Two weeks after going down with a high-ankle sprain, Alabama's left tackle is back in action.
"Doc gave him an examination yesterday after practice and cleared him to play in the game," Saban said on his Thursday-night radio show. "He practiced the whole time today."
No. 5 Alabama heads to LSU to face Robinson's home-state school at 7 p.m. Saturday. Saban didn't go so far as to say Robinson would start, but said it was still a possibility.
One problem: Alabama's run defense is just about as good as it's ever been. The Tide rank first in Rushing S&P+. In eight games, opposing running backs have averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, 3.4 if you take away a single, 44-yard run by Tennessee' Marlin Lane. Arkansas' bruising duo of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins combined to gain just 96 yards in 26 carries, leaving the Hogs to try and beat Bama through the air.
Sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris have alternated at quarterback. (Jennings is currently listed as the first-stringer.) Both have brought decent run threats to the table -- 70 non-sack carries for 385 yards -- but the passing game has been all-or-nothing. The two have completed just 51 percent of their passes (with a far-too-high eight percent sack rate), but their completions are averaging 16.9 yards. Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre are catching just 4.2 balls per game, but at 24.6 yards per catch.
Alabama's secondary is far from terrible, but if LSU can run the ball just well enough to set up a couple of deep balls, the Tigers could score enough to win. But without the run, the pass won't work either, and nobody's run really works against Alabama.
Matchup to watch: LSU rushing offense against Alabama rushing defense - LSU has run the ball on an SEC-high 67 percent of its plays this season. The Tigers are 6-0 this season when they rush for at least 150 yards and 1-2 when they do not. They will have a tough test against an Alabama defense that has allowed the second-fewest rushing yards per game (78.1) and fewest rushing touchdowns (2) in the FBS.
Alabama looks to have the edge, according to these stats. Both S&P+ and FEI think better of the Crimson Tide, but LSU fields a better special teams unit. Alabama has the top-ranked rushing defense to thwart LSU's 27th ranked rushing offense, while LSU's rushing 19th ranked rushing defense is evenly matched with Alabama's rushing offense. LSU's 11th ranked passing offense does look to have a bit of an edge over Alabama's passing defense, and LSU's secondary looks equal to Alabama's passing attack.
Offensively, there's little secret to what Alabama wants to do. It will be throwing the ball towards Amari Cooper. Cooper will be targeted on short, intermediate, and deep passes and could turn any reception into a big play. He'll be the best receiver LSU's defensive backs have faced yet this season. Meanwhile, LSU's secondary also only allows 160 yards in the air per game. Something is going to give.
Alabama's run game may prove decisive. Alabama is averaging 218 yards per game on the ground, and just barely cracks S&P+ Top 20. LSU, meanwhile, allows on average 160 yards rushing per game this season. Ole Miss has a lower S&P+ rushing attack (32nd) but managed 137 yards rushing against LSU. Alabama stands a strong chance of matching the LSU's allowed season average behind its stable of elite running backs. The more effective Alabama runs the ball, the more opportunities Cooper will have as the game progresses.
On the season, LSU's opponents have thrown for nine interceptions and scored just six touchdowns through the air.
"They're very physical and they've got a disciplined secondary," Alabama senior wide receiver DeAndrew White said. "They try to put their hands on you and try to press you and try to do a lot blitzing toward you to mess you up. It's going to be a great game."
Alabama's only had to deal with the big "if" once this season, and it ultimately snuck out of Arkansas with a 14-13 victory when it happened. That "if," of course, deals with the dilemma of what happens if the opposing defense is able to limit and minimize Cooper's production.
Players always leave the game more hobbled, bloody and bruised than any other contest. You haven’t truly felt four quarters of football until you’ve lined up in this one. Skin tears and bones rattle for weeks. Stand too close to the TV screen and you might feel the punishment yourself.
"It’s the most physical game of the year, and we’re going to make it [that]," Kwon Alexander said. "We’re physical teams. That’s our identity, that’s what we love to do. We want to hit people in the mouth, we love to go hard.
"It’s really up there as one of the most physical games across the country."
Added Ryan Kelly: "As the game wears on and it gets down to the fourth quarter, that’s when we want to make them quit and impose our will upon our opponent."
LSU true freshman backup quarterback Brandon Harris, who has basically disappeared since his first and only college start on Oct. 4 at Auburn, may play in a situational role against Alabama on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
"I think Brandon Harris is improving," LSU coach Les Miles said Wednesday night after practice when asked about Harris. "I think there's a potential of getting him in the game significantly. We're going to play it situationally." Harris, who was one of the top prep quarterbacks in the nation out of Parkway High in Bossier City, struggled at Auburn, completing just 3 of 14 passes for 58 yards in a 41-7 loss.
He did not play a snap the next week against Florida as the Tigers won 30-27 behind quarterback Anthony Jennings, who has started all but one game this season. Harris played briefly in a 41-3 rout of Kentucky on Oct. 18, throwing one incomplete pass. He did not play in LSU's last game, which was a 10-7 win over Ole Miss.
Injuries are part of the unfortunate reality of football. Alabama starters have dealt with it perhaps a little more than normal this fall. In a few instances, they were forced to stay in Tuscaloosa when the rest of the team traveled to road games. For home dates, injured players can stand on the sideline, but the travel roster is limited. So instead of the game-day routine, they're stuck in front of a television watching the game play out without them.
"It sucks," said center Ryan Kelly, who stayed home from the Arkansas game with a sprained knee. "Everybody in Tuscaloosa leaves on the weekends when we play away games so there's not much going on. You just kind of sit around. You wish you could be there. When you practice every day, you can kind of watch guys and guess which play they're running. "There's not really a lot of positives too it. You wish you could be there and get on the field. I think that's what really helped me get back out there so quick. Just missing it so much."
The NFL Draft expert likened Cooper's work ethic to NFL legend Jerry Rice, the league's all-time leader in receptions (1,549), touchdown receptions (197) and receiving yards (22,895). Rice was known as one of the NFL's hardest workers during the offseason and Cooper has quickly established that sort of reputation with his teammates.
"Jerry Rice had that great work ethic. Amari Cooper, same thing type of thing," Kiper Jr. said. "Spends tons of time after practice, always working on route-running, his stats are incredible and he's a guy who consistently week after week puts up big numbers."
Hey Coach! with Nick Saban radio show - 11-6-14