W2W4 – LSU
Finally. Finally, we are done with the appetizers. Finally, it’s time for the main course. Finally, Nick Saban can position himself to win only his second SEC championship with Alabama. Finally, Saban can score a regular season victory over LSU for the first time in over two years. Finally, someone can defeat LSU on their home turf after 22 straight Tiger home victories. Finally, someone on Alabama’s squad can taste the sweet taste of victory from the Death Valley grass. Finally, we can witness an Alabama game where victory is not determined before two full quarters are even completed. Finally, Alabama can put to rest the “they haven’t played anybody this season” rhetoric. Yes, finally, THE game is here…again…..finally!
As if the Bama team needed any extra motivation this week, on Monday Scott Cochran was putting the team through their weight room paces while screaming (as only Coach Cochran can scream), “Les Miles says this is Death Valley! This is the place where opponents’ dreams come to die!” Well, no one on this Bama team has ever felt what it’s like to get a win in Tiger Stadium. Each time Alabama has trotted onto Death Valley, their dreams have, in fact, died. Over the last 22 games, Les Miles has actually been right (and with actual words from the English language) as every time an opponent has taken the field in Baton Rouge their dreams of victory have died. To make matters worse this week, it’s a night game. Nothing screams SEC football like a night game in Baton Rouge…just after Halloween, no less. The noise. The pageantry. The Golden Girls. The hate for Alabama. The hate for Saban. The pain of the lost BCS Championship. Oh, Ethel, this is indeed the “big one.”
If familiarity breeds contempt then Les and Nick may as well just come out and punch each other in the mouth before the coin toss. Actually, as much as these two teams dislike each other, they may as well come to midfield, drop the gloves and have Michael Buffer yell, “Let’s get ready to ruuuuuuuumble!!!!” This epic matchup will be the third straight truly epic matchup between these two goliaths in the span of less than a year, and both teams acknowledge that this is absolutely the most physical game they will ever play in. This year shapes up to be yet another slobberknocker as both teams once again emphasize a smash mouth running game to go along with an iron curtain defense. But, hey, none of this is new information to you, is it? Been here. Done this. So, let’s cut to the chase and see what the Lighthouse is casting a light on this week as we try to tell you what to watch for….
Alabama On Offense
Last season, Alabama lost to LSU in overtime while taking a more or less conservative approach on offense. Negative plays in the red zone, an interception and four missed field goals resulted in a loss even though Alabama unquestionably outplayed LSU that evening. In the BCS rematch, after having a month to prepare for the LSU defense, Alabama changed the script dramatically and used play action passes on first down, attacking and whipping the Phoney Badger in coverage. While most fans think that Bama took what it wanted from the Honey Tadger that night, what most people forget is that Alabama once again bogged down in the red zone and was forced to kick five field goals to win the game (Trent Richardson scored a touchdown in the 4th quarter when the game was no longer in doubt). So, what the Lighthouse is telling you is, even with over a month to prepare, LSU’s defense has been largely successful in the last two meetings so expecting to dominate LSU’s defense would be crazy talk. However, this Bengal Tiger defense isn’t nearly as good as last year’s defense so I do expect to find the LSU end zone more than once this week. We think, too, that the Tide offensive coaches will be able to successfully implement the same plan they used in the BCS game. Why? Here’s what to watch for….
Vanilla Ice: LSU’s defensive scheme isn’t anything elaborate. LSU lines up big, strong and fast defensive linemen and they send them on a seek and destroy mission on every down. You typically don’t see many stunts, slants or games as they are simply good enough to line up and beat you into submission. This simplicity means they can play fast and “sic em” but it also means they are much, much easier to game plan for. You shouldn’t see any busted assignments by the offensive line and you should see Bama take advantage of what the Tiger defense give them…which is….
Take it to the Limit: One more time, Alabama’s coaching staff is devising a game plan to exploit the LSU defense and, the last time, the game plan was outstanding. Bama used a strong play action passing game which held the linebackers and safeties in place while the Tide receivers exploited the flaws in the Tiger coverages. The Tigers typically play two deep safeties and try not to give up anything deep or anything over the deep middle. The linebackers typically either drop as deep as they can or, sometimes, they’ll match up wide in the slot against a wide receiver. Advantage Bama here. Look for Alabama to hit short dink passes to the backs out of the backfield in front of the linebackers when they drop deep. Then, look for the slot receivers to take an inside release and spring wide open behind the linebackers when they are forced to come up or are held in place by play action. Bama’s play action game should wreak havoc against the Tigers once again from what we’ve seen on tape.
All Night Long: LSU’s Mills (#28) gives a HUGE cushion to outside receivers. Look for Bama to hit some outs and curls in front of him several times. The Tide receivers will fake the “go route,” plant and curl back towards the line of scrimmage. They will be open and this will be available all night long.
Another Brick in the Wall: Listen, LSU’s defense is ranked second in nearly every SEC defensive category and there is a reason for this. When LSU is in their short yardage defense, they are nearly impossible to move off the line of scrimmage. Look for Alabama to try (and fail) to break thru the Tiger defensive wall once or twice on the ground before they’ll likely have to play action pass in short yardage to have success (particularly around the goal line). South Carolina was 0-4 on third and 2 or less.
Down on the Corner: LSU LOVES to walk safety Eric Reid (#1) down into the box to form an intense 8 man defensive front. When he walks down, look for an audible to something in the Bama play action passing repertoire. BTW – the play action passes have been wide open for both A&M and South Carolina against LSU. This should be right in the wheelhouse for the McCannon.
Desperado: If Alabama needs to pick up a chunk of yardage – say it’s 2nd and 20 after a holding call – the screen pass to the backs should be wide open (it was for the Gamecocks and Aggies). Also, Connor Shaw ran the option against LSU a couple of times for good yardage. No, the Lighthouse is not saying AJ will be running the option Saturday night but it might be interesting to see Blake Sims in there a time or two. If AJ were to leave the game due to injury, all would not necessarily be lost from what we’ve seen. Note: this is not a prediction, only an observation during the LSU v South Carolina game. I’m just saying the option has hurt LSU at times. Yes, this is crazy. Here’s my number. Call me maybe?
The Heat is On: LSU doesn’t blitz much but they don’t have to. Instead, they employ two beastly and athletic defensive ends and their only mission is to sack the quarterback. Now, if you’ve been following along this season, you know that the Lighthouse has cast a light on the pass blocking issues of DJ Fluker and Cyrus Kouandjio several times this season. Honestly, this is not a good matchup for Alabama and they haven’t seen DEs like this since, well, January 9th. I think Bama will have to keep their tight ends in to help and they’ll also have to use Lacy on third downs to protect AJ. This is the one area of the game that causes us concern and their DEs could literally turn the Tide with a deadly sack-fumble combination.
Swami Sez: The Tide running backs will be involved in the passing game with a combined 5 catches for over 30 yards. Michael Williams will not catch more than one pass but, if he does, one will be a play action pass in short yardage. I know, you’ve heard this in previous Lighthouse previews but, once again, we think the slot receivers will be the difference this week. The Tide slot receivers should be able to get behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties with regularity. And, you know they’ll use play action to send a deep ball to Kenny Bell again this week. The Tide nearly hit on a bomb in Tuscaloosa and, this year, Morris Claiborne won’t be there to bail the Tigers out. AJ will be sacked at least twice. AJ will fumble. Bama will be hard pressed to rush for over 100 yards as a team. We predict somewhere between 90-115 yards (but we are hoping for more!) rushing for Alabama this week and much less than the usual 400 yards of total offense.
Alabama on Defense
Where is Gene Stallings when you need him? If Gene were coaching, I’d almost guarantee you an Alabama victory on Saturday. Whuh? Has the Lighthouse staff broken into Rush Limbaugh’s “medicine” cabinet??? Are we saying that Gene Stallings is a better coach than Nick Saban? No, no, no – settle down. We simply feel that Alabama could hand the ball off all night long and, as long as they didn’t fumble, Bama would win the game going away. While part of that line of thinking comes from how good the Tide’s offensive line and backs are, most of the thinking surrounds the inept LSU offense and the suffocating Alabama defense. It appears to us that you could let LSU have the ball for all 60 minutes and they’d be lucky to knock thru a field goal. Why, you ask?
LSU’s offense is ranked 8th in scoring, 12th in passing and 8th in total offense according to the SEC team stats. The Zack Attack (Zack Mettenberger) isn’t exactly hitting on, well, any cylinders as the Mess-enberger has been an awful mess this season. He’s completing only 56% of his passes and Sack, er, Zack is ranked 12th out of 15 SEC passers in pass efficiency (Trivia – which three quarterbacks are ranked lower? Hint: Only two SEC teams are represented by the three QBs. Answer below!). All in all the passing game and the protection has been Les so they’ve had to rely on their running game (ranked third in the SEC) more. Well, now. Guess what Nick loves to stuff more than Little Debbie Oatmeal Pies? The running game! Guess what Alabama has owned the last two times these teams have played? The running game! Here’s what to watch for when Alabama is on defense…
Fake It: An interesting discovery during our film study is the fact that LSU does not utilize the play action fake. Weird! As good as their running game is, you would think the play action passing game would be a staple in their offense. The one time in two games I saw them execute a play action fake, they max protected and threw it deep to one of only two receivers running routes.
Backfield in Motion: Any time you see Chase Clement (#88) in motion, you can pretty much send in your run blitz. Every single time Clement went in motion, one of the LSU backs got a handoff. Watch for Alabama’s D to start audibling if Clement goes in motion.
Shorty Swing My Way: LSU’s offensive line has been a complete mess this season and, as a result, the LSU coaching staff uses the three step passing game for about 70-80% of their pass plays. Basically, the QB takes three steps back and throws the pass, thereby eliminating the dangers of the pass rush. Two of these three-step drops have been picked cleanly by the defense as they squatted on the slants. LSU’s counter to this is to run a slant and go, which is how they scored a TD against South Carolina. LSU also uses the WR screen and screens to the back but, as you know, Bama diagnoses a screen play better than anything Dr House has ever done.
Circle the Wagons: In their loss to Florida and their struggle with Auburn, the LSU coaching staff learned that they could not expose their line or their QB to one on one pass blocking matchups. Since that time, LSU has resorted to the max protection looks which keep their backs and tight ends in to block. As a result, LSU can only send out two wide receivers into pass routes making it awfully easy for the defense to cover them. Typically, the two wide receivers line up on opposite sides of the formation so it makes it impossible for Mess-enberger to even consider his second read. Honestly, the LSU coaches aren’t giving Mettenberger a chance to be successful but it may be largely due to their reshuffled offensive line.
Lean on Me: LSU does have a massive offensive line and they use their girth to wear down opponents over the course of four quarters. They also have a battering ram named JC Copeland who comes downhill from his fullback position with very bad intentions. Alabama is used to wearing down their opponents by the second quarter so it will be interesting to see how the defense stands up to the grind of the Tiger running game. South Carolina and A&M both wilted as the game wore on. Get concerned if LSU’s 2 and 3 yard runs begin turning into 5 and 8 yard runs. Also, pay attention to how linebackers Depriest, Johnson (who will play a key role in this game) and Mosley handle big JC Copeland. They don’t usually have to stack and shed a fullback’s block so they will be challenged repeatedly.
Trick or Treat: Guess how many times Les Miles has gone for it on fourth down this season? After all, he is the Mad Hatter, right? Les has gone for it on fourth down a grand total of THREE times this season. Three. In the last two games against Alabama, the Mad Hatter hasn’t resorted to pulling any trick plays out of his magic hat. The Lighthouse predicts some trickeration in this one because we don’t think they can beat Bama straight up. Look for gambles on fourth down, fake punts, fake field goals or maybe a tricky pass from running back (but former high school quarterback) Spencer Ware.
The Tell: This is the most exciting discovery the Lighthouse has ever made in their W2W4 studies. When the aforementioned Chase Clement (#88) lines up in a three-point stance, you can tell with 90% certainty when it’s a pass play. 90%! As we said, LSU keeps their tight ends and backs in to pass block and Clement tips whenever he’s going to set back into pass blocking. When he’s asked to cut someone in a run play, his helmet is lower than his butt as he positions himself to get low for the cut block. When he’s going to pass block, in the three-point stance his helmet is higher than his butt as he prepares to lean back into pass blocking position. Another way to say this is to think of the alignment of his back as compared to being parallel to the ground. When he’s going to cut block, the angle is downward from his backside. When he’s going to pass block, the angle is uphill from his backside as he leans back before the snap. Ninety percent accurate. And, if we neophytes caught this, we’re guessing the guy that gets paid over 5 mil a year will, too.
Swami Sez: LSU will gain over 100 yards as a team on the ground. Their OL combined with their fullback are good at opening holes for their talented backs. However, look for Mettenberger to throw at least two interceptions. It’s just so easy to cover the receivers and read the routes. The passing game should be ugly for LSU. Alabama will sack Zack at least twice (we really want to say three times but they do max protect and throw quick passes so we’ll go with two). Jeremy Hill or Mike Ford will lead them in rushing. They will go for it on fourth down at least twice. They will bog down in the red zone and have to kick more field goals than they’ll score touchdowns. They are horrible in the red zone.
Alabama on Special Teams
Last year, Alabama did not compare favorably to LSU in the special teams category but this year things are different. LSU’s net punting average is only 39.2 this season while Cody “Don’t Call Me Howie” Mandel has upped his net average to 37.8. That’s roughly one yard of difference and that’s a big improvement over last year.
Also, after the BCS Championship game, Nick said they noticed something with LSU’s punt coverage that they took advantage of. You may recall Marquis Maze returned a punt 49 yards and Christion Jones popped one for 15 yards. We think Cyrus Jones returns one for more than 15 yards Saturday night.
We’ll be watching to see if Cade Foster has come back from his two week absence or if he continues to struggle with kickoffs and field goals. Like Tiger Woods, Cade seems to have lost his swing as his mechanics have basically gone to crap. Here’s hoping Stella will get her groove back but, once again, the Lighthouse thinks he struggles against LSU. Yikes. Here’s hoping if it’s fourth and less than five then we’ll just go for it.
In the last two games, Nick Saban has tazed the LSU offense and then taken a Big Al dump on it “In the FACE!” In Tuscaloosa, the Bungle Tigers gained just over 200 yards in regulation. Then, after a month of preparation, the Tide defense squeezed the life out of the LSU offense like an anaconda taking down a kitten. This year, our anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got big guns – and LSU’s offense simply doesn’t have any guns….or ammunition. For LSU to win this game, Alabama will need to help them in the way of untimely turnovers, sacks, penalties and missed field goals. If you don’t know what I mean, just go back and watch the LSU game in Tuscaloosa last season because it was the perfect recipe for defeat. The Lighthouse’s concerns revolve around protecting AJ from the LSU defensive ends and the Tide defense’s ability to stuff the running game. Neither of these things should spell defeat for Alabama and, for Les Miles to spell defeat, he’d need to phone a friend…..
Final Score: Alabama 20 LSU 9
Trivia Answer: 13th James Franklin (MO), 14th Kiehl Frazier (AU), 15th Corbin Berkstresser (MO).