Alabama changed offensive coordinators over the off-season. It lost Trent Richardson. The identity of the Crimson Tide has now shifted a hair. It starts with A.J. McCarron who shredded the LSU defense in January. He’s continued that strong play this year, and the Alabama offense has become a real force. So is the LSU defense. That makes this an exciting battle that certainly includes the Tiger Stadium faithful who didn’t get its chance last season. Last season, the Tiger defense was supposed to be far superior. This time around, both units have proven themselves and will have their hands full Saturday night.
LSU Defensive Line vs. Alabama Offensive Line
As expected, LSU did a nice job bottling up Texas A&M on the ground. That fell in line with every game of the season except one half against Florida. I still contend that had more to do with the time of possession than anything. Anthony Johnson still leads this group in tackles. He’s got 24 to edge Sam Montgomery by one. I think Bennie Logan has started to play better and now understands how to deal with doubles. He’s now made five tackles for loss. Josh Downs has given LSU quality snaps in the last couple of weeks. Obviously Barkevious Mingo and Lavar Edwards have continued their excellent play. I can’t see too much Ego Ferguson in this one. Perhaps Jermauria Rasco will factor in depending on the time of possession. This group will have to be at its best Saturday night.
Alabama has the best offensive line in college football. It starts in the middle where Barrett Jones has transitioned nicely from left tackle to center. He’s big for a center where he used to be undersized a touch at tackle. The tackles are Cyrus Kouandjio and D.J. Fluker. Kouandjio, a sophomore, is in his first year as a starter, and he’s been excellent. He’s a superb athlete for that size. Fluker is simply massive. He’s 6-feet-6-inches and 335 lbs. He’s a run blocker first. Chance Warmack is the senior left guard. He’s probably the best guard in America. At 6-feet-3-inches and 320 lbs., he’s one of the thickest, too. Anthony Steen is the fourth returning starter. He’s the right guard and sometimes the forgotten man in this group. Alabama runs for 214.4 yards per game behind this group. They’re a mauling bunch, much like LSU’s when its good.
This is the best matchup on the field Saturday night. Alabama is best equipped to deal with Logan and Johnson in the middle. No one else has all season. Jones, who has never played center before this season, will have never played a more explosive set of tackles, but the good news is he has Steen and Warmack to help him adjust. Kouandjio versus Montgomery is a scout’s dream out there. Montgomry wore Jones out in Tuscaloosa, but I think this one is tighter. I think the one spot where LSU has an advantage here is Mingo on Fluker in the pass rush. Conversely, Fluker has the edge in the run game. That means down and distance will be a major factor there. Mingo’s speed could be lethal in sure passing downs. I think Edwards would be better served playing the run against a man a strong as Fluker. LSU did very well against the Alabama run last season. With Trent Richardson gone, you have to think the Tigers could equal that effort. All of these guys will need some time in the cold tub after this one. Most of them will collect an NFL check soon, too.
LSU Linebackers vs. Alabama Running Backs
LSU’s linebackers got a real test in College Station. They had to run and tackle in space. Test passed. Kevin Minter had 12 tackles and a sack. Lamin Barrow had eight tackles and a fumble recovery. Minter is on pace to have the most tackles in the Les Miles era. It’s games like this one that aid that bid. The third spot has been occupied by Lamar Louis and Deion Jones, who made a great play in the backfield two weeks ago. Both guys are learning on the fly. Luke Muncie has practiced this week and is expected to play. He’s got to be nearing game shape after a month of missed time. LSU will need three good linebackers on the field most of the time this weekend.
I mentioned Richardson above. For the first time in quite some time, Alabama doesn’t have a “go-to guy” in the backfield. There is talent, though. Eddie Lacy has done a good job handling the rock this year after fighting turf toe for some time. He’s physical with a mix of speed, rushing for 596 yards and seven touchdowns thus far. Freshman T.J. Yeldon has entered the fold rather nicely. He leads the team with 649 yards. Looking at it game by game, the two really do share carries. Only twice this year has the carry differential been greater than three. They stay fresh, and they run hard. Yeldon is the more talented back, but Lacy is more than keeping his end of the bargain.
This will look more like the Florida game than any other LSU has played this year. Minter had 20 tackles in that one. He and Barrow are going to have to find these guys all night and get a hat on them. As I mentioned, they did that with Richardson as much as you could possible hope for last season. He really only busted free on two or three occasions. Alabama will run out of a one-back set most of the night, and that means filling the hole is doable without a fullback paving the way. The question mark for LSU is the third spot. If Muncie returns, you have to like what LSU can do. The freshmen are still learning. This is really a nod to Minter who should be the All-SEC middle linebacker at this point. Look for him to have a HUGE night.
LSU Secondary vs. Alabama Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Pretty nice job by LSU in Aggieland. Pretty nice job. They covered that nightmare of an offense all over the field for more than 100 plays. Tharold Simon made a great read to intercept a pass, and Jalen Collins played his technique perfectly to get another. Simon, Collins and Jalen Mills all made five tackles which was the gameplan. Keep receivers in front and make a tackle. Eric Reid was everywhere that afternoon, making 11 stops and breaking up a pass. Craig Loston had nine tackles, and Ronald Martin had three. Loston said this week that he feels fresh after the bye week. It’s been nice to see him stay healthy. This week is a new challenge for these guys. Alabama doesn’t have a true No. 1, but there are plenty of weapons on this offense.
Are you sick of it yet? I still have to print it. A.J. McCarron leads the country in passing efficiency and has thrown 18 touchdowns against no interceptions. A Mississippi State player dropped one last week, but the fact still remains. McCarron is riding high off that BCSNCG performance, and he’s played with that confidence all year. His top target is freshman Amari Cooper who has 32 catches for 472 yards and five scores. Rayville’s Kenny Bell has just 12 catches, but he’s made them count, racking up 309 yards and three scores. He’ll beat you deep. Kevin Norwood, a 6-feet-2-inch junior has 15 catches, and speedster Christion Jones has 13. Big tight end Michael Williams is another viable option. He’s made 15 grabs as well.
Alabama’s passing game is good because of the running game. Secondary members with eyes in the backfield pay dearly. Cooper, Bell and Jones can absolutely fly, and they’ll hit the homerun if you’re not careful. Simon is great on the deep ball. He picked off Oregon and Georgia on long ones last season. He’s got long arms and good enough speed. Collins has great speed as he showed lassoing the Texas A&M kickoff returner. Teams have picked on Mills at times, namely South Carolina and Texas A&M. I expect more of that from McCarron and Alabama. Reid seems to rise to the occasion against Alabama. Maybe he makes a play this week. What used to be a line of scrimmage passing attack has branched out this year for Alabama. This is the difference between the two teams. Alabama has been great through the air. It was the difference in six points last November and 21 in January.
First of all, I think the crowd deserves a mention here. The home crowd can certainly make things tough on Alabama. McCarron does some play changing at the line. Connor Shaw had a hard time doing that three weeks ago. I think the crowd inspired the Tiger defense to play well. I think LSU can stop the run. It did last year, and it can again. This is not Trent Richardson. What Alabama does is move the chains and keep the ball. LSU has to force mistakes to win. LSU MUST, MUST, MUST win the turnover margin to upset this team. How do you do that? Play with a lead. Force McCarron to make plays. It’s never easy to play eight games without a pick, but it’s easier when you have a lead and can throw the ball away and take sacks. It LSU can get a lead and capitalize on a speed advantage on the edge of the lines, they can pressure McCarron to force plays down the field. It’s a tall order, but it’s possible. The six yard completions need to remain six yard gains. LSU’s secondary has been great tackling. If LSU’s defense can play tough and bottle up the run, it will give itself a chance late. If Alabama starts to find creases up front behind a great offensive line, that opens up McCarron’s offense, and he’s great back there. It can get away. I don’t think it does. Give me a late Alabama touchdown to make it look worse that it is. Tigers play tough, but don’t have enough.
Prediction: Alabama 20, LSU 10