The typical preview pieces on RBR focus on particular match-ups and overall team strengths and weaknesses, but since little has changed in the 30,000 feet analysis since November 5th, with the rematch a mere two days away we'll instead try to focus on what expects to be different this time around. Consider this an overview of what has changed since November 5th, other new developments that look to arise in the rematch come Monday night, and generally what Alabama needs to do to pull out the victory in New Orleans come Monday night.
We'll begin with the fairly obvious insight that there will all but certainly be more scoring this time around. The quality of the defenses for both teams likely ensures that this will be a relatively low-scoring affair, but it exceeds the realm of reasonable expectations to believe that in the rematch neither team will reach the end zone and that the two teams will combine for a mere twelve points in regulation. Points figure to be an exceedingly scarce commodity come Monday night, of course, but November 5th was the dual result of great defensive play and overly conservative offensive strategies employed by the respective staffs. The great defensive play will remain, but the coaching staffs will take more risks in the rematch and the final scoreboard should reflect that accordingly.
Offensively, Alabama simply has to do a better job of rushing the football, both in terms of overall production and eliminating tackles for loss in the running game. Special teams and coaching shortcomings notwithstanding, it was arguably here that Alabama lost on November 5th. On that night Trent Richardson was held to 71 yards in his 22 carries after a strong scamper on the opening play of the game, and Eddie Lacy was largely a non-factor with his turf-toe injury, though the in-game ankle injury sustained by left tackle Barrett Jones undoubtedly played a role in those struggles as well. Richardson got his overall thanks to a strong showing as a receiver, but 'Bama needed more production from the interior running game to boost the rest of the offense and that production simply never came.
In the rematch, though, both Jones and Lacy have largely returned to full health, and the key for 'Bama will be finding more success between the tackles. Doing so will keep Alabama in manageable down-and-distance situations on second and third down, alleviate the pressure on AJ McCarron, make the screen game more potent, and also help key the passing game to the tight ends, all of which are essential to the Tide's ability to outpace its sluggish performance two months ago.
Admittedly LSU is stout along the defensive interior, but even so it's a front seven somewhat ripe for the picking by a power rushing attack. The defensive ends are pass rush specialists by trade and the outside linebackers are both converted safeties. For an opponent with so few weaknesses, this relative lack of size presents one of the only chinks to be found in the LSU armor, and Alabama must find a way to take advantage of the Bayou Bengals in the running game in ways that it could not on November 5th.
Assuming solid or better success on the ground, the passing game does not necessarily need to be outstanding, but it does need to be respectable and there does need to be a better distribution of the football. Throwing to the tight ends will be difficult against the safeties-turned-linebackers that LSU features, but Brad Smelley and Michael Williams are simply too critical to the Tide's passing attack to combine for another two catch, nine-yard performance like they posted on November 5th. Pick routes should become staples of the passing game. Likewise, something of value has to be derived outside by someone other than Marquis Maze. Frankly, the likes of Darius Hanks, DeAndrew White, Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, and Brandon Gibson need to do far more than just get a free trip to New Orleans. They need to actually make some on-field contribution and provide some diversity to the offensive attack. As has been written in this space countless times, 'Bama needs to be more offensively than just the Trent Richardson Show, and some legitimate contributions outside would go a long way to bringing that about.
Meanwhile, AJ McCarron must do what he has been increasingly unable to do since Alabama left Oxford in mid-October: protect the football and avoid the big, negative play. It was crimes against national championships to Morris Claiborne that was the pivotal turning point on November 5th, and he was unable to address that inability to protect the football against both Mississippi State and Auburn, tossing an ugly interception against the Bullies' and giving up a sack-fumble for a touchdown against the Tigers. Alabama's chances of pulling out the victory in New Orleans will be greatly diminished with another costly turnover from McCarron.
On the opposite side of the field, though, the Alabama defense likely faces a much tougher task in the rematch. 'Bama held LSU to six points in regular on November 5th -- three of which were directly caused by AJ McCarron's costly interception -- but by all accounts it would take an effort of legend to bring about a repeat performance in New Orleans. Despite an ugly first half in the SEC Championship Game, this LSU offense has actually become more potent since it left Tuscaloosa two months ago.
Finding a way to stop the option attack led by Jordan Jefferson and his overall mobility could be the biggest priority, and the additional focus that was undoubtedly placed on doing that in game preparation will certainly be beneficial to Alabama. Even so, it's still a difficult thing to defend, and even if defended relatively well -- as it was on November 5th -- it can (and likely would) nevertheless have the impact of taking Alabama out of its aggressive blitz packages and limiting situations where 'Bama forces an opposing offense behind the chains on second and third downs. By keeping Alabama in a more conservative base defense and having to defend against convertible down-and-distance situations, LSU can limit the dynamic of the 'Bama defense with only a moderate degree of success in the option game. Quite frankly, Alabama needs to outright stop the option attack in its entirety and, if it's at all possible, send Jordan Jefferson the way of Colt McCoy and force the immobile Jarrett Lee into the game.
Making matters more difficult in this regard is that the LSU rushing attack as a whole is now likely more effective. The offensive line has gotten healthier since early November, and the emergence of the bruising, 240-pound Kenny Hilliard brings even more power to what was already a battering ram of a rushing attack. Spencer Ware has seen his workload reduced at the expense of Hilliard in recent weeks, and that's no accident, even though LSU's Playstation-esque rotation of tailbacks continues. Hilliard will be a star sooner rather than later, and sooner could begin on Monday night. C.J. Mosley and Nico Johnson are healthier this time around, to be sure, but even so the interior of the Alabama defense looks to have an epic fight on its hands. 'Bama needs standout showings from Jesse Williams, Josh Chapman, and Dont'a Hightower, among others.
The biggest and most unexpected concern for the Alabama defense, however, is in the defensive backfield, where a slew of injuries have suddenly worked to leave the Tide in a perilous position. Mark Barron is by his own admission not 100% due to a lingering rib injury, DeMarcus Milliner and DeQuan Menzie both have nagging hamstring injuries, and of course Will Lowery will miss this game with a torn ACL. The end result is that the Alabama secondary must take the field with three injured players and a true freshman (Vinny Sunseri) only playing due to a season-ending injury to an upperclassman. LSU is not a particularly good passing team and Jordan Jefferson tends to be an erratic passer, but even so Jefferson has the arm to make all the throws and with the strength of the LSU wide receiver corps all the injuries to the 'Bama defensive backfield could prove costly for the Tide. Knowing this, Les Miles may be willing to take greater chances in the passing game on Monday night.
Special teams may simply become an adventure in disaster avoidance. Shockingly enough, 'Bama actually out-punted LSU on November 5th, but post-Game of the Century the Tide's special teams units continued to further implode with breakdowns in kick coverage, a non-existent return game, and continued placekicking ineffectiveness, all the while LSU has seemingly only redoubled its standout units. Allowing a big play in the return game could easily prove to be a backbreaker for the Tide, and in terms of placekicking the final strategy may entail little more than Jeremy Shelley chip-shot or bust, eschewing the long field goal try in lieu of either the punt or the attempted fourth down conversion. Frankly, all 'Bama supporters can do is hope the Tide avoids the big negative plays, has a respectable showing by Cody Mandell in the punting game, and that the game does not come down to a kick. LSU retains its edge in this area, and it should be reasonably expected that Bayou Bengal coaching staff will do all it can to take full advantage.
Finally, as is always especially true in close contests between equally-matched opponents, coaching and in-game decision-making will have an outsized impact, and it is here where Nick Saban and company must avoid a repeat of the breakdowns that have occurred in the previous two losses at the hands of Les Miles. November 5th was largely defined by three key mistakes by Saban and company (opting for low-percentage long field goals, calling an unnecessary and risky trick play that backfired, and going away from Trent Richardson inside the LSU 40) and one game-changing move by Miles (benching Lee for Jefferson). This time around, 'Bama has to avoid the mental mistakes, involve Richardson more after penetrating into LSU territory, find ways of mitigating its weaknesses on special teams, scheme to prevent LSU from taking advantage of a banged up 'Bama secondary with big plays in the passing game, and not find itself asleep at the wheel when Miles attempts more of his inevitable nuttiness.
No use beating around the bush here: Miles has out-coached Saban the last two times they have taken the field, and if he does so again on Monday night the end result will be the same as the last two meetings. In a neutral-site match-up of two teams that are almost completely equal in prowess and nearly identical in construction, he who out-coaches his adversary will likely be the one to enjoy the spoils of victory. Get out-coached and be resigned to taste the bitterness of defeat.