Ahh, yes, to me there’s nothing quite like a gorgeous night of football down in the bayou town of Red Stick. Saturday night in Death Valley will wreak of alcohol and corn dogs, and the frenzied and colorful fans will make even the circus freaks blush. For all that the Tennessee rivalry has lost over the years, the LSU rivalry has gained all of that and more. Once again this clash of SEC titans will rule the 7PM prime time spot and SEC haters around the globe won’t be able to stop themselves from checking this game out to see what the SEC hype is all about. SEC bias? No. People just love good football and they know it when they see it. Gary Danielson said that 48 players from the 2011 game are now playing in the NFL so, yeah, I’d say this game features some pretty dang good football.
Prior to last year’s contest it seems that it would have been a good idea for any viewers with heart conditions to sign a waiver before tuning into CBS for this matchup. Overtimes, narrow margins, tremendous catches, trick plays and massive hits were the order of the day and everyone who watched the games left feeling as though they’d had a helmet and shoulder pads on themselves. In a word, it was awesome.
However, in last year’s contest you could begin to see some slippage in the LSU Tigers. In the last two years, LSU has lost a staggering 18 underclassmen to the NFL and it’s apparent across both the defensive and offensive lines and on defense, in particular. While, sure, Les Miles’ crew still has a bevy of talented rajun Cajuns, they aren’t up to the usual LSU beastly standards. Don’t be fooled by the Ole Miss game – this is still the team that got run out of the stadium by Mississippi State and Auburn. So, I’m expecting an Alabama road win – but here’s a little bit of what to watch for…
Alabama on Offense
The last time the Tide offense took the field, they were racing out in front of the Tennessee Vols and running down poor ole Smokey and his handler in the process. The offensive mojo that had previously been unable to make any of the Tide’s road trips was opened up like Pandora’s box with long passes, long runs and exceptional quarterback play throughout most of the contest. The only blip during the game was a huge blip indeed when freshman left tackle Cam Robinson went down in a heap and all of Bama nation curled into a fetal position with him. But, the Louisiana native was actually back at practice this week, splitting reps at left tackle. So, an apparent 4-6 week injury has received the Mr Miagi treatment and now Cam-ron-son is looking like he’ll be able to sweep the legs of Mike the Tiger. Amazing.
On the LSU side of things, they have been as susceptible to the spread as Wilt Chamberlain used to be and they’ve had the football run down their throats by Florida, Auburn, Mississippi State and, at times, Ole Miss. LSU is ranked 63rd in nation in run defense as a result. We like the matchups along the line of scrimmage as long as Cam is healthy and we attack the Tigers from the spread. Here are a few other things…
Do Run, Run, Run: The Lighthouse has spent a lot of time in this space pleading for Blake Sims to get back to threatening defenses with his feet so it’s been very pleasing to see that he’s evidently an avid reader of the blog! Blake busted out the whoopin’ stick and his track shoes against A&M and the Vols and the LSU game looks like another opportunity for him to make plays with his feet. Consider these QB rushing stats against the Bungal Tigers as they’ve failed miserably against the zone read QB runs:
- Dak Prescott – 22 rushes for 105 yards and 1 TD
- Nick Marshall – 16 rushes for 119 yards and 2 TDs
- Jeff Driskell – 21 rushes for 71 yards and 1 TD
- Bo Wallace – 12 rushes for 40 yards
Spread em’: Against Mississippi State the Tigers played a lot of 4-2 defense but the four down linemen failed miserably to keep the offensive line off of their linebackers. As a result, State ran for 302 yards. Against Ole Miss, you saw LSU shift to more of a 4-3 but that’s mainly because the Rebels used an H-back much of the time while State just kept Robinson and Prescott in the backfield. However, when LSU shifted into a 4-2 look against Ole Miss, the Rebs gashed them on the ground (137 yards rushing for a team that typically can’t run the ball).
Empty Love: LSU seems to move their linebackers completely out of the middle when teams show an empty set (the QB by himself in the backfield) and teams have taken advantage of this by running QB draws. Look for Sims to hurt them with both the zone read and the QB draw.
One on One: The Tigers play a ton of man to man so look for Cooper to have another good day as there is simply no one on this planet can cover him in man. The quick hitches out wide were deadly against LSU so look for several of those throws early to get Sims loose (and to loosen up the run).
Centerfield: LSU likes to play two safeties deep while manning up the receivers underneath. Look for the Tide wide receivers to run deep routes, vacating the middle for crossing routes underneath. As the corners turn their backs and run, this also will allow Sims to leave the pocket and gain big yards.
Call Me, Maybe: Both Ole Miss and Mississippi State nearly had big plays out of the screen game. Had one block been made there was big yardage to be had. I think we all remember how successful the screen can be against LSU, right? Call it, maybe?
Time is on My Side: During two full games, no one from LSU really popped off the screen as a pass rusher. They may have been asking their line to be less aggressive against running QBs but they really didn’t get much penetration.
- Ole Miss used the reverse effectively as LSU’s lateral pursuit is pretty lacking.
- Against MSU, the Tigers were also gashed up the middle as the tackles were rooted out and the linebackers were easily blocked. Their line simply isn’t that stout.
- The Rebels nearly housed a wheel route and the Bulldogs were able to free their fullback in the passing game with regularity.
- In the red zone, the Tigers played twin wide receivers with a safety over the slot and the corner over the outside receiver. At the snap, the outside receiver ran at the safety and the slot receiver ran an out to the goal line – he was wide open.
- Look for big #74 at left tackle. Either he will be there or Austin Shepherd will have to man the position while Grant Hill plays right tackle. This doesn’t appear to be the kind of game that would be a problem for Shepherd if he has to play in place of Robinson but playing left tackle certainly isn’t the same as plaing on the right side. Let’s hope Cam is healthy and able to play.
Alabama on Defense
The Bengal Tigers will once again feature a sledge hammering running attack that is complemented with talented wide receivers who can certainly haul in the deep ball. However, the offensive line isn’t what it used to be and quarterback Anthony Jennings is still far too inconsistent throwing the football. Jennings does throw a lovely deep ball and receivers Malachi Dupre (6’3) and Travin Dural (6’2) both are averaging over 23 yards per catch.
On the ground, most of the press goes towards 5-star true freshman Leonard Fournette and he’s certainly a good player. However, to me the kid that shined the most at the running back position is Terrence Magee (and he does lead them in yards per carry at 6.1). Between the two of them and Kenny Hilliard, there are obviously plenty of weapons in the LSU backfield. But, it all starts up front and that’s where LSU’s talent seems to fall off. In watching them against the state of Mississippi, the guards and centers typically failed to get much of a push. Senior left tackle La’el Collins is a beast, though, and will be a first round draft pick after this season but one man does not an offensive line make. Here are a few other things we think you should watch for…
The I’s Have It: LSU’s primary formation is the I formation with a tight end. Typically, about 85% of their runs seem to go to the middle or to the tight end’s side. However, late in their game against Ole Miss they found some success running to the weak side and Ole Miss never adjusted. Alabama has seen a similar downhill running attack this season at Arkansas and fared very well so there’s no need to think this game will be much different. Honestly, I think the Arky OL is better so I look for Bama’s front seven to make running the ball nearly impossible.
Me and Terrence Magee: Magee is a bit of a wild card to me. LSU likes to run screens to him as he’s very good out of the backfield so the Tide safeties and linebackers will need to track him closely. He’s also a former high school QB so look for some trickeration to take advantage of a pretty solid left handed throwing arm.
These Boots are made for Passin’: Anthony Jennings loves to bootleg outside so look for some play action boots throughout the game. Also, look for Alabama to stay sound and keep their backside edge rusher at home to take this favorite play away.
They’re Playin’ Basketball: In the red zone, Jennings loves to throw jump balls to Dupre and Dural on fade routes. Alabama hasn’t exactly fared well with back shoulder fades so this is a very interesting matchup in the red zone.
Another Brick in the Wall: The goal line has acted like the Great Wall of China as the Tigers failed miserably at the goal line against the Bulldogs and Rebels. Eventually, Miles finally gave up on running the ball and resorted to a play action fake on second down which left their TE wide open. If they get down there inside the three again, look for some play action on early downs.
Land of Confusion: Jennings reads defenses about as well as I can do math. Ole Miss baited him into some really bad throws by showing man and shifting into a zone defense. And, when he’s confused (which is a lot), he holds the ball way too long and gets himself sacked.
Telegraph: Fournette seems to leave the backfield way too quickly when he’s trying to get out for a screen. It’s a freshman mistake but it tips the defense off that a screen is taking place – look for a big play from the defense if this continues.
- Alabama will get to play in their favored 3-4 defense throughout the game and this allows them to get some of their best players on the field. The front seven should dominate the LSU offensive line.
- The recent emergence of Ragland as a playmaker is huge as he now pairs with DePriest to form an extremely solid duo. They will be challenged by fullbacks and guards throughout the game so they will be the key to stopping the running game.
- Look for interior players like Reed, Pettway, Robinson and Allen (when he’s lined up at DT) to make several plays in the backfield as they work over the interior of the Tiger line.
Alabama on Special Teams
Adam Griffith has missed four of his last six field goals so hitting his first attempt is going to be huge this week. Should he miss it, God help us if this game once again comes down to a field goal battle. LSU is 8 of 9 on the season and leads the conference in FG%.
Alabama leads the conference in punting but LSU is ranked second. Field position should be equal for both teams, barring a turnover. Similarly, both the punt return and kick return averages are virtually the same so there should be no advantage here (now watch someone house a punt or kick since I said that).
Alabama’s defense is second in the nation in stopping the run and, frankly, that’s pretty much all that LSU does well. With the running game taken away, the game should rest squarely on the shoulders of Anthony Jennings. Even the staunchest, stankiest corn dog will tell you that means big trouble for the Tigers.
Meanwhile, the LSU defense has been leaky against good running games and with Blake Sims recently looking to use his feet, this means the Tide should be able to move the ball. Alabama has struggled at times on the road but that’s also been against pass defenses that play zone the majority of the time. These Tigers like to man up on the outside and that’s meant some big time games for Amari Cooper. This game certainly seems to shape up well for the Tide because all of the Tide’s strengths on both offense and defense line up well against LSU. Look for Alabama to spread them out and gash them with interior runs and exterior wide receiver quick screens. Corn dogs, anyone?
Final: Alabama 24 LSU 9