Once again college football’s collective eyes will be on Tuscaloosa, AL this Saturday as No. 1 Alabama (8-0) welcomes No. 13 LSU (7-2) to town. Another year, another massive showdown by the titans of the SEC West.
This year may require an undefeated record to earn a spot in the BCS National Championship, so this game is as big as ever. Both teams are extremely balanced on offense and it’s very unlikely the 9-6 defensive slugfest we witnessed in 2011 will be repeated this year. Here are the things Alabama will have to do to get past the Bayou Bengals.
Shut down the run
Not many teams can line up 11-on-11 and run straight at Alabama, but LSU boasts one of the best power running teams in the country. LSU tailback Jeremy Hill leads the SEC in rushing yards with 922 yards along with 12 TDs and has yet to fumble in 128 carries. Backup tailbacks Terrence Magee, Kenny Hilliard, and Alfred Blue have added 885 yards and 12 TDs.
The plus side for Alabama fans is that the Crimson Tide rank seventh in the country in run defense, allowing just three yards per carry and three rushing TDs all year. Nose tackle Brandon Ivory is back this week as well, which will be huge for the run defense. Expect a lot of four- and five-man defensive lines, with Adrian Hubbard playing on the line alongside A’Shawn Robinson, Ed Stinson, Ivory and Jeoffrey Pagan.
Limit explosive plays and affect Mettenberger
Tiger receivers O’Dell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are two of the most talented receivers in the country, and likely the best tandem Alabama will meet all year. That is a scary thought considering the way Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans ripped the Tide defense to shreds in September.
Zach Mettenberger is not Manziel, however, and one thing that has shown to affect him is pressure and making him feel uncomfortable in the pocket. Where Manziel can seem like a magician getting away from pressure, Mettenberger is much more uncomfortable scrambling and will force throws in coverage.
The Alabama secondary has grown up since that Texas A&M showdown. Deion Belue will likely be following Beckham around all day while Cyrus Jones, Jarrick Williams and Bradley Sylve are going to have to do their best to stay with the rest of the LSU receivers. If the Alabama pass rushers can affect Mettenberger and force some bad throws, safeties HaHa Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins could very well come down with big plays of their own.
Keep the balance
Alabama has been known over the past five years as being one of the balanced teams in the country, and whether not Mettenberger is able to make some big plays, the Alabama offense must remain balanced. Even when it was in the shootout with Texas A&M, Alabama never went away from the run and kept things extremely balanced between run and pass.
LSU doesn’t have the stellar defense we’re used to seeing; they have allowed some big plays all year. Keeping the defense on its heels by throwing equal runs and passes at them will wear them down. The best defense against a good offense is an even better offense that keeps its defense off the field.
Win the turnover and penalty battle
Last season LSU had more passing yards, total yards, first downs, and had the football on offense for nearly 10 minutes more than Alabama, but Alabama did not turn the ball over while LSU did twice and Alabama had just one penalty while LSU was penalized seven times. When two teams are as evenly matched and play each other so close every year, penalties and turnovers can be a backbreaker. Alabama must win these battles to win the game.