Make no bones about it; tonight is the season. A win means the Tide is headed to Atlanta and has as good a chance as any team in the country to reach Miami. A loss means no SEC championship game, no national championship, and destroying Auburn then beating up on some B1G patsy in a bowl game are the only things left to look forward to this season.
The LSU Tigers have been counting down to this game since January, and at times this season, they have played like they only care about Alabama. LSU will be the toughest opponent the Tide have seen this season, and a team looking for revenge is a dangerous foe.
This game has been analyzed to death by more capable tacticians than myself so I will simply present three factors that give me confidence, and three that cause me concern.
Causes for Concern
Pass Blocking. Despite all the hype and proclamations of greatness, there have been times this season that the Alabama offensive line has been nothing short of atroci0us. Western Kentucky sacked AJ McCarron on what seemed like every other down, McCarron sustained a knee injury from a sack a few weeks ago, and last week against Mississippi State the quarterback was hit too often and too hard for my liking. LSU has one of the best pass rushes in the country and if Alabama’s line doesn’t bring their A-game I fear that McCarron will spend much of the game staring at the stars in the Baton Rouge night sky.
Kickoff Coverage. This is a problem that has plagued Alabama for years now, and one I don’t see being fixed anytime soon. We were given some hope early this season, when Cade Foster was routinely putting the ball in the endzone on kickoffs. But over the past two games, we have seen the short kickoffs and broken coverages of years past. If the thought of Odell Beckham receiving the ball at the 7-yard line with ten yards of open field in front of him doesn’t scare you it should. The Tide needs Foster to put the ball five yards deep into the endzone whenever he kicks off.
Voodoo. While I would not be surprised if there were people in the stands of Tiger Stadium sticking pins into Nick Saban dolls, I am referring to the sorcery of Les Miles combined with the atmosphere of Saturday night in Death Valley. We have not seen a fake kick, trick play or wackiness of any kind from Miles and LSU this season, which means we are overdue. I am quite certain that Alabama will be prepared for any such trickery, but strange things happen on the bayou when night falls.
Causes for Confidence
Defensive Backfield. Having two cornerbacks that can be left in single coverage for an entire game is a luxury that Alabama has that not many other teams possess. Dee Milliner and Deion Belue have been outstanding this season, freeing up the safeties to wreak havoc. While LSU certainly has talented receivers, their quarterback has not displayed anything this season that is cause for alarm. If Milliner and Belue can lock down LSU’s top two receivers, then Vinnie Sunseri can be free to help in run support.
Balance. Alabama’s offense has evolved into a true dual threat; one that can beat opponents on the ground or through the air. In last year’s first game, Alabama actually moved the ball on LSU despite not getting big runs. As we all know it was missed field goals that did the Tide in that night. In January’s rematch, Alabama came out throwing early and often and moved the ball with surprising ease. Michael Williams and Kevin Norwood abused the Tigers’ secondary, a feat which was made even more impressive when you remember that Marquis Maze had to leave the game early with a leg injury. As an aside, the only thing I would have liked to have seen Alabama do differently would have been to put Maze in at quarterback to perform the kneel downs to end the game. The emergence of Kenny Bell and Amari Cooper give McCarron more targets to throw to, should LSU commit to shutting down the run.
Attitude. If you read our Twitter Tuesday piece regularly you will notice that Jesse Williams tweets what is the mentality of the Crimson Tide during road trips; that they are leaving Tuscaloosa to take care of business. The ‘do your job’ approach Alabama takes is evident in their play. The defensive lineman eat up blockers, force double teams and free up the linebackers to make plays, not worrying about sacking the quarterback on every down. The linebackers and defensive backs do what they are instructed to; play the correct coverages, and tackle ballcarriers to the ground, instead of gunning for kill shots and missing completely. The running backs pound relentlessly on a defense, knowing that eventually one of them will break a long one against a worn out unit. It is the focus on fundamentals and doing things the right way on every down that makes Alabama such a formidable opponent and puts them in an excellent position to win each game they play.
Victory will not come easy in Death Valley, but Alabama has the tools, the talent and the coaching to come out with a win and control their own destiny in pursuit of SEC and national championships.