By Casey Gisclair
The first half of the season saw LSU face more than its share of backup quarterbacks, inferior opposition, and teams who shouldn’t even be in the FBS (sorry Eastern Michigan).
Fresh off a bye week and with November finally here, it’s time to play some football.
This week marks LSU’s stiffest test of the year – a road meeting with Alabama.
The Crimson Tide are what they are – the gold standard of college football.
Defensively, they are close to NFL-caliber – a unit that fields close to a dozen players who will play on Sundays. Sure, the Tide’s offense leaves a lot to be desired, but if you don’t allow points, you can’t lose, right?
Saturday night should be a war. It always is.
LSU coach Les Miles addressed the significance of the annual LSU-Alabama tilt during his Monday press conference.
“I can always tell you that this is a special week for us,” Miles said. “We look forward to playing Alabama.”
And we look forward to watching the tenth meeting of LSU and Alabama in the Saban-Miles era unfold this Saturday.
LSU OFFENSE vs. ALABAMA DEFENSE
The LSU offense has been arguably the bright spot of the team’s season. Did you know that the Tigers are averaging 466 yards per game – a mark that is No. 2 in the SEC? It’s one-dimensional success, but it’s still success indeed.
LSU has passed for less than 1,100 yards this season – a number that ranks dead last in the conference, but the Tigers do generate 309.1 yards rushing per game, which is first place in the conference by almost 100 yards.
Sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris is crisp and polished, owning nine touchdowns and zero interceptions on the season. Running back Leonard Fournette is a hungry tiger that loves to eat linebackers as snacks.
The Tigers receivers don’t have many chances, but they are all big play threats that can hurt opponents deep down the field. But guess what?
The Crimson Tide’s defense is just as good. Alabama allows just 275.8 yards per game defensively – a mark that is No. 1 in the SEC.
The Crimson Tide can be had in the secondary, but up front, they’re stout and just don’t allow rushing yardage. It’s Fournette versus All-Everything linebacker Reggie Ragland. It’s Harris against Jonathan Allen. It’s Malachi Dupre versus Eddie Jackson. It’s … it’s … it’s … too close to call.
LSU DEFENSE vs. ALABAMA OFFENSE
For as much grief as we give the LSU defense in these weekly previews, the Tigers are still No. 19 in the country in total yards allowed, letting up just 315.9 yards per game.
Up front, big Lewis Neal is the man staked with causing a lot of the chaos, owning seven sacks on the season – a total that trails only Myles Garrett in the SEC rankings. In the secondary, LSU is a tad vulnerable with Tre’Davious White banged up and Jalen Mills still not quite looking like he’s 100 percent. But for as one dimensional as the LSU offense may be, Alabama might be worse.
The Tide love to throw the ball, but they don’t do it with a ton of success. The team’s bread and butter is its running game and more specifically Derrick Henry, who has 1,044 yards rushing on the season with 14 touchdowns.
If the Tigers can bottle up Henry on first and second down and force quarterback Jake Coker to make throws on third down, LSU has a great chance to force both punts and turnovers.
The Crimson Tide have thrown nine interceptions on the season in just eight games. Chances to force Alabama turnovers are always present. Because of that, we give a slight edge to the LSU defense.
Nick Saban-coached teams are always sound on special teams, and the 2015 version of Alabama football is no different. The Crimson Tide rank better than LSU in kickoff return defense and punt return defense – both by wide margins.
Want a stat that chills your spine? LSU is dead last – yes, dead last – in punt return defense, allowing 28.7 yards per return. That’s a joke. They are in last place by more than six yards per return.
In the kicking games, LSU splits with Alabama. Tigers’ kicker Trent Domingue is better than Alabama’s Adam Griffith. However, the Crimson Tide make up for it in punting because punter JK Scott is one of the best in the nation, owning 11 punts that have gone 50 or more yards on the season.
This one is truly too close to call. I like LSU’s offense a lot, and I think the Tigers can muster enough of a passing game to keep Alabama off balance. I also like that Jake Coker is sometimes inaccurate and inconsistent, but I don’t trust any road team to beat Alabama if you’re awful in special teams, and LSU is exactly that – awful in punt and kickoff coverage. The Tide will get a big return, force a big turnover, and the two plays are the difference in a close, hard-fought win.
Alabama 24, LSU 19
No. 4 LSU Tigers (7-0, 4-0) at No. 7 Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1,4-1)
Bryant Denny Stadium (101,821); Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Saturday, Nov. 7; 7:00 p.m.
TV: CBS; Radio: 98.1 FM