W2W4 – LSU 2011

 

W2W4 – LSU vs Alabama

Are you ready for some football?  Thank God – Armageddon is finally upon us!  The last two weeks have flown by at a snail’s pace – yeah, I wrote that right.  The last two weeks have been a long, torturous wait combined with an overwhelming high velocity onslaught of pre-game hype (only half of which has been supplied by yours truly).  This game has been built up and hyped more than the royal wedding and it has even received more coverage than the Kardashian break up/divorce/sham (dang it, I just knew those two crazy kids would make it, too).  In fact, this game has every corner of the globe zoning into Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and I fully expect the earth to actually stop rotating on its axis when everyone holds their collective breath at 7:00 pm.  Why will the earth stop?  Because it’s Goliath vs Goliath.  In Japan, it’s Godzirra versus Godzirra!  In Manilla, it’s Ali vs Ali.  Overseas (b/c there is no professional basketball in this country, right) it’s Michael Jordan going one on one against Michael Jordan.  In Baton Rouge, it’s Cheech and Chong versus Cheech and Chong.  How can you not tune in to watch this epic battle between two teams that are so identical (but are they really? – more later) that only the coaches appear to be different.  In fact, these two teams are such mirror images of themselves that when watching game tape there should be a disclaimer at the bottom saying “other teams are not as close as they appear” – not in athletes, not in style and not in substance.  No, these two teams are the cream of this year’s crop of college football elites and they are so far above everyone else that people are actually anticipating a rematch in the National Championship game!  A rematch!  Can you imagine the 2 months of hype that game would get?  My Lord.  As if getting thru two weeks of this stuff hasn’t been hard enough! 

Enough of the prelude stuff, though, right?  I mean, I’ve been teasing you with tidbits about this game for a while now so you already know everything that I could tell you about this matchup, right?  Yeah, I thought so, too, but I was mistaken – just like you.  There is actually a lot of evidence that suggests that these two teams aren’t as identical as ESPN and the talking heads would have you believe.  While, like an assassin, they have each skillfully slain their foes easily, quietly and with no remorse, they way in which they have gone about it has been different.  Now, I’m not talking about poppy Brittney versus slutty Brittney different but I’m talking like maybe Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker different.  Anyway, let’s get to it.  FINALLY!  Yeah, I heard you – I feel it, too!  IT’S GAMETIME!

LSU on Offense

Let’s take a look at when LSU has the ball, shall we?  LSU employs the usage of something we haven’t seen much all year – the fullback.  Last year against LSU, and this year against Tennessee, we had a little difficulty with taking on the fullback and shedding him to make a tackle.  Simply put, we haven’t had to do much of that at all as our LBs are used to engaging with an offensive lineman occasionally and shedding him to make a play.  But, typically, our DL holds up the OL which allows our LBs to run free.  A FB guarantees that our LB will have one more obstacle to deal with before getting to the back.  Thankfully, LSU doesn’t use this look every down but, if they hurt us in the running game, I’ll bet you a donut that it’s with the use of a FB.

To the good, LSU wants to play physical big boy football this season.  For every one passing play (176) they’ve had, they’ve run the ball twice as much (352).  (*Note:  As a contrast, Alabama is much closer to a 50/50 run pass ratio on offense).  So while LSU wants to run the ball, that absolutely, positively plays right to the strength of our defense.  Unlike LSU, our D is designed with big bodies up front with some big thumpers at LB behind them.  We are perfectly suited to defend this style of offense and I suspect that we’ll force them to be one dimensional pretty early on.  It will be positively shocking if LSU makes much hay in the running game.  I will say that in looking at the stats, I believe that they will gain a couple of first downs in third and 8 or more by simply running a draw or a straight handoff with some pulling guard action.  As I’ve told you, we’ve been susceptible to this all season and LSU has run on third and long often and with a tremendous amount of success this year.  Watch the DRAW!!!

In the passing game, you have to like their WRs.  Yes, I know stats say ours are just as good but if you ask any NFL scout worth his salt who they’d want to have at WR, they’d choose Randle and Beckham over any of our guys.  Jarrett Lee has only thrown one pick this season and is completing around 60% of his passes so this appears to be a viable threat.  From w, while I’m sure he’ll connect on a few downfield passes, I simply don’t believe he has the arm strength on the intermediate balls.  He throws the football with a bit of a dart-throwing motion and the ball hangs in the air.  I fully expect us to pick off two Lee passes during this game.  Why?  Well, his lack of arm strength as we just said (weren’t you listening?) but, more than that, our DBs have been ridiculous in coverage this year.  There will be at least two opportunities for a Bama DB to step in front of a Lee pass, IMO, and that could be the difference in the game.  Also, Bama’s Achilles heel in pass coverage has been those @#$#$!!! running backs slipping out into the defensive flats unchecked.  To this point, LSU has only completed 11 passes to their backs out of the backfield (Ware 7, Ford 3, Blue 1), so where we are weak, they evidently are, too.  I did see UT and Vandy hurt us with their TE’s releasing down the seams so I look for DeAngelo Peterson to have a few big gainers. 

It’s weird to say this but I think Jordan Jefferson actually gives them the best chance to win the game.  His ability to run the ball will force us into man to man coverages downfield and he’s got the arm to get it there (see last year’s game for an example).  To this point, The Hat hasn’t used JJ as a passer much as he’s only attempted 10 passes this season (total) versus 26 runs.  So, again, I think this plays to our favor as I don’t think JJ will be a large part of their game plan, even if he clearly should be.

Overall, to sum it up, where LSU is strong (running game), we are strong, too.  Where they are weak, we are strong.  Advantage, Alabama.

Alabama on Offense

I’m attaching a spreadsheet that shows the tremendous advantage Alabama has on the OL versus LSU’s DL and LBs.  To say LSU is light in the shorts is like saying Lindsey Lohan could use a cheeseburger.   Additionally, our OL boasts two juniors and two seniors (if McCullough starts which I expect) along with the best blocking TE in all of college football in 270 lb Michael Williams.  Our tackles go 310 and 330 while their ends go 245 and 237.  Oh yeah, and all of our RBs outweigh LSU’s heaviest LB (227) and should squash the two lighter LBs who come in weighing 215 and 212.  Honestly, Brad Smelley has struggled with DEs that were big and physical like Penn State’s but against this group, Brad should be able to hold his own which should be a massive advantage for us in the running game.  Quite honestly, this is where I separate the men (Alabama) and the boys (LSU).  This is THE key difference between these two teams and I think SHOULD be the difference in the game.  Look for us to use our size advantage on the right with some success behind Fluker and Williams (and maybe even Fluker and Barrett Jones a la the Tennessee game).

LSU predicates their defense on speed, speed and more speed.   Oh, and they are fast.  This style of defense is tremendously effective (and seems geared for) against the spread offenses that seemingly comprise about 2000% of college football.  HOWEVER, this style of defense is NOT effective against a between the tackles, downhill running team.  Our defense may not be quite as fast but we are plenty fast and we are big.  BIG!  Our DEs are bigger than their DTs.  Our LBs are bigger than their DEs.  Our safeties are bigger than their LBs.  So, when our girth, strength, tenacity and well coordinated blocking attack encounters their lighter, smaller defense, what you should see is something akin to Alabama playing Florida in the SEC championship games and the last two regular season meetings as those Florida defenses were constructed in the same manner with an emphasis on speed.  LSU will know what’s coming.  We, the fans, will know what’s coming.  And, at the end of the day, LSU can’t stop the power running game because size matters.  YEAH IT DOES – no matter what she’s been telling you!

So, as you can see, a two tight end formation with our typical between the tackles running game should be effective the majority of the time.  To counter this, Chavis has been bringing his safeties down hard into the running lanes – so much so that their safeties lead them in tackles.  This, obviously, opens up the pass off of play action so I think you should see an attack where we’ll likely play action off of first down and take a few shots down the field.  The play action should bring the safeties flying up and, if we’ve had even a modest amount of success running the ball, you should see some go routes and deep crossers open.  We do have speed with White, Bell and Maze and while they may not be the physical specimens that LSU has, they can get open deep.   But, this plan is a stark contrast to the 5 wide, hurry up deal I mentioned earlier this week.  Personally, I think the more spread out you make LSU, the more they can utilize their defensive speed (did I mention they are fast?) which, of course, is bad news for us if we are in the spread look.

LSU does like to bring pressure, particularly with the little Honey “I Shrunk the” Badger and this could possibly play to our favor as well if we block it correctly.  As I mentioned earlier this week, Alabama has had a lot of success with Trent staying in to block and then releasing VERY late as the last possible outlet.  After dumping a little outlet pass to Trent, it will be fun to see him in the open field against these little tadgers from LSU.

Special Teams

As usual, I’ll be short here like a Mandell punt.  LSU will own us in the kicking game and the punting game.  They should constantly and easily be able to gain hidden yardage any time we swap punts, as they are first in the conference in net punting.  My one and only fear here is the fake.  In fact, I am in punt safe on every single punt that they do.  If we fair catch the ball with no return, that’s a win, just so long as we aren’t seeing their @#$#@ punter run on open grass with blockers out in front.  I swear I’ll vomit right where I’m standing if that #@#$@#$ happens again.  The whole @#$@@# world knows Les is going to do something on fourth down so why not prepare for it by being in punt safe, kick safe, guard everyone mode?  Meanwhile, LSU has only give up seven TOTAL yards on punt returns.  I say let’s just make sure the punters punt and the kickers kick and we’ll be ok.

Meanwhile, I’ll be chanting “No Whammies” every time Mandell gets out there.  Of late, he’s averaged above 40 yards but I’m still pretty sure he’s last (ok, he’s  9th)in the SEC in net punting.  So, no whammies Cody, no whammies.  If he can hit it 35 yards or further, I’ll take it.  And, while it was good to see Foster get pumped up for a 45 yarder against Tennessee, I think if it’s outside of Shelley’s range then I’d just assume go for it or punt the ball.  I hope I’m wrong but I just get the willies when Cade is out there right now.

Intangibles/Pedictions

Hey, I’m a Bama fan but I’d tell you if I thought we were going to lose.  I simply don’t think we are going to lose this game.  Nick Saban is like 100-0 (12-0, actually) when you piss him off by beating him and last year LSU really pissed him off.  You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t pull the mask off the ole Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Nick.  By virtue of Nick’s singular focus on this game, the entire Bama team is focused as well.  Bama is senior laden and they will have 102K fans pouring their hearts out to them all night long.  On defense alone, Alabama boasts 11 starters (that’s right, all 11) who are either juniors or seniors.  LSU’s defense has one junior and five seniors but more than 50% of their 2 deep comprised of underclassmen.  That’s a big, big deal as they rotate their 2 deep extensively on defense.  How you handle the stress and how mentally tough you are will determine a lot of this outcome and I think Bama has the big edge there.  This team is hungry and they’ve shown it all year in their play and in their leadership.  Alabama is disciplined.  They are first in the conference in fewest penalties.  LSU is 8th.  If things start poorly, I think Alabama has the discipline and resolve to right the ship and hold that Tiger.  I think if things start poorly for LSU, I think they’ll simply get worse because they won’t be able to lean on their running game.  They’ll have to throw and I think that plays right to what we want them to do.

So, sure, it’s Godzirra vs Godzirra (pronouncing it with the proper Japanenglish).  It’s a clash of the Titans.  It’s one versus two.  But, also, at the end of the day it’s the Nicktator versus The Hat.  It’s your daddy versus your crazy uncle.  Settle in for a fun night kids.  Daddy’s home and he’s really pissed at that crazy uncle…

Alabama 20, LSU 13.  See you in New Orleans!

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