If you’ve been anxiously awaiting the Alabama Crimson Tide’s first real challenge of the 2012 season; the team that could match-up physically with the Crimson Tide and actually give them a game, then that week has finally arrived. On Saturday night, Alabama invades Death Valley to do battle with the fifth-ranked LSU Tigers.
It’s a BCS National Championship rematch when the Tide and Tigers hit the field at Tiger Stadium. The Game of the Century Part III if you will, with the first two games being split between the two schools.
We know what happened in the regular season meeting in 2011, with Alabama being done in by four missed field goals as LSU escaped Tuscaloosa with a 9-6 victory. That was Alabama’s lone blemish of the 2012 season. Of course, we all know what happened when the Crimson Tide got their rematch with LSU in New Orleans.
The Tide battered and bruised the top-ranked Tigers en route to a 21-0 win and the BCS National Championship.
Both teams will be motivated in this one. LSU wants revenge for Alabama having ruined their perfect season. Alabama wants revenge from the Bayou Bengals for coming to Bryant-Denny Stadium and winning last year, which kept Alabama from an SEC Championship.
An Alabama win on Saturday night and a Texas A&M win over Mississippi State would effectively clinch the SEC Western Division for Alabama and a likely date with Georgia in Atlanta. In four of the last five seasons, the winner of this game has gone on to represent the SEC West in the Georgia Dome.
LSU’s defense may strike fear into opponents, but the offense has been pretty anemic all year long.
Coming into 2012, all we heard was how improved the Bayou Bengals would be on offense with Zach Mettenberger under center. But so far, Mettenberger hasn’t been an improvement over Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, and he has actually played a little worse than those two through eight games.
Mettenberger has completed just 56 percent of his passes for 1419 yards with 7 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Against SEC competition, Mettenberger has completed only 46 percent of his passes with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. He completed better than 50 percent of his passes in only one of those games and that was against Auburn.
Those aren’t exactly good numbers, and unfortunately for him he will be going up against the No. 1-ranked pass defense in America on Saturday night. LSU averages 177 passing yards per game, which ranks 109th in the nation.
At wide receiver, LSU has struggled to replace the productivity of Rueben Randle, although Mettenberger’s poor play obviously hasn’t helped matters.
Sophomore Odell Beckham has been the go-to-guy in the passing game. He has 420 yards on 26 catches and a pair of touchdowns. Junior Kadron Boone leads the team with four receiving touchdowns, and sophomore Jarvis Landry is second on the team with 23 receptions.
Senior Russell Shepard has playmaking ability, but he’s been quite a non-factor this season outside of his 78-yard rushing touchdown against Towson. He has just 6 catches for 92 yards.
It has been the LSU ground game that has shouldered the bulk of the load in 2012, much like 2011. The Tigers have used a platoon of running backs just like last season, only they have had five guys splitting the work instead of four.
LSU doesn’t have a superstar running back, but they have five quality backs that stay fresh throughout the game. They always have a fresh set of legs in the backfield.
5-foot-11, 240-pound sophomore bruiser Kenny Hilliard is the team’s leading rusher 420 yards on 71 carries and 6 touchdowns. Junior Michael Ford has raced to 357 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Freshman Jeremy Hill has picked up 322 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground, and by all means looks like a future star in Baton Rouge. Hill has received the bulk of the work in LSU’s last two games with back-to-back 100-yard performances. He had 124 yards and two touchdowns against South Carolina, and followed that up with 127 yards and a touchdown against Texas A&M.
Junior Alfred Blue was off to a great start to 2012 with consecutive 100-yard rushing performances against North Texas and Washington, but an injury against Idaho has kept him out of the lineup since.
Junior Spencer Ware has the second most carries on the team, but is only fifth in rushing with 255 yards.
With Blue not being able to play, the Tigers still have four capable running backs that will test Alabama’s defensive front. The key to LSU’s ground game is quite possibly fullback J.C. Copeland, who at 6-foot-1 and 280 pounds is an excellent lead blocker, and he has punched in three touchdowns this year.
LSU has had a bit of a patchwork offensive line this season with injuries and other forms of attrition. LSU lost tackle Chris Faulk and guard Josh Williford to injuries, and tackle Alex Hurst left the team.
Senior center P.J. Lonergan is the only starter left from the 2011 offensive line. Sophomore La’el Collins has been excellent at left guard so far, and is arguably LSU’s best offensive lineman.
The offensive line has been strong in run blocking, leading LSU to 208 yards per game, which is the 25th-best in the country. But, they have struggled some in pass protection, allowing Mettenberger to be sacked 18 times.
Look for Kirby Smart and Nick Saban to dial up some pressure to make Mettenberger uncomfortable. Even if they aren’t able to rack up a lot of sacks in this game, the pressure should rattle the LSU quarterback and force him to make some bad decisions against a turnover-savvy Alabama defense.
The Crimson Tide’s defense seems to have a decided advantage when LSU’s offense is on the field, and I don’t expect the Tigers to be able to find much success when they have the football.
The game will be decided by how Alabama’s offense fares against LSU’s defense.
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