By Trey Mongrue
It’s that time again, ladies and gentlemen.
While it’s always fun when LSU and Alabama meet, this incarnation feels a little bit different than it has in years past. While both teams are ranked and playoff implications are involved, this is the first time since Nick Saban took over at Alabama in 2007 that neither team is in the top two in the SEC Western Division standings.
Even so, it is the last home game of the season for the Tigers, and with that comes the Senior Day pregame festivities. This LSU senior class has only beaten Alabama once in four previous tries – that includes a loss in the 2011 National Championship Game and heartbreaking 21-17 loss the last time these teams played in Baton Rouge.
You know that the seniors want their last game in Tiger Stadium to be a positive result more than anything.
“I think there’s an enjoyment of playing this team,” LSU coach Les Miles said of playing Alabama. “ You enjoy competition. You enjoy playing at a very high level. You enjoy playing in Tiger Stadium, which these Tigers do. I think we’re looking forward to it.”
LSU Offense vs. Alabama Defense
The Tigers proved against Ole Miss that no matter how stout a defense you put in front of them, they will still run their offense – emphasis on the word “run.” Going up against a Rebel rush defense that was giving up less than 100 yards on the ground per game, LSU wasn’t fazed in the slightest and proceeded to run right at Ole Miss to the tune of 264 yards on 55 carries. While it still seems like Leonard Fournette is the bell cow of the group, Miles still favors rotating all four of his running backs in and out. After not rushing for more than 30 yards in the three previous games, senior Kenny Hilliard got back into the swing of things with 12 carries for 63 yards – all coming in the second half against a tired Ole Miss defense. So far the LSU rushing attack has broken every wall in front of them. Alabama’s front presents another sturdy one, allowing just 2.7 yards per carry and just two rushing touchdowns for the season. A lot of that has to do with roaming senior linebacker Xzavier Dickson, who leads the Crimson Tide with nine tackles for a loss, including 6.5 sacks. And in case LSU tries to throw the ball with Anthony Jennings, there is the matter of dealing with Alabama safety and Louisiana-native Landon Collins, who – if his comments this week are any indication – wants to beat LSU really badly.
LSU Defense vs. Alabama Offense
While there are many interesting matchups that should be paid close attention to when these two units are on the field, none may be more intriguing than LSU sophomore cornerback Tre’Davious White going up against Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. Now in his third year with the Crimson Tide, Cooper has become and even bigger star than he was before. His 1,132 receiving yards and nine touchdowns are both league bests in the Southeastern Conference, but more importantly he has made fifth-year senior – and first-year starter – quarterback Blake Sims’ job that much easier. Cooper deserves any Heisman hype that comes his way. That makes this a crucial matchup for White, who, throughout this season, has asserted himself a legitimate shutdown cornerback. White’s ability to lockdown opposing receivers without any safety help, it has made the LSU secondary that much more dangerous. Coming into this weekend, the Tigers are allowing just 5.5 yards per pass. Of course, LSU must also be wary of Alabama’s ground game led by T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, who combine for more than 130 rushing yards a game.
If there has been one constant Achilles heel for Alabama throughout this recent run of success, it has been the play of its special teams. Just look at its loss to LSU in 2011 and last year’s loss to Auburn for prime examples. Unfortunately for the Crimson Tide, they are still weak in the kicking game with sophomore kicker Adam Griffith entering this game having converted just nine of his 13 field goal attempts. A far cry from LSU placekicker Colby Delahoussaye who, until his freak miss two weeks ago against Ole Miss, was perfect for his career – he’s now eight of nine for the season.
If this game were played on paper, Alabama would probably win by the six points that Vegas has it favored by. But, as the cliché goes, football games aren’t played on paper, they are played in a stadium. More specifically, this game will be played in front of 102,000 fans in Tiger Stadium. If the atmosphere two weeks ago was any indication, this Saturday could be the best to ever grace Death Valley and it may be enough to propel LSU to victory. That, and a couple of missed Alabama field goals.
LSU 20, Alabama 16