On Monday night the Alabama Crimson Tide take their 11-1 record into the SuperDome to square off against the 13-0 LSU Tigers for the second time this season. The first game was hyped for weeks and billed as the Game of the Century.
The Tide and Tigers brought college football’s top two defensive units into that game, and neither yielded a single touchdown. That only solidified that both defenses were exactly what everyone thought they were, and both sides delivered as expected. Two defensive teams played a defensive game and the game lived up to expectations.
We have patiently waited for the sequel, and killed a lot of time watching offenses obliterate opposing defenses at a record pace this Bowl season. That trend will come to a screeching halt Monday night in the BCS championship game as the Tide looks for redemption and the Tigers look to make history.
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Little has changed in the dynamics of the two sides since the first game. The biggest difference is that LSU quarterback Jefferson is now the starter, having taken the job from Jarrett Lee. All the Tide players will be healthy this time around, and the importance of that can’t be overlooked.
This game is unique in that both teams know each other well, and neither will have the element of surprise on its side. These guys will line up across from one another knowing exactly what to expect. They know how quick, strong, smart and fast the other guy is, and nobody will be caught off guard. This will allow them to skip the preliminary feeling out process we usually see in bowl games and get right to the meat and potatoes. There will obviously be some wrinkles thrown in here and there by both sides, but this game will ultimately come down to imposing your will on the other guy.
Alabama wins with discipline, execution, patience, physicality and ability to adjust quickly. LSU wins with athleticism, confidence, freedom to take chances and feeding off of tempo and momentum. Whoever sticks to what they do and does it better will hoist the crystal football.
Many of the same things remain true from the first breakdown we did on Alabama and LSU, but there are some things that have changed, and they will prove to be key in this game.
Injuries. Staying injury-free is crucial to Tide success this time around. Barrett Jones, Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks were dealing with varying degrees of ankle injuries in the first matchup but all three are reportedly recovered. Barron has dealt with a cartilage tear in the rib cage but says he is good to go. Trent is not an average physical specimen, but he will need his sidekick Eddie Lacy to be a factor in the run game this time around, and the rest to his turf toe injury should help significantly.
Tempo. McElwain must keep a close eye on the flow of the offense in this game and take advantage of the hot player or plays. In the first game, Richardson flipped a switch and took control of the chains, running with determination, and LSU had no answer. As soon as it happened, they took the ball out of his hands with a trick play. Alabama will have to create momentum and flow on offense then ride it out, not shoot themselves in the foot. When an offense hits a soft spot on this LSU defense they have to keep pounding that spot until it doesn’t work or until they hit pay dirt.
Passing Game. AJ McCarron had a relatively good game in November against LSU, but can improve on several things. He has to spread the ball around better and make the throws we know he can make. Tide receivers only had 119 yards receiving in the first game (not counting Trent’s 80 yds), and that won’t cut it Monday night. Alabama’s offense doesn’t rely solely on the run or pass, but on balance between the two. They don’t have to get pass-happy, just connect on the attempts that are made.
LSU players recently stated that stopping the Tide is as simple as shutting down Richardson, and McCarron will definitely have his chances. Brad Smelley and Michael Williams have to be a factor early and often if Alabama is going to be effective passing. Our receivers don’t matchup favorably against LSU’s corners, so the tight ends will have to show up.
Execution. Alabama’s offense is loaded with experienced players who know the plays and how they are meant to be executed. The Tide has been the least-penalized offense in the SEC, and that’s a key to success. Alabama had costly penalties in the first game that killed momentum and field position. In a game of inches like this, the Tide can’t afford to give LSU free yards.
The first time around, Alabama played a perfect game defensively, and needs to duplicate that effort. You can bet Jefferson will be throwing more in this game, trying to catch Tide corners sleeping, so they have to be heads up and not bite on the option pass.
Every time the Tide punts or kicks the ball it could spell trouble. Tide special teams have been very hot and cold this season and can not afford to execute their assignments poorly for even one play. Big returns are what LSU feeds off of, and keeping any momentum away from them is huge.
Alabama is coming in with all the starters seemingly healthy and plenty of motivation to bring another title home. The Tide leads the entire nation in defense and literally shut the Tigers offense down in the first game, yet are undervalued in the media and have a score to settle come Monday. Despite dominating every major statistical defensive category, the Alabama defenders were snubbed time and time again during awards season in favor of players with less impressive accomplishments. Don’t think they haven’t taken notice.
Aside from the awards, major media outlets like ESPN overlook the Tide defense on a regular basis, adding fuel to the fire. ESPN analyst Desmond Howard stated that “Jordan Jefferson was very effective against Alabama in the first game,” adding, “I’m interested to see how the Tide defense is going to stop him this time.” Players try and stay away from excessive media talk, but I have been told they are listening and taking notes. Jefferson didn’t throw or run for a touchdown, so the term ‘very effective’ just doesn’t fit. Recent conversations with those close to the team lead me to believe we will see a very determined Tide defense.
Expect Alabama to take more shots downfield and across the middle to the tight ends Monday night. They may come out and run some offensive series in a no-huddle with five receivers to keep LSU honest. Alabama was able to use that offensive set against Tennessee, and it will keep the Tiger defense from substituting as much. The Tide offensive line is finally healthy and Alabama will run the ball straight at the Tiger defense. Alabama’s line is bigger and stronger than LSU’s defensive front, and will use that to their advantage more in this game than the first.
In the end Alabama is still going to have to be who they are and impose their will on LSU. Alabama is more physical on the line of scrimmage and bring a better overall team to the field. If they play the way they did in the first meeting, minimize the mistakes and make the Tigers play their game, they will bring home number fourteen.
Prediction: Alabama 24 – LSU 10