For the past few years the LSU game has either been Alabama’s Waterloo or it’s been Alabama’s Battle of Midway. In 2008, 2009 and 2012 Alabama defeated LSU and subsequently went on to play in the SEC Championship game. In 2007, 2010 and 2011, LSU defeated the Crimson Tide and, in two of those years, went on to represent the SEC West in Atlanta. So, with the exception of the 2010 “team that shall not be named”, the LSU vs Alabama game has decided the West, the SEC and sometimes the national championship so it’s no wonder ESPN devotes entire days worth of coverage to these to programs as they prepare for battle.
This year, however, the Tide/Tigers clash sets up much differently. The Tigers’ loss to Ole Miss removed LSU from the national conversation and their defensive struggles this season have inflated the Vegas odds to show that Bama is favored by 11 points. Whoa. Eleven points? In this game??? Man, that sure seems like a lot of points! I mean, there’s only been one time in the last seven meetings where the winning margin was more than 9 points – the BCS championship game in 2012 where Alabama beat LSU 21-0. An eleven point spread in this game? Doesn’t Vegas know the history of this game?
Well, history tells us that this game should be a very close, very physical battle. But, unlike the rest of us, Vegas doesn’t take into account what happened last year, the year before or any history other than this season’s games. Vegas knows. For the first several weeks of the season, I felt that LSU would beat Alabama this season. But, I’ve now watched LSU play five games this season and really studied their games against Georgia, Florida and Ole Miss. After watching LSU on film, I now have to agree with Vegas. Alabama is the much better team.
This is not your momma’s LSU team. It’s not your brother’s LSU team. Frankly, it’s not like any LSU team that Les Miles has put on the field during his tenure there. This one passes better than it runs. This one doesn’t have an NFL caliber offensive line. And their defense is beyond underwhelming. They blow coverages in zone and they lack the talent to play man to man. Their linebackers are slow afoot and slow to react and they cannot seem to disengage from blocks. Georgia rolled up 494 yards of offense getting nearly 300 thru the air and another 200 on the ground. Remember the anemic Ole Miss offense we saw in Tuscaloosa a few weeks ago? They torched LSU’s defense, rushing for 176 yards and passing for 349. No seriously. Bo Wallace passed for 349 yards. Mercy. This is clearly not the LSU team that we are used to watching…..but, here’s what you should be watching for this Saturday….
Alabama On Offense
Alabama’s offense has absolutely changed my opinion about this game. Well, that and watching LSU’s defense on tape. Yeesh. Ok so there’s a TON to cover so I’ll be brief here. Alabama should be able to run the ball AND pass the ball with great success Saturday night. This will not be a 9-6 game…or even a 21-0 game. Both teams will score but Bama’s offense matches up perfectly against LSU’s woeful D.
I’m Not Slow, I’m Special: LSU’s linebackers are very slow, particularly #31, DJ Welter. They cannot defend the pass in man-to-man coverage and they are very slow to react in zone coverage. Also, from what I’ve seen they typically fail to pick up the FB out of the backfield so any isolations with Fowler (or sneaking Christion Jones out of the backfield) out of the backfield could be particularly deadly. UGA, OM and AU used spread formations to force the LSU linebackers to play in space and this worked beautifully (unless you are an LSU fan or the mom of one of the linebackers). LSU’s linebackers simply are not what you’d expect from the typical Tigers defense.
Lefty Loosey: The LSU defense’s left side is particularly bad. Florida, UGA and OM all exploited this side of the LSU defense. Look for the right side of Alabama’s line (Shepherd and Steen) to do some serious damage Saturday night.
Damned If You Do: LSU’s secondary plays their zone coverages like an elderly grandmother matching up against a four year old. Whoosh. There he goes again! The problem for LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis is that their young secondary (only one senior) is not good at man to man coverage either so they almost have to play a soft zone and just hope for a happy deflection.
Playing With Fire Scarecrow?: Poor Chavis. With his secondary and linebackers so bad in coverage, this forces LSU to use the blitz more than he’d like. Again, they cannot play man to man defense so this, too, exposes them if the blitz is picked up. If Cooper ends up matched on #16 for LSU then you kids in the Million Dollar Band better get your instruments ready! “Yea Alabama…..”
Show and Tell: Speaking of the blitz, if LSU shows blitz then they are coming with it. LSU very rarely backs out of a blitz look (and if do then they are blitzing off the corner). LSU’s front four really doesn’t generate the typical LSU pass rush (Rasco did show up on tape a few times) so the only way they can put any pressure on the QB is to blitz. Again, this exposes their linebackers and corners in man-to-man so this is a huge advantage for Alabama.
Whuh Happened Wus: When we talk about LSU not playing zone coverage well, we mean that they are easily confused and oftentimes they will completely blow a coverage on a receiver. In their zone, LSU continually fails to stop an out route/go route combination. With twin receivers to one side UGA and Ole Miss forced the poor LSU corner to make a decision – he either had to come up and play the out route in front of him or take the deep receiver who was running past him and behind him. This made for easy pickings for Aaron Murray and Bo Wallace. If the corner took the out route, the deep sideline go route was wide open. If the corner played the deep route, then it left the out route wide open. They have shown no ability or clue how to stop this. If you picture the way Kevin Norwood torched LSU in the 2 minute drive last year then that’s what we are talking about. They still haven’t fixed that coverage.
Humor Me: Comedy is watching the LSU secondary attempt to defend against a bunch formation (three or more wide receivers bunched tightly at the end of the line) so look for Alabama to use this formation several times. When the ball is snapped, typically one receiver runs a post, one runs a corner and one runs an out. The Tigers typically defend this by standing still and sharting themselves.
Line Dancing: I came across this little nugget and it just makes me smile. For all of the troubles with the offensive line earlier this season, did you know that at this point last year the offensive line allowed 17 sacks? This year they’ve only given up seven sacks. Seven. Sweet.
- Alabama should get around 450 yards of offense and put up over 30 points. LSU’s offense will be effective but will not be able to keep this kind of pace.
- AJ will not be sacked unless it’s off a corner blitz.
- Alabama’s wide receivers should have a field day against LSU. Cooper is showing his burst again and, after not playing against LSU last season, he’ll be a difference maker Saturday.
- OJ Howard will be a matchup nightmare for LSU’s linebackers. We likey.
- You’ll be surprised with how easily Alabama is able to run the football. Look for over 180 yards rushing with most of the blood letting coming from the right side of the Bama line.
- LSU will blow at least three coverages where it will appear that an Alabama receiver was out to practice early.
- AJ’s name will start coming back up when the talking heads start babbling about the Heisman.
Alabama on Defense
Now this is where things will be really interesting – Bama’s defense against LSU’s offense. LSU’s offense is the kind of offense keeps Nick Saban and Kirby Smart up at night. Job number one for the Smart Saban defense is to stop the run but LSU’s running game, particularly with their fullbacks that are built more like human tanks, is the stuff that big boy football is made of. It’s mighty tough to stop. As with any year these two get together, this game is guaranteed to be the most physical game they’ll play. If Alabama’s front six or front seven cannot stymie the Tigers’ rushing attack, then they’ll have to commit a safety into the box. When this happens, it will leave two of the best wide receivers in the nation in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham in one-on-one matchups that they’ll likely win many more times than they will lose. This side of the ball is going to be a constant chess match (and it’s going to be spectacular to watch). Here are a few of the fun things to know and be on the look out for…
Battle of Wounded Knee: Mettenberger hurt his knee against Florida and, to me, he simply hasn’t looked the same since. In fact, in his last two ballgames he’s thrown five picks – three to Ole Miss and two to FURMAN. Against the Rebels, Mettenberger underthrew several passes and at times he threw the ball erratically. He does not appear to be stepping into his throws quite as well as he did against Georgia (before he hurt his knee) and I think it’s bothering him. Maybe the week off helped him…?
Wherever You Go, I’ll Follow: If you want to know where the LSU tailback is going then just follow the fullback – he will always take you to the football. LSU particularly loves to run to the weak side following their FB. So, wherever the single tight end lines up, that’s the “strong side” and the defense usually shifts in that direction. LSU loves to use their battering ram of JC Copeland to lead to the weak side, away from the strength of the defense. LSU uses the fullback more than any team in the country, pro or college.
Might As Well Jump: Mettenberger loves the hard counts and has taken advantage of getting an easy 5 yards in every game that I watched. Alabama’s defensive line will have to be disciplined and not jump offsides when Mettenberger goes with the hard count.
Telltale Signs: Against Florida, if LSU’s offensive line got down into a 3 point stance, they ran. If they stood up in a two point or pass protection stance, they passed. Against Ole Miss they ran play action passes off of their 3 point look but never ran from the pass pro stance. What does this mean? If the LSU offensive line is standing up, it’s a pass. Every. Single. Time.
You Are the Weakest Link: The LSU right tackle (#65) is horrific and their center (#55) was consistently blown up at the point of attack. And, in the three games I studied the LSU line gave up 6 different pressures and/or sacks due to simple stunts. While LSU is ranked a respectable 6th in the league in giving up sacks, they allowed a lot of pressure against UGA and OM. LSU’s line is usually a strength of their team but this year it is not. I think Brandon Ivory and A’shawn Robinson will have a dominating game.
Don’t Call It a Comeback: The vast majority of LSU’s offense seems to consist of comeback routes and back shoulder throws to Beckham and Landry. Over 69% of their throws have been caught by this dynamic duo (and they’ve been targeted even more than that!). Folks, this is an amazing number. Landry has 58 catches. Beckham has 48. Their next highest number of catches is NINE! NINE!!!! It would appear that Mettenberger is only looking at two receivers. And this little nugget leads into….
You Eyeballin’ Me Boy?: Against Ole Miss, all three of Mettenberger’s interceptions were thrown off of play action. After faking the handoff, Mett locked in on one receiver (either Landry or Beckham) and never took his eyes off of him. Ole Miss had scouted this and twice their weak side safety came over to pick off the pass. They nearly picked off two other passes, as well. With Mett locking in on one receiver and staring him down, this should allow the Bama defense to bait him into a couple of interceptions.
Land of Confusion: When the primary receiver is covered, Mettenberger has a tendency to panic. If he bails from the pocket, he’ll look like a baby lamb on ice. Awkward!
Gun Show: I can’t recall seeing a stronger arm than Mettenberger’s. It’s pretty dang impressive and it allows him to complete throws that aren’t possible for most people. He hit Odell Beckham on a 25 yard curl against Georgia on a third and 23 against an eight man coverage. It was as impressive of a throw as I’ve seen on a Saturday…or a Sunday.
Back Door Buddy: LSU refuses to block the backside defender so look for Devall and Hubbard to have a significant impact on the LSU running game by running down their backs from the backside.
Lost in Space: We must tackle Odell Beckham quickly because he’s deadly in space. He’s slippery so this will be a huge and very difficult challenge. God help Cyrus Jones if he’s left in a man to man situation against Beckham. We’ve seen what Mike Evans did to him. Beckham may remove Jones’ jock strap right there in front of God and everybody if he’s given too much room to operate. Bigger is better, so we’ll be scratching our heads if Eddie Jackson doesn’t take the field a few times.
Bum Rush: Look for Alabama to blitz the A & B gaps up the middle with effectiveness. Ole Miss and UGA used this blitz a ton and they were effective. Since Mettenberger can’t scramble, pressure up the middle will be incredibly effective.
Third Time’s A Charm: LSU is second in the country in converting third downs. Landry and Beckham allow them to screw around for two downs because they can bail them out with a long reception. Alabama must get off the field on third down. I think we’ll bring the house on third down.
Super Flex: Last year, LSU split their tight end out wide as a wide receiver and this put our secondary on their heels. Kirby Smart matched up his corners against the slow footed tight ends while he asked his safeties (Sunseri and Fulton) to line up in the slot against the LSU wide receivers. Not good. If Smart thinks of his players as his kids, then doing this to his safeties should be considered child abuse. This season, LSU has continued flexing their tight ends out and, from this formation, they’ve completed 56 of 89 passes for 1,034 yards and 9 touchdowns. Mettenberger has only thrown one interception out of this formation. It will be very interesting to see if they match Cyrus Jones up against their tight ends and ask Clinton-Dix or Collins to slide inside and match up with Beckham and Landry. Pay attention to this – it will be fascinating.
- LSU will score at least 20 points. I’m convinced of this because their wide receivers are incredibly talented and our corners are not.
- Hill will get his yards but I don’t see him racing to the end zone like he has against Auburn and Georgia. He’ll have to earn everything he gets because Alabama’s front four is decidedly better than LSU’s offensive line.
- A’Shawn Robinson will have at least one sack. He will own LSU’s center.
- CJ Mosley is going to have a rough, rough game. JC Copeland is no joke and Mosley is going to have to take on 270 pounds of unfriendliness more than he’ll want to. With all of LSU’s throws taking place down the field or to the sidelines, Mosley will likely have a very quiet game and will impact the game far less than we are accustomed to seeing.
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins will be the difference for the Alabama defense. This is the top safety duo in the country and they cover a ton of ground. The loss of Sunseri will hurt us in the running game but the passing game is actually in better hands with the Collins/HCD duo.
- Mettenberger will get sacked 3 times and will throw two picks, both picked by Bama safeties.
Alabama on Special Teams
LSU is fairly solid in the kicking game once again this year. Most of their kickoffs are touchbacks and they rarely give up a punt return. To the good, if Christion Jones does decide to bring out a kickoff, LSU’s coverage team is ranked 13th in the SEC. That bodes well.
This is not your typical LSU behemoth that we’ll have to slay on Saturday night. The Tigers have big time problems on defense and their offensive line isn’t what it usually is, particularly at center. The LSU receivers are nearly impossible to stop but between Bama’s interior pass rush and dynamic safeties the Tide should roll to a victory. Of course, Les Miles hasn’t played the role of the Mad Hatter in a long, long time so we expect him to pull out all of the stops Saturday night simply because he has to. His team doesn’t match up well and he knows it, and he plays the role of underdog very, very well. Saturday, LSU will be the biggest underdog they have been (according to the betting line) in 12 years and there’s a reason for that. Alabama is a much better team than LSU and we expect that to become very apparent Saturday night.
Score: Alabama 34 LSU 20