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Alabama Football: Breaking Down the LSU Defense

The time is quickly approaching for the Alabama Crimson Tide’s showdown in Death Valley with the LSU Tigers. Tomorrow night in Baton Rouge, the top-ranked Crimson Tide face off with the 5th ranked Bayou Bengals in a National Championship rematch.

We broke down the LSU offense earlier this week and now we move on to the defensive side of the ball, where Les Miles and company boast one of the best defensive units in college football.

The eyes of the college football world will be on one particular matchup when Alabama has the football. The matchup will pit arguably the best offensive line in the nation against arguably the best defensive line in the nation.

Alabama has been able to physically dominant opposing fronts this year while running the ball to great success. They haven’t seen a defensive front as big, physical, and talented as LSU’s though. LSU’s defensive line is full of guys who are going to play on Sunday, and their depth is unreal.

Up front, the Tigers are led by explosive junior defensive end Barkevious Mingo, who will most likely be a Top-10 pick in April. Mingo isn’t the only probable first round pick on the Tigers defensive line with junior Sam Montgomery the other defensive end in the starting rotation. Montgomery leads the team with 4 sacks.

Senior Lavar Edwards is a backup defensive end, but he would start for nearly every other team in the country. He’ll see plenty of time on the field Saturday night. The test for Alabama tackles Cyrus Kouandjio and D.J. Fluker is the greatest one they have faced thus far in their college careers.

LSU has a lot of talent on the ends, but they have just as much on the interior of their defensive line. The Tigers have four starting caliber players at defensive tackle led by junior Bennie Logan. Sophomores Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson have had strong seasons, and senior Josh Downs will also see plenty of playing time.

The talent and depth up front for LSU presents the toughest challenge yet for Alabama’s offensive line, a unit that has been dubbed by many as the best in the country. If they truly are the best in the country, then they have their opportunity to prove it this weekend.

LSU’s defensive line has led the team to 23 sacks on the season, and that has been the one weakness for the Alabama offensive line this season. The pass protection, particularly that of right tackle DJ Fluker, has struggled to keep AJ McCarron upright at times. You better believe that John Chavis and company will dial up blitzes to the right side to see if Fluker can hold up.

At linebacker, LSU is led by junior Kevin Minter, who has been everywhere for the Bayou Bengals defensively this year. Minter leads the team with 75 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss. He’s played like an All American this year, and seems to play his best when the lights are brightest. He had an absurd 20 tackles (17 solo), and 2 sacks, in the Swamp against Florida. He came up big two weeks ago against Texas A&M with 12 tackles and a sack to help LSU to a close victory.

Juniors Tahj Jones and Lamin Barrow start alongside Minter. Look for LSU’s linebackers to really key on Alabama’s tight ends in passing situations this time around. Alabama had a lot of success throwing the ball to Brad Smelley in the BCS Title game in January.

LSU’s front-seven has been strong this year, and have only allowed 95-yards per game on the ground, which ranks 8th in the nation. Alabama averages 214 yards per game rushing this season, so it will be strength versus strength when Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon pound the rock into the teeth of LSU’s defense. If Alabama is able to find success on the ground, then they should be successful overall on offense.

As you know, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has yet to throw an interception this year, and has been the most efficient passer in college football through eight games. McCarron has become a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender, and he’ll have his shot to seriously make a statement with the lights shining the brightest in primetime against LSU.

The Tigers are 4th in the nation in pass defense and 2nd in the nation in pass efficiency defense. They have intercepted 13 passes this season. Even without Tyrann Mathieu, LSU’s secondary has been strong in 2012.

At corner, junior Tharold Simon and freshman Jalen Mills are the starters. Both have picked off two passes. LSU does have a bit of a lack of experience at corner with Mills just a freshman and two other freshmen, Jalen Collins, and Dwayne Thomas, likely to see playing time against Alabama.

Their inexperience at corner is mitigated by two talented and experienced safeties in Eric Reid and Craig Loston. Reid is the guy who made the play of the game against Alabama in last season’s regular season matchup, when he picked off a Marquis Maze pass and prevented what looked like a sure touchdown.

There is one area on defense that LSU has struggled, and Tony pointed it out on ESPNU last night. LSU’s defense ranks 115th in the country in red zone defense, allowing scores on 16 of the 17 drives that have made it inside the 20, including 13 touchdowns.

That’s good news for an Alabama offense that is #1 in the country in red-zone offense with a success rate of 97%. The Crimson Tide have gotten points out of 34-of-35 trips to the red zone, including 26 touchdowns. That is something McCarron and company should be able to take advantage of if they can get the ball in the red zone consistently, which is easier said than done against this LSU defense.

This is the toughest test yet for the Crimson Tide, and I can’t wait to see how they respond on Saturday night in Baton Rouge.

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