It is the game that produces the most hype, anticipation and demands ESPN’s College GameDay to drive down every year. If the World Series is the fall classic, then the Alabama-LSU rivalry is the next best thing to the Super Bowl. Prior to this weekend’s matchup, the Crimson Tide and the Tigers have met on the gridiron 77 times. Alabama leads the series 47-25-5. Bryant-Denny Stadium will be rocking Saturday night as it will play the role of host in this gladiator matchup. CBS will air the game at 7:00pm CT.
Though Alabama will enter the game as an 11-point favorite, don’t think for a second that Nick Saban is buying into all the hype. While many Crimson Tide fans are looking forward to the Southeastern Conference title game, Alabama refers back to the process and is taking this season one step at a time. With an 8-0 record and the No.1 ranking in the nation, the Crimson Tide will look to execute its game plan to perfection against LSU. For AJ McCarron, the opportunity to punch his ticket to New York City and become a finalist for the Heisman Trophy will ride on his performance against the Tigers.
Thus far, McCarron has been nothing short of efficient. He is completing 69.4 percent of his passes for 1,862 yards, 16 touchdowns, three interceptions with a quarterback rating of 166.6. Against five SEC teams (Texas A&M, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and Arkansas), Alabama has totaled over 400 yards of offense this season. With the offensive line really hitting its stride where run blocking and pass protecting is concerned, it will be pivotal for them to play sound football against LSU.
The tandem of TJ Yeldon and Kenyan Drake has worked wonders in the backfield this season for Alabama. Both backs have done a great job of running the ball well in between the tackles, gaining yards after contact and following the offensive line. Currently, Yeldon has 115 carries for 729 yards (6.3 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. Drake has totaled 63 carries for 491 yards (7.8 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns. The main thing both backs must focus on is ball security. Yeldon and Drake each have lost two fumbles this season. Unlike Kentucky who is a rebuilding team, Alabama can’t afford to turn the ball over against the Tigers.
As for LSU, this is the first time in a while where they will come in with the underdog mentality. Like Saban, Les Miles refuses to buy into the hype and wants his team to remain focused on the task at hand. With the record of 7-2 and ranked No.13 in the nation, the Tigers would love nothing more than to upset Alabama at home Saturday night. Like the Crimson Tide, LSU keeps a stable of talented running backs. The Tigers running back core is led by Jeremy Hill. At 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, Hill is a bruising, power back. He is very physical in the hole and doesn’t mind carrying defenders with him.
He does a good job of getting tough yards, following the line upfront and using his vision to set up holes down field. This season, Hill has 128 carries for 922 yards (7.2 yards per carry) and 12 touchdowns. The three backs behind him are nothing to sneeze at. Terrence Magee and Kenny Hillard combined have 108 carries for 646 yards and seven touchdowns. Alfred Blue has amassed 49 carries for 239 yards and a touchdown. It will be up to Alabama’s defensive line and linebackers (led by CJ Mosley) to stuff the run in the hole, negate the perimeter and force LSU to be one-dimensional.
In conference games last season, Zach Mettenberger was the laughing stock of the SEC, until he faced Alabama. Against the Crimson Tide, Mettenberger let the ball fly. He completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 298 yards and a touchdown. He was very efficient against Alabama and if it wasn’t for some questionable play calling by Miles, LSU would’ve won the game last season. This season, Mettenberger has developed a vertical aerial attack. Under offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Cam Cameron, Mettenberger has begun to really spin the football with confidence.
Thus far, he is completing 65.4 percent of his passes for 2,492 yards, 19 touchdowns, seven interceptions with a quarterback rating of 177.1. Despite the Tigers averaging 40.2 points per game offensively, they are 31st in the nation on defense. Like Georgia, LSU lost a lot of talent (Mingo, Montgomery, Mathieu, Reed, Minter, Simeon and Logan) to the NFL Draft last season on defense. It will be up to linebacker Lamin Barrow to get everyone focused on stopping the run game and making life difficult for McCarron in the pocket.
Like its offense, the Crimson Tide’s defense has been soaring this season. Alabama is first in the nation, giving up 9.8 points per game. Outside of Johnny Manziel and maybe Bo Wallace, this will be the first time that Alabama’s secondary will be tested. While he is no Manziel, Mettenberger isn’t afraid of putting the ball in the air and testing the Crimson Tide’s secondary. LSU has two receivers that will pose as matchup problem for Alabama. Both Odell Beckham (48 receptions for 1,009 yards and eight touchdowns) and Jarvis Landry (58 receptions for 822 yards and eight touchdowns) are physical receivers at the line of scrimmage.
They have breakaway speed and great hands. They know how to locate and highpoint the football as well as run great routes. Having Ha Ha Clinton-Dix return to the secondary two weeks ago against Tennessee was perfect timing for Crimson Tide. It will be up to him, Landon Collins and the rest of the secondary to try and take away Beckham and Landry from Mettenberger.
Alabama’s offense is ranked No.11 in the nation in scoring this season. The Tide is averaging 41.3 points per game. Outside of McCarron and the run game, the receiving core must come alive for Alabama if they want to defeat LSU. Against Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee, Amari Cooper played well in desire to build back to where he was last season. He will have to put on his finest performance against LSU, if the Crimson Tide want to have their way with LSU’s secondary. Kevin Norwood has been the thorn in the flesh for LSU the past two seasons. He will pose as a threat in the slot against the Tigers and McCarron will look for him a lot in this matchup. Louisiana native Kenny Bell along with Christion Jones will also look to make their marks in this game as well.
This game will come down to fundamentals. The team that can minimize mistakes (penalties and turnovers), convert on third down and create the huge plays will win this game. Many memorable moments have occurred in this rivalry. The moment that will come out on top in the new chapter of it will be unveiled Saturday night as the titans clash on the gridiron.