Dig Baton Rouge

College football titans set to compete in Death Valley

It’s the most anticipated game of the college football schedule.

It’s the sport’s version of Goliath vs. Goliath.

It’s Ed Orgeron. It’s Nick Saban.

It’s ESPN’s “College Gameday.”

It’s a tale of possible revenge. It’s a battle that may decide the SEC Championship race.

It’s 60 minutes. It’s Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.

It’s LSU vs. Alabama.

It doesn’t get any better than this.

As always, the stakes are high as the No. 1 Alabama gets set to come into Baton Rouge for a 7 p.m. kickoff date with No. 13 LSU in Tiger Stadium.

Coach Ed Orgeron conceded throughout the week that the Tigers have a tall task if they want to defeat the always-dominant Crimson Tide.

But Orgeron said he thinks LSU has the thoroughbreds to get it done in a game that, if the Tigers win, may tilt the university’s coaching search in Orgeron’s favor.

“This is going to be prime time football,” Orgeron said Monday at his media luncheon. “It’s why you come to LSU. It’s why you coach at LSU. We understand the rivalry. I understand it. Our team understands it. We understand the importance of the football game. … It’s going to be a great night in our stadium, and we’re going to be ready to play.”

For the Tigers, there are five season’s worth of demons that are looking to be erased on Saturday night.
Since the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, the Tigers have never beaten Alabama – a five-game losing streak that has had the LSU fan base tied in knots.

To get off the snide in 2016, the Tigers will have to do something that none of LSU’s unsuccessful teams of the past have been able to do against the Tide: consistently move the football.

Alabama’s defense is a bear – a unit that ranks No. 1 in the country in a lot of stats, including rushing yards allowed per game.

“They’re the best defense we will see all year,” Orgeron said of the Tide.

But the matchup of LSU’s offense versus Alabama’s defense isn’t as lopsided on paper as one might expect.

Since Orgeron’s promotion to head coach, LSU has been dominant offensively, and has scored 38 or more points in three-straight games.

That change has caught the eye of Nick Saban, who said he thinks LSU is as good now as it has been in a long, long time.

“This will be as good of a team as we’ve played all year – especially with the way they’re playing right now,” Saban said of LSU during a Wednesday teleconference. “This will be challenging for us in every way.”

The key to that change has been balance – a mix in formations and scheme that has allowed the team to succeed both in the running and passing game.

Orgeron said the Tigers will try and feature halfbacks Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice heavily on Saturday – a duo that struggled against the Tide last season.

But the coach also said that if Alabama is bottling up the run, he believes Etling and the LSU receivers, led by Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, can make plays, as well.

“Danny has to manage the game,” Orgeron said. “He’s going to get hit. He’s probably going to get sacked once or twice. He needs to take care of that football, set his jaw, come back and play again. He needs to do the things that coach asks him to do.”

On the other end of the spectrum, the Alabama team is searching for ways to move the ball against LSU, too.
The Crimson Tide do average 43.9 points per game, yes, but a lot of those points are aided by turnovers, special teams and other factors that give Alabama short fields throughout the game.

Alabama is led by true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, who has completed 129-of-204 passes for 1,578 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.

But a lot of Hurts’ passes are at or near the line of scrimmage, which will put a heavy emphasis on tackling in Saturday’s game for LSU.

Hurts is also a weapon as a runner, and has rushed 95 times for 521 yards and nine touchdowns on the season.
Orgeron said defensive coordinator Dave Aranda will have a scheme in place to combat the Tide’s opportunistic attack.

Many true freshmen quarterbacks have struggled mightily in their debuts in Tiger Stadium, and Saban said this LSU defense is one that is hard to attack.

“They are very well-coached,” Saban said of the LSU defense. “They have good players, and they’re very disciplined in the way they play.”

But, for the LSU nation, none of it matters if the Tigers don’t find a way to steal a win.
And Orgeron knows it.

He said that as a Louisiana native, he knows how restless fans are about the losing streak against Alabama, adding that he’s watched this rivalry game every season – regardless of where he was coaching at the time.

Orgeron said he thinks this year’s Alabama team is one of the best ones Saban has ever had.

But he added that he thinks LSU is pretty special, too, and can compete with anyone on any given night.

“I expect our guys to come out hungry wanting to win the football game,” Orgeron said. “We know the type of football game we have to play in order to have success against this team.”


LSU offense v. Alabama defense
Advantage: Alabama
Look, the LSU offense is better now than it has been in a dog’s day under Orgeron and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. But this is still Alabama. Those guys are absurd on defense.

LSU defense v. Alabama offense
Advantage: LSU
I don’t think Alabama will move the ball much unless LSU helps them with penalties and turnovers. It’s just going to be a lot to ask to expect a freshman quarterback to thrive in Death Valley against this defense. Just ask Chad Kelly. He couldn’t do it and he’s a senior.

Special teams
Advantage: Alabama
Alabama covers kicks beautifully and they have a rare ability to pop a return at the right time. If LSU wins this phase, it’ll be huge, but that will be awfully hard to do.

Alabama 19, LSU 13


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