Game Time: 8 p.m. ET
Radio: LSU Sports Radio Network || Alabama Crimson Tide Sports Network
Odds: Alabama -7, LSU +7, O/U 48.5
Boy, LSU wants this.
Ed Orgeron wants this for an interim tag to be removed from his name. The players want this because none have experienced a win against Alabama. The fans want this because making Nick Saban sad is a dadgum right!
Whether LSU beats Alabama or not is contingent upon two things: 1) LSU playing the type of game they haven’t all season long, 2) Alabama undervaluing the importance of said game.
People forget that for all the bluster Nick Saban shilled out in 2012 following a change in offensive philosophy in the conference, a grind-it-out LSU beat a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team three times. From 2007-2011, it was Les Miles 3, Nick Saban 2.
Les Miles no longer roams the sideline for the Tigers. A major reason for this is that from 2012-2015, it was Les Miles 0 Nick Saban 5, including a lopsided loss to the Tide in the BCS National Championship game.
Since Miles firing, LSU has gone 3-0, rattling off impressive offensive AND defensive performances against Missouri, Southern Miss and Ole Miss. It’s not the most impressive lineup of games, but imagine how meager the wins would’ve been had Miles continued to be the coach.
Say what you will about Orgeron, but the man knows how to rally the troops and when you mix his hurricane style of leadership with the type of players he’s always wanted to lead, you have a combustible and reinvigorated team.
LSU is the ONLY team over the last decade who matches Alabama’s roster in both scope and talent. No matter their record, the Tigers always compete with Alabama because they play the same type of football.
Or, at least, they used to.
Bless our souls, the Crimson Tide offense runs the read option. That’s right, Mr. Bluster himself has laid down his arms and joined the other side. If you’d like to look in depth into this transformation, do yourself a favor and read this article from SI’s Andy Staples.
This game is so strangely inconsistent in its predictability. The 2011 Game of the Century was the most predictable game of the series because you knew the two greatest defenses arguably of the last fifteen years were going to beat each other’s offenses up for 60 minutes. It happened, didn’t it?
When we thought 2013 and last year’s games would be the same ol’ Alabama-LSU, Alabama outscored LSU by 21 and 14, respectively. Another reason Les Miles had to go: Nick Saban was adapting, he wasn’t.
I’m not really sure where to start with the 2016 version of this game. It’s in Baton Rouge, so it’s either going into overtime or LSU will pull away in the fourth quarter. It just as that kind of feel to it for some reason.
Here, though, are some keys I’ve thought about for each team’s two sides of the football to be successful.
LSU Offense: Establish the Play-Action
If you look at the two games where Alabama’s defense gave up more than 300 yards of offense, there was one consistent factor: the opposing team throwing it and not being afraid to do it.
Alabama got gashed by Chad Kelly and Ole Miss the same ol’ way: size and tempo. The Rebels’ large receivers caught almost everything Kelly threw at them and it happened very quickly. Arkansas surprisingly ate up the Tide’s secondary by leaning on the play-action pass. The same result occurred with Austin Allen throwing for 400 yards.
Danny Etling doesn’t have the arm of Kelly or Allen, but he does have better talent around him. When all you have to do is hand the ball to Leonard Fournette/Derrius Guice or throw to Malachi Dupre/Travin Dural, your only charge is to make it as clean as possible.
Since taking over for Brandon Harris, Etling has been thrown for over 1100 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s also only thrown three picks, which is essential when facing this Alabama defense.
If Fournette finds success early, then it’s now on Alabama’s secondary to defend a talented LSU receiving core without the help of star safety Eddie Jackson. This is where LSU could really begin to establish methodical and lengthy drives. By doing that, they will have put the Tide defense in a place they seldom see themselves: on the field for more than six plays.
Alabama Offense: Test the Long Ball
LSU has arguably the best safety in the country in Jamal Adams. They, also, have rangy corners in Tre’Davious White and Kevin Tolliver II. What has Alabama’s offense not done well this year? Throw deep.
When you decide to start a true freshman quarterback, you risk numerous things. You risk costly mistakes, penalties, turnovers, etc. Jalen Hurts has done a very good job of minimizing all of these things.
One factor not considered, though, is the mechanics of the passer. Hurts is still very much in the development stages of that part of his game. The touch on his long ball is simply not there yet. Were he a junior or senior, this would be a cause for concern, but he’s young and he will get better.
With the Tide’s offense leaning heavily on the read option, it’s made it somewhat simple for opposing defenses to suss out the game plan. Alabama OC Lane Kiffin has done a good job of establishing a pattern for his offense. With Ole Miss, he ran constant jet sweeps in hopes he’d tire the defense out.
Against Tennessee and Texas A&M, he made it clear he would use his skillful runner of a QB and talented running backs to gash all points of the line of scrimmage. It’s worked very well to this point.
LSU DC Dave Aranda is very aware of this, though, and the only way for the Tide to gain control of the type of offense they want to run is to show the Tigers’ secondary that they’re not afraid to pass downfield early in the game. It’s the type of risk you have to take when facing this kind of defense.
LSU Defense: Attack the Mesh Point
I’ll be honest: until I heard CBS analyst Gary Danielson say the phrase a couple of weeks ago during the A&M game, I had no idea what the mesh point was. I do, now. It makes total sense. I’m ready to move on.
One reason Danielson was discussing the mesh point was because Aggies’ star defensive end Myles Garrett was doing a wonderful job attacking said mesh point throughout the game against Alabama.
The idea is to disrupt the point where the quarterback hands the ball off to the running back. Or, in the case of Alabama this year, possibly decides to pull it and take off himself. The mesh point is where the play officially begins.
LSU has some terrific linemen and pass-rushers and one of them could play the type of role Garrett had two weeks ago. His name is Arden Key and he’s a beast.
On the season he has 33 tackles and 8 sacks. Think about that. Almost a third of the time he makes a tackle, it’s a sack. He’s a game changer and he’s the guy who’s going to need to beat a massive offensive line to help eat up the run game.
The “help” he will have will be in defensive ends Lewis Neal and Davon Godchaux, the latter of whom has 34 tackles and 4 sacks.
LSU is athletic enough to make things very difficult for a prolific Alabama run game and if they’re able to stop them early and often, they’ll force a freshman quarterback with a wild arm to throw it, which will mean good things for the Tigers.
Alabama Defense: Play 2016 Alabama Defense
This is easier said than done with safety and team leader Eddie Jackson out for the rest of the year, but without a need for six defensive backs in this game, the Crimson Tide should be able to play the type of football they’ve played all season.
Danny Etling is the exact quarterback this defense wants to face because there’s no threat for him to run and the corners can be trusted to be left on an island with LSU’s receivers.
Corner Minkah Fitzpatrick will most likely be taking Jackson’s spot at safety, which means an inexperienced, but talented Tony Brown will be asked to spell him at the nickel corner spot. Junior Anthony Averett will be taking over full time at the right corner position opposite Marlon Humphrey.
No matter who this defense has gone up against, they’ve always been able to force and capitalize on mistakes. To the tune of 9 defensive touchdowns, they’ve done this.
Here are a couple of nutty stats for you: seven different players have scored these touchdowns and of the five fumble recoveries for TDs, four different players caused those.
That means, every single one of these guys flies to the ball and with sleeker middle LBs in Reuben Foster and Shaun Dion Hamiliton, they can chase down sideline-to-sideline.
It’s going to be difficult to keep Fournette to his 55 ypg average against the Tide, but the front seven is still deep and talented enough to make it difficult for he and Guice.
Prediction: In the end, this game is going to come down to one guy doing his job just a little bit better than the other. And even though Fournette and Co. will be loaded up and ready to go in front of a raucous Death Valley, the Tide seem to have whatever it takes to pull out the victory. Even though, the Tigers may feel like they’re due, the Tide wins this one at the very end.
Alabama 24, LSU 20