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Q&A: Talking With The Enemy

nick saban and les miles shaking hands
John David Mercer - USA TODAY Sports

It is officially LSU week in Tuscaloosa and the hype is building with every day. The seventh-ranked Crimson Tide will host the fourth-ranked Tigers on Saturday night in a special CBS primetime slot.

I had the pleasure of talking with one of the managing editors of a popular LSU fan blog. And The Valley Shook is a part of the SBNation community and has great writers. I recommend following their writers on Twitter, even if you’re the biggest Alabama fan.

This questions and answer segment was with Billy Gomila. You can find him at @ATVS_ChefBilly. After very little small talk, we jumped right into talking about the biggest game of the year. The full transcript is below.

CT: I want to open with talking about the rivalry’s past. How does the fan base and the team feel about losing four straight to Alabama? Does it feel like the program has been knocked down a notch or just a string of bad luck?

BG: There’s definitely a frustration, especially with it being so close in 2012 and last year. It would certainly be nice to be the team that catches the lucky bounces, which Alabama has gotten a lot of when it comes to this series. I think the more panicky Tiger fans had bought into the idea of the program being in decline, but most of them had been waiting for that to happen for years, and they’ve been wrong, of course. I will say that there is much more confidence in this season’s team, between having Leonard Fournette and a quarterback that has steadily improved over the course of the season.

CT: When you look at this year’s LSU team, where would you rank it among the past teams under Les Miles?

BG: I can’t put it on par with 2011 team, which had a near perfect combination of talent and experience almost everywhere. But there is a lot to like, especially with an offense that seems to be gelling at the right time and has a lot of football left to play.

CT: So with the way Brandon Harris has been playing and seeing his improvement, do you think the Tigers’ best football is still ahead of them?

BG: Oh certainly. I mean the best two players on this offense are just sophomores, and two freshmen are starting on the offensive line. I fully expect this unit to improve overall through the remainder of this season and into next, as the passing game continues to develop.

CT: Alabama’s secondary has emerged as one of the best in the nation, especially at forcing turnovers. With the amount of pass rush that the Crimson Tide bring, do you expect Brandon Harris to have the same success in Tuscaloosa that he’s had against everyone else this season?

BG: I don’t know about the same level, but I think this unit matches up well, coupled with the running game. Harris has enough mobility to break containment, and big plays off of that has been an issue for Alabama. And I think LSU has the wideouts to push the ball down the field in a way that compliments what they can do with the running game. But the beauty of this offense is that LSU doesn’t NEED Harris to necessarily throw for 300 yards.

CT: I can agree with that. Leonard Fournette is a beast, there’s no way around it. The Alabama front seven is too though. If Fournette will have success next weekend, will it be more because of his own talent or because of the fantastic offensive line in front of him?

BG: A little bit of both. The offensive line has been great — on his longest runs Fournette usually goes untouched for the first 5-6 yards, but he still does amazing things after contact. A sneaky subplot that won’t get much play is the possible return of Fournette’s lead blocker, John David Moore, who was doing a fantastic job at fullback. Both of Fournette’s last two “off” games have come without Moore leading the way.

CT: I saw you mentioned on Twitter a matchup to look out for – LSU C Ethan Pocic vs. Alabama DT A’Shawn Robinson. What makes that matchup so important and who do you think has the edge?

BG: It’s really hard to call that anything but even, because those two have both been amazing this season. I don’t think Pocic has to dominate Robinson, he just has to do the best he can one-on-one, because of Robinson’s not drawing another blocker, that means somebody is getting to the second level and creating that much more room.

CT: Let’s move to the other side of the ball now. The Alabama offense has either looked great or terrible in their games this season. There doesn’t seem to be an in between. How can Kevin Steele make sure that Lane Kiffin’s offense doesn’t get going?

BG: Win the line of scrimmage. LSU needs to hold Derrick Henry in check and knock the offense off schedule. Jacob Coker has struggled on third down, so if the Tigers can force those, I think they can get Alabama off the field. But if Bama can string drives together, that will give Kiffin some opportunities to throw some motions and fakes and try to isolate Calvin Ridley one-on-one with a safety. That’s been where LSU has had some issues.

CT: You mentioned Ridley and Henry. Which offense player worries you most? And are there any other Alabama players that you expect to be difference makers in the game?

BG: Definitely Henry, because he can pop the big play so quickly. I do think Alabama’s offense plays wel l into what LSU has done well, which is snuff out wide running plays. But there isn’t much margin for error on Henry if the defense misses a tackle.

CT: Let me turn that question around now and say which LSU defensive player should worry Alabama fans the most?

BG: Defensive end Lewis Neal. He’s really been coming on as a pass-rusher — he’s just a relentless, all-out-effort guy. And he’ll be matched up on Alabama’s right tackle, whom I understand is banged up.

CT: You’ve given me a lot of good stuff here so let’s wrap up with a couple of predictions and then I’ll let you go. Who rushes for more yards and why – Fournette or Henry?

BG: Fournette. He’s just been at a different level, and nobody has contained him yet. He’s seeing the game differently than other backs. Henry has been really good this year, but I think he’s much more limited in terms of what he does well compared to Fournette.

CT: Which number is higher – Brandon Harris passing touchdowns or Brandon Harris interceptions?

BG: Definitely touchdowns. Harris hasn’t thrown an interception yet this season, and has been very careful with his decision making. Hard to picture him putting them up in bunches.

CT: If Alabama wins, do you think it is possible we’d see a rematch in an eventual playoff game?

BG: Almost certainly not. Don’t want one anyway. I believe division and conference titles mean something.

CT: One more before you go… What’s your score prediction as of right now?

BG: To be honest, I’m not really one for score predictions. But I think LSU matches up with Bama as well as they have, probably since 2011. Last year, we saw a brutally limited team have a chance to win but fail to finish. This year, LSU has the best player in college football, and he’s going to be on the stage with his chance to show that to everybody.

Caleb Turrentine is a contributor at Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter, @CalebTurrentine.

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