 12:01 1st quarter)

Game on, and Tua is active: And, we’re off! LSU kicks off to Alabama, which will start at its own 28-yard line. Before the game, Tide Coach Nick Saban told CBS’s Jamie Erdahl, “He’s fine. We’re starting him.”

Alabama is Donald Trump country, but not for a couple dozen protesters making their antipathy for the president known on one of the biggest football game days of the year.

The “Trump Baby” balloon — the oversized floating depiction of the president as an infant — was spotted in Tuscaloosa near Bryant-Denny Stadium, where the Trump and first lady Melania Trump will be attending the No. 2 LSU Tigers game against the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide.

Surrounding the “Trump Baby” balloon (tethered to the ground, not floating in the air) were the handful of protesters, two holding up a banner that read “Roll Impeachment Roll.” One woman’s sign proclaimed that she sold her tickets and gave the proceeds to Alabama Democrats. Another sign, on a crimson-colored poster, read: “Roll Tide Impeach 45.”

A handful of “Trump for President” signs were spotted around the stadium, along with one banner that read “Rammer Jammer, Yellow Hammer, We Love Trump In Alabama.” And while there was a smattering of “Trump 2020” and “Make America Great Again” gear, most of the red-tinted apparel was for, indeed, the Crimson Tide.

Shortly before the scheduled kickoff, Trump waved from a luxury box near midfield to cheers from the crowd.

Seung Min Kim in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Air Force One nears Bryant-Denny Stadium: President Trump is on final approach to see No. 3 Alabama host No. 2 LSU. Trump’s approval rating in October was 54 percent in Louisiana and 59 percent in Alabama, according to Morning Consult. Only Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban might be more popular.

Long security lines to enter stadium: Alabama athletics officials asked students to begin entering Bryant-Denny Stadium three hours ahead of the 3:30 p.m., kickoff and to be seated two hours before the game begins. Officials asked other fans to enter the stadium two hours before kickoff to allow time for the extra security measures necessary for a presidential visit.

Less than an hour before the start of the game, there’s still a long wait to enter the game.

Saban says “expectation” is Tagovailoa will play: Though Alabama junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is still officially a game-time decision as he recovers from “tight rope” surgery, Coach Nick Saban told CBS in a pregame interview, “The expectation for him and for us is that he will play,” Saban said.

What you need to know

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

When: 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

TV: CBS.

Line: Alabama by 7.

Early in the week, it seemed like the hype for Saturday’s Alabama-LSU’s faceoff would inevitably outshine the game. And who could be to blame? Tuscaloosa was set to host a meeting between the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams, a game featuring two Heisman Trophy favorite quarterbacks, a presidential visit and the appearance of ESPN’s “College GameDay,” coming just days after the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings.

Then the ranking committee knocked each side down a peg. Ohio State, it declared, was the nation’s top team, not those fighting Tigers or rolling Crimson Tide.

Oh, well. The country will have to settle for No. 2 hosting No. 3. The winner almost inevitably will head to the Southeastern Conference championship game. (Auburn and Texas A&M, the third- and fourth-best teams in the SEC West, already have two losses apiece.) The loser could make the College Football Playoff, anyway.

Alabama’s offense, the second-ranked scoring offense in the country, could be hampered by a less than healthy quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The junior continues recovering from an ankle injury, and though he will almost certainly start — a proposition that was once in doubt — he might not be the same spunky Tua, known to whirl around in the pocket and keep plays alive.

“I watched Tua practice [Thursday], he’s not 100 percent,” CBS analyst Gary Danielson told College Sports on SiriusXM radio late in the week. “I don’t care what Alabama says. I don’t care what Tua says. I watched him. He doesn’t have that spring in his step. It’s not natural.”

Good thing the Tide’s running backs, Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr., are fully healthy after an early-season injury bug. Alabama’s receiving corps, too, including Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle, might be the deepest in the country.

Joe Burrow leads an offense for LSU that is finally comfortable throwing the ball down the field. First-year passing game coordinator Joe Brady has earned the trust of Coach Ed Orgeron after engineering big games through the air against Texas, Florida and Mississippi State. Burrow even in a tight win over Auburn, by far his worst game of the year, still completed 76.2 percent of his passes for 321 yards. He’s averaging 350 passing yards a game, second in FBS.

Throwing to targets like Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase, who each have nine touchdowns, certainly helps. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has rushed for 323 yards and three scores in his last three games.