The rematch of last year’s BCS Title Game is upon us! Here’s how I see it breaking down:
The Alabama Offense: Both of these teams feature tough, solid offensive lines (Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack are arguably two of the best offensive linemen in the country) and a dominant running game. Unlike LSU, the Tide also have a dramatically improved quarterback in A.J. McCarron, who’s thrown for 18 touchdowns with no interceptions and is completing nearly 70% of his passes. This isn’t a team that’s likely to focus solely on the passing game though, and with running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, they really don’t need to- but they can certainly throw the ball. The offence is well balanced and is probably more explosive than last season, even without Trent Richardson. However, this will be the biggest test McCarron has faced all year with regards to his accuracy, as LSU’s defense gobbles up turnovers like mini Snickers on Halloween.
The Alabama Defense: I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Nick Saban has focused his practices and gameplan this week on stopping the run. That’s not an easy thing to do against the Tigers, who have a stable of four talented backs, all with different strengths and weaknesses, as well as a fullback who’s roughly the size of a Ford Explorer. But stopping the run and forcing Zach Mettenberger to pass, especially in 3rd-and-long situations, should result in Alabama getting the ball back more often than not. The Alabama defense is one of the best in the country and this will be a stern test for LSU after a couple of good weeks for the Tigers.
The LSU Offense: QB Zach Mettenberger hasn’t been quite the upgrade on last year’s tandem of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee that many expected. Jefferson may not have been the greatest passer, but he could scramble for yards fairly well. Mettenberger, too, has struggled in the passing game to date, but he doesn’t turn to his feet nearly as well as Jefferson did. Utilizing a short passing game, at least enough to get Mettenberger in some kind of rythym, might help. At the very least, it would help set up play-action for later. The other problem on LSU’s offense is that injuries have kept the offensive line in flux all season, with multiple starters in and out of the lineup, often being replaced by freshmen. Even so, the line as a whole has performed quite well in the last two games. Fortunately, LSU has a ridiculous number of quality running backs in Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Kenny Hilliard, and freshman Jeremy Hill. In short-yardage situations, watch for FB J.C. Copeland, a 6’1″, 280-lb. bulldozer of a player.
The LSU Defense: By now, everyone knows about the issues that the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu has faced and the fact that last year’s most visible LSU player is no longer a member of the Tigers this season. What a lot of people don’t know is that the LSU defense, including the secondary, has rebounded quite well. The Tigers have 13 INTs through eight games, from nine different players. They’re ranked 9th in the country in points allowed, averaging just 14.6 per game. Up front, pass-rushers Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are widely considered to be top-10, if not top-5 picks in this spring’s NFL draft. LSU is strong against both the run and the pass, and have talent at every position. Every indication is that this game, much like the two matchups of last year, will be a hard-fought defensive battle. As always, turnovers will be key, and if LSU can force the Tide into a couple of fumbles and/or interceptions it will go a long way in helping the Tigers upset Coach Saban and the Crimson Tide and get some measure of revenge for last year’s BCS Championship loss.
Prediction: I’m fully expecting a defensive slugfest. One thing to watch for- Les Miles hasn’t pulled out a trick play all year. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been saving something for this game. Alabama 20, LSU 10
Don’t forget to tune into “Saturday College Football Warm-up” from 9-10am.