Happy Monday of LSU week, everyone. Once again, the Tide has reached November in contention for a national title, and again opens the month with what has become the marquee matchup in the SEC over the past few seasons. We will have plenty of analysis over the course of the week, and hopefully some updates on the status of Ronnie Harrison and Dominick Jackson, but let's start with some perspective from behind enemy lines:
His 15 touchdowns are five from cracking the school's single-season record, and his three straight 200-yard games earlier this year were a first for any SEC player.
These numbers shock or surprise many. Not Alabama coach Nick Saban, who vigorously recruited Fournette out of high school at St. Augustine.
"We thought he was absolutely the best ... one of the best running backs we've ever seen," Saban said. "He certainly hasn't done anything to disappoint us in terms of what he's been able to accomplish as a college player and maybe one of the most dominant guys in the country relative to what he does."
The Tigers are actually averaging only one fewer rushing play per game in the past three weeks than in the first four, while Harris is throwing 7.5 more passes per outing. But Cameron has still called about two runs for every pass in the past three games.
Harris' production has spiked because he's picking up significantly more yardage per throw. As opponents focus on stopping Fournette, Harris has more room to work against defenses lurking close to the line of scrimmage.
"If they want to stop us with nine in the box, so be it," Harris said following LSU's win against Florida on Oct. 17, his most recent meeting with the media. "Thank you, Leonard."
No question, Leonard Fournette is the most talented back in college football today. As the first article notes, his combination of size and speed is freakish. The key to limiting a back of this caliber is ensuring that he never gets the chance to get up to full speed. As Brandon Harris notes above, teams committing extra personnel to stuff the run has opened up opportunities for him in the passing game. This is one of the main reasons Alabama fans should have some confidence going into Saturday night. Take a look at this play from last season's game:
LSU is in 22 personnel here, meaning two running backs and two tight ends are in the game. Most teams are going to stuff the box against this look, but most teams don't have the luxury of a front seven loaded with NFL talent. Alabama seemingly ignores the heavy formation, staying in its base cover two, leaving only seven defenders against eight blockers inside. Based on numbers, there is absolutely no way that Alabama should be able to stop the run here. Let's watch this front in action:
As usual, the opposing offensive line is unable to block any of the Alabama linemen. All three of Alabama's heavies stonewall their opponent and end up converging on Fournette, who never makes it to the second level. The key to this game may very well be whether Alabama can continue to limit the run without extra defenders. If they can, it is likely to be a long day for Brandon Harris throwing through traffic in the secondary, particularly since Mel Tucker has created a pack of pick-happy opportunists this season.
Continuing this same offensive series, stuffing the run on first down has them in third-and-long. Alabama once again plays conservatively, safeties deep and rushing only four:
Pockets simply don't collapse any quicker than that, folks, as Jonathan Allen flashes some serious explosiveness. Note the discipline of the edge rushers trapping Jennings inside the pocket as well. It's very difficult for any QB to throw the football when the other team can drop seven and still get that kind of pressure. LSU is giving up more than 20 a game on defense and is only the fifth best unit Alabama has faced based on S&P. They are going to need to score in the twenties at a minimum to win, and will have to do a much better job against the Alabama front to get there.
LSU is the higher-ranked team, but Alabama has opened as a healthy favorite heading into next week's matchup between the No. 7 Tide and No. 4 Tigers in Tuscaloosa. Alabama is a seven-point favorite, according to Vegas Insider.
You can bet that the matchup highlighted above is the main reason for this. Alabama returns almost the entire front seven that held Fournette to 79 yards on 21 carries. Equally important is the well-documented depth that prevents them from wearing down in the fourth quarter.
2003: Nick Saban's Tigers won the SEC and BCS titles.
2007: Les Miles and his Tigers won the SEC and BCS titles.
2011: Miles and company won the SEC title and rolled unbeaten into the BCS Championship Game.
2015: To be determined, but guess who's the only undefeated team in the SEC on the first day of November? Everything is on the table for the Tigers again as they close their bye week and look forward to Game of the Century Part Deux at Alabama.
Interesting stuff, but I think the trend is bucked this season. Next season LSU returns almost everyone on offense while Alabama loses 80% of the two-deep in the front seven. That trip to Red Stick is going to be terrifying. I have a pretty good feeling about this year though, even considering Alabama's lethargic play at home.
Schroeder said Alabama-LSU has become "must-see TV," since Nick Saban, who coached LSU to a national title, arrived in Tuscaloosa,but calls himself a "traditionalist" who believes rivalries develop over long periods of time. "Bama-LSU in its current iteration has several of the qualities that make for great rivalries, including several games with huge stakes (none greater than the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, of course, though their earlier meeting that season was also fairly important)," Schroeder said. "Again this season, it's shaping up to have critical implications for the SEC and probably the College Football Playoff races. But Bama-LSU as a rivalry is such a recent development, only time will tell if it develops into one of the SEC's best rivalries."
LSU-Alabama has become the SEC's marquee game, but that doesn't automatically make it a traditional rivalry. Wonder how the readers of this here site would classify the game? Sounds like a poll.
Alabama remained No. 7 ahead of its upcoming showdown against LSU. The teams play at 7 p.m. Saturday in Tuscaloosa, and CBS will televise the game. There was little change in the poll released today, with five of top 10 teams having had an open date, including Alabama and LSU.
Right now, the Big 12 is the top conference in college football, at least at the top, per ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). How strong is the Big 12? The FPI currently ranks three Big 12 teams — Baylor, Oklahoma and TCU — as the top three teams in the country. That means a Top Four composed by the FPI would include three Big 12 teams and Ohio State.
The Big 12 is surprisingly the flavor of the month right now. Interestingly, it is noted that Tennessee ranks 11th on this list despite four losses. #SECbias
Of course they will be in Tuscaloosa. It's going to be a fun one. ESPN won't be the only visitors, though:
Hopefully the home crowd creates the proper environment for these impressionable young men to fall in love with the Tide.
Lastly, Frank Beamer announced that he will retire as Virginia Tech's head coach following the season, and Kirby Smart's name is coming up once again:
Heard tonight that Kirby is very interested https://t.co/NaT3R8wIrc— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) November 2, 2015
Hard to believe that Kirby sticks around beyond this season. He is going to get an offer somewhere that he can't refuse.
That's about it for today. Have a great week.