Alabama continued to roll its way toward the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. The Crimson Tide embarrassed its in-state rival, Auburn, 42-13, last Saturday. That was Alabama’s fifth consecutive victory by 17 or more points and its seventh out of eight by that margin. Now, Alabama turns its attention to LSU.
At Texas A&M, LSU’s defense turned its most impressive effort of this season. However, the Tigers’ offense further continued its decline since the season-ending injury of Myles Brennan.
Alabama leads the all-time series versus LSU, 53-26-5, that dates back to 1895. When these programs have played in Baton Rouge, the Tide hold the advantage, 28-8-3. In the 2010s, Nick Saban‘s teams won eight of the 11 meetings.
Replacing Terrance Marshall
The last remaining regular starter among the receivers and backfield from last season’s national champion squad quit the team on Sunday. Terrace Marshall announced his departure on the day after the defeat at Texas A&M. He had been leading LSU’s offense by wide margins in multiple categories: receptions (48), receiving yards (731), touchdowns by reception and from scrimmage (10).
The question is whether anyone still on the roster can approach Marshall’s level of productivity. Tight end Arik Gilbert, a true freshman, ranks second on the team with 30 catches for 339 yards and two touchdowns. Jaray Jenkins, a sophomore wide receiver, has the third most receiving yards (321) and is tied for third most receptions (18) in addition to catching a touchdown. Freshman wide receiver Kayshon Boutte also has 18 catches and a receiving touchdown plus 208 receiving yards. Racey McMath, with 14 receptions for 195 yards and a touchdown catch, is listed as doubtful. Former cornerback turned wide receiver, Jontre Kirklin, is the only other Tiger with a double-digit number of catches (10) and a triple-digit number of receiving yards (148). Overall, the Tigers critically lack experience among their receivers.
Continued Improvement Of LSU’s Defense
LSU’s defense outshined the offense for the first time this season last week at Texas A&M. The Tigers had been routinely torched by numerous plays for huge gains by opponents. In College Station, the Tigers allowed their second lowest total of points (13) this season. Additionally, they shut out an opposing offense in the second half for the first time this year.
LSU also began curtailing opponents’ conversions on third down last week at Arkansas. The Razorbacks failed on all 10 attempts on third down. The Aggies only succeeded on third down twice in 16 tries.
Earlier in the season, the Tigers’ defense had struggled to stop foes from extending their drives. Of their first five opponents, three had a success rate of 50 percent or more. Even winless Vanderbilt finished seven out of 17 when trying for a first down. Only South Carolina, with 3 conversions on third down in 10 attempts, truly struggled to pick up up first downs against LSU.
Alabama’s offense has not shown many difficulties in converting on third down. The Tide’s success rate has equaled or exceeded 50 percent in seven out of eight contest in 2020. The only time that Alabama fell short of converting on third down occurred in the 41-0 rout of Mississippi State when the Tide was 6 of 14. The only time that Bama did not pick up a first down on third down at least six times in a game was against Texas A&M. The Aggies only allowed five conversions on 10 opportunities.
Alabama may already have clinched the SEC Western Divisional title by the time the Tide takes the field at Tiger Stadium. That would occur if Auburn defeats Texas A&M earlier in the day.
So what remains for Alabama to accomplish? Obviously, a victory would serve as another step toward the top seed in the College Football Playoff. Mac Jones could bolster his résumé for the Heisman and other trophies. That would be likely against a defense that figures to become exhausted due to their ineffective teammates on offense. Will Saban try to exceed the largest margin of victory in the series against LSU, 44 points by Alabama in 1922? He might try to send a message to recruits that he still considers his program as the dream destination so they should do so as well.
Ed Orgeron has experience with LSU at such an embarrassing nadir. He roamed the sidelines as head coach when his Tigers lost to Troy in 2017. That was LSU’s first non-conference defeat at home in 17 seasons. He pulled them out of that nosedive to pull off two upsets in the SEC later that year.
For LSU, the contrast between last season and the current one could not stand out more glaringly. A year ago, LSU fielded one of the greatest teams in the history of college football. A year later, the weakest squad for this program in the past 20 years seems on the verge of completely imploding. Ed Orgeron could use this daunting challenge to find out which players want to build for the future and weed out whomever is only interested in his future prospects in the NFL.
Prediction: Alabama 48, LSU 6