The matchup at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night pits what could be a national championship matchup, if the season ended today. The new College Football Playoff rankings have the visiting LSU Tigers at the #2 seed while Alabama sits in the #4 slot. Over the next three days, we will breakdown every aspect of the game and try to decide who has the advantage. We will cover each of the following categories:
Alabama Offense vs. LSU Defense – The Rushing Game
We begin with the Tigers’ passing attack which is led by quarterback Brandon Harris. The sophomore has shown significant improvement throughout this season and seems to be the answer for the Tigers longtime quarterback problem.
Harris was named the starter over Anthony Jennings at the beginning of the season. His first game of the year was played under the ringing sound of 50,000 cowbells. Harris finished with just 14 pass attempts but completed nine of them for 75 yards.
Harris has clearly gotten better though. His skill and decision making has begun to show on the stat sheet. Over the last three games, Harris has completed 42 of his 67 passing attempts for 716 yards and seven touchdowns. Through seven games, Harris hasn’t turned the ball over and has the second highest passing efficiency in the SEC at 153.9. He has also added three scores on the ground.
So Brandon Harris will be a challenge for the Alabama secondary. It doesn’t help that he has two fantastic weapons at wide receiver to work with. Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural have combined for more than 80% of the production through the air, including seven of the nine touchdowns. This was Dupre’s incredible touchdown grab in last year’s game against Alabama.
The Tigers’ offensive line has allowed just eight sacks this season. They are just one of 19 FBS teams to have allowed single digits in sacks.
Alabama’s defense counters with a talented group of their own. The Tide averages 1.5 interceptions and 3.4 sacks per game this season. The Tide have allowed just 197 passing yards per game.
Eddie Jackson has been one of the impact players in the secondary. The junior safety has 27 tackles, five interceptions, a fumble recovery and two touchdowns. He has been named as a Jim Thorpe Award Semifinalist.
Jackson is joined in the secondary by seniors Cyrus Jones and Geno Mattias-Smith. Jones has often been matched up with the opponent’s number one receiver and has still managed four pass deflections and an interception so far this season. Mattias-Smith often lines up next to Jackson as the other safety and is currently fourth on the team in total tackles. He also has one interception and a fumble recovery on the season.
One of the major factors in an improved Alabama secondary is the play of the freshmen Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Humphrey has been the number two cornerback all season and his production on the field has made it clear that the coaches made the right decision. The redshirt freshman from Hoover has five pass deflections, one interception and one forced fumble this season. Fitzpatrick has been put in the Star position and leads the team with six pass deflections. His two touchdowns on interception returns against Texas A&M helped him burst on to the national scene as a true frehsman.
The Crimson Tide’s pass rush has come a long way in 2015, led by junior Jonathan Allen. He has six sacks this season to go along with three pass deflections at the line of scrimmage. Junior Tim Williams has come on strong this season with 3.5 sacks. Ryan Anderson, Da’Shawn Hand, D.J.. Pettway and Rashaan Evans have been able to cycle in to the games and make impacts to keep the pass rush fresh on every down.
CONCLUSION: This matchup is going to be closer than a lot of people think. It will come down to how much the Crimson Tide has to put in the box to stop the LSU rushing attack. If Alabama has to load the box with seven or eight players to stop Leonard Fournette, it could create big opportunities for guys like Dupre and Dural in one on one coverage. Fortunately for the Tide, their secondary has proven themselves in those situations all season. Expect guys like Jones, Jackson and Fitzpatrick to take away the easy passes that Brandon Harris has lived off of this year. I don’t expect Harris to throw more than 20 passes but keeping the Tigers out of the endzone through the air could be the key to this game. Advantage: Alabama
Caleb Turrentine is a contributor at Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter, @CalebTurrentine.