The Saturday night showdown between Alabama Football and LSU will be the biggest game in college football this week, and one of the biggest games of the season in the SEC.
In last season’s matchup in Baton Rouge, freshmen played a big role in helping LSU get the win.
The Tigers started a pair of true freshmen tackles in Emery Jones Jr. and Will Campbell. Many Alabama fans expected edge rushers Will Anderson Jr. and Dallas Turner to have a field day against the youngsters, but Jones Jr. and Campbell did a good job limiting the Bama pass rushers (with some schematic help from Bama DC Pete Golding).
While Anderson Jr. and Turner still combined for 2.5 sacks, they were neutralized for much of the game. Anderson Jr., who excelled as a run stopper, was rendered largely ineffective against the run and finished the game with just two total tackles. Meanwhile, LSU ran for 185 yards on 5.4 yards per carry. The Tigers’ offensive line won the battle in the trenches, anchored by their true freshmen tackles.
Defensively, Harold Perkins Jr. was a menace against Bryce Young and the Crimson Tide. He caused massive disruption in the timing of the Alabama passing game and was all over the field for the LSU defense. Perkins Jr. finished with eight tackles, a sack, and three QB hurries as Young completed less than 50 percent of his passes.
Lastly, tight end Mason Taylor made a huge impact in this game last year. He made three catches for 36 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to give LSU the lead. Later, in overtime, he ended the game with another reception on a two-point conversion that allowed LSU to slip past Bama with a 32-31 win.
Alabama Football: Flipping the script
This season, true freshmen could have an equal influence on the game. Some roles between the two teams have seemingly reversed. This time around, LSU has a prominent and established pass rusher as Perkins Jr. returns for the Tigers.
Meanwhile, Bama will be the team starting a true freshman left tackle in Kadyn Proctor. Proctor’s ability, or inability, to limit Perkins Jr.’s impact could be critical.
Harold Perkins Jr. is more than just a good defensive player, he is one that causes havoc. He attacks quarterbacks, forces fumbles, and causes errant throws with his pressure. The LSU defense has not been very good this season, and its best hope may be to swing for the fences and try to force Jalen Milroe into multiple turnovers. Perkins Jr. will be the key chess piece, and he figures to spend a lot of time matched up on Proctor.
On the other side of the ball, Alabama Football now has the true freshman defender capable of changing the game. Safety Caleb Downs is just as good as Perkins Jr. was last season, and he can be a key factor in this game. Leading Alabama with 63 tackles and two interceptions, he is an absolute ballhawk who is equally adept at tackling in the open field. Look for Downs to make some big plays to slow down the LSU offense, or perhaps even come up with a turnover of his own.
Lastly, the LSU corners will play a major role in this game one way or another. With injuries sidelining Zy Alexander, Denver Harris, and Duce Chestnut, the Tigers will have to play safety Sage Ryan and inexperienced sophomore Laterrance Welch at cornerback. Behind them, true freshmen Ashton Stamps and Javien Toviano could be forced into action.
With these freshmen on the field, can Bama offensive coordinator Tommy Rees scheme them into unfavorable matchups to get Jermaine Burton and Isaiah Bond behind the defense? If he can, you better believe Jalen Milroe will connect.
If true freshmen once again have a major positive impact on this game, it is more likely to play into the favor of Alabama Football this time around. Keep a close eye on Kadyn Proctor, Caleb Downs, and others on Saturday night.