When quarterback Tua Tagovailoa fumbled away Alabama's opening possession last Saturday inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Crimson Tide could take quick consolation that LSU would be starting its first drive at its own 8-yard line.
Six plays later, however, the Tigers had covered that distance and were celebrating a 33-yard touchdown pass from Joe Burrow to Ja'Marr Chase.
LSU took a dazzling offensive arsenal to Tuscaloosa, but the Tigers joined a growing number of teams this year that have caught Alabama by surprise in the first several minutes of a game. The Tigers built a 33-13 halftime lead before prevailing 46-41.
"This has always been the case here," Tide coach Nick Saban said this week. "If you're good, sometimes people think that they have to do some different things to take advantage of something, and there is no way to know what those things are going to be unless you have a crystal ball. You can't practice everything that can happen.
"Duke came out and ran the damn (wish)bone against us to start the game, and how were we supposed to know that? I think the issue is when you have young players playing, especially at linebacker. It's difficult for those guys to adapt when they don't have the experience to draw from."
Alabama started four true freshmen on defense against LSU — nose guard DJ Dale, middle linebacker Shane Lee, weakside linebacker Christian Harris and strong safety Jordan Battle — and all four have started multiple games this season. An inability to adapt early has been reflected in most every Southeastern Conference contest the Tide have played.
In a 47-23 win at South Carolina in September, the Gamecocks took their opening possession 60 yards on 14 plays before settling on a Parker White 44-yard field goal. In last month's 47-28 triumph at Texas A&M, the Aggies went 75 yards in 15 plays on their first drive, consuming more than eight minutes and scoring on a 1-yard run by quarterback Kellen Mond.
Even in Alabama's 48-7 dismantling of Arkansas late last month, the woeful Razorbacks took their first drive 27 yards into Tide territory.
"Some of that is kind of hard and challenging, because you always get somebody's best shot," Alabama senior safety Jared Mayden said this week in a news conference. "Nobody just says, 'Oh, that's Alabama.' They want to make a statement. A lot of times, teams don't do what we have seen on film, and what you try and do is take your base rules and apply them as much as you can."
Said Saban: "We try to prepare players for everything they might see in a game, but there is no way of knowing what someone else will do unless you go watch them practice, which from an integrity standpoint, we've never done."
Alabama had shown defensive improvement until LSU invaded and amassed 559 yards and averaged 7.1 yards per snap. The Tide (8-1, 5-1) are still in the hunt for a sixth consecutive invitation to the College Football Playoff, but they must handle Mississippi State (4-5, 2-4) in Starkville this weekend — Saturday's game kicks off at noon EST and will be televised by ESPN — and the Nov. 23 mismatch against visiting Western Carolina.
Then it's on to the Iron Bowl at Auburn, where coach Gus Malzahn is certain to provide an opening script of plays designed to confuse Tide defenders.
"We obviously need to get better," Saban said. "We need to play with more confidence and tackle better on the perimeter and get more turnovers. You can't have any blinking lights. It's not OK for one player to break down on a play.
"We've got to work hard at it."