If they don’t score, they can’t win.
Sure, it seems simple enough. But this year’s Alabama offense has been different from the offenses usually produced by Nick Saban.
Saban is known for a grind-it-out, mind numbing, soul breaking running game to set up occasional play action passes to score just enough points to beat down opponents with a dominant defense.
The 2012 Crimson Tide offense, though, has opened up the playbook and allowed quarterback AJ McCarron to average 222 passing yards per game, eight more yards per game than the Tide’s average rushing yards per contest. They are also averaging more than 40 points per game.
For LSU, all three units on the defense will have to play an impeccable game to shut down Alabama.
The most heralded unit on the LSU defense, the line’s play will be vital in helping the rest of the defense make plays.
The Crimson Tide offensive line has surrendered 17 sacks this season, and pressuring McCarron, who has been banged up at times during the season, will be pivotal to disrupting his rhythm. McCarron is completing nearly 67 percent of his passes this season, and is yet to throw an interception.
“It’s any defense’s job to force mistakes and that’s our job,” said defensive end Barkevious Mingo. “We have to force mistakes and get pressure and fore them to make bad decisions. They don’t make too many mistakes, so that’s a task we have to try and accomplish. We need to get turnovers to help the offense out.”
This challenge will be different from the one’s LSU has faced in past weeks.
Florida was the stereotypical Saban offense, which passed only when the situation mandated it and won the game with a demoralizing run game. South Carolina and Texas A&M both had mobile quarterbacks who liked to make plays with their legs.
Mingo and fellow end, Sam Montgomery, may not have to worry about containing designed runs for McCarron, but it doesn’t mean he’s a statue in the pocket, either.
“Alabama has a very mobile offense. They use everyone on the line,” said Montgomery. “They’re good in their offensive scheme. “
The line will also be responsible for keeping the Alabama offensive line from moving to the second level on running plays and allow the linebackers to make the tackles.
The linebackers will be saddled with the duty of corralling the potent Alabama rushing attack, led by the two-headed monster of TJ Yeldon and Eddie Lacey. Yeldon and Lacey are averaging 81 and 74 yards per game, respectively.
“This is one of the best offensive lines we’ll see all year,” said linebacker Lamin Barrow. “They do a great job of getting to the second level and cutting linebackers and just wiping them out of the players. So we’re focusing on being more physical than them. The person who is more physical is going to win.”
Physical is something Alabama still does well, and Barrow is looking forward to the challenge.
“This is the type of game that our front seven live for. They’re team that’s going to run it straight at us and our duty is to step up to that level.”
The backers will be helping out in the underneath passing game, as well.
In January’s national title game, the Crimson Tide found success using the tight end in the flats and across the middle. This has been a point of focus for the defense this week. The tight ends beat both linebackers and safeties in the title game and it can be expected that McCarron will continue to target them until the Tigers stop it.
Who that responsibility will fall on Saturday will vary, but it will take a full effort from both the backers and the secondary.
“It depends on what coverage we’re in at the time,” said safety Craig Loston. “But as far as us covering the tight ends, it’s going to be the safeties or the linebackers on the tight ends.”
But the wide receivers can’t be ignored, either, especially big play threat Kenny Bell. Bell is sixth on the team in receptions with just 12, but he is averaging nearly 26 yards per reception.
I’ve noticed Kenny Bell,” Loston said. “He’s got a little bit of length on him and he’s got some speed.”
Alabama is balanced and effective, offensively, make no bones about it. They’ve been an unstoppable force through eight games this season.
But LSU has a blueprint for success.
In the last eight quarters of football against the Tide, the Tigers have yielded just one touchdown. And that was a garbage time touchdown against a physically exhausted and mentally broken team in the fourth quarter in January.
The key is making Alabama earn every single yard. If LSU’s defense plays a game without mental mistakes — meaning no blown assignments and no unnecessary penalties — it has the physical talent to keep Alabama from lighting up the scoreboard.
“No big plays. That’s the key to any good secondary is to not give up big plays and keep everything in front of you,” Loston said. “Just do your job. Don’t try to do too much, don’t try to worry about what someone else has to do. Just do your job.”