Happy Friday, everyone. Our beloved Tide will go to war in Red Stick tomorrow night facing a LSU team that is the biggest home underdog for a top 4 team in college football history. No pressure, eh?
The last time Alabama beat LSU by more than 14.5 points in Baton Rouge was in 2002, when Nick Saban coached the Tigers. Since then, the Tide is 4-3 straight up at LSU, and 3-3-1 against the spread. One of the SEC’s best rivalries is renewed on Saturday with immense stakes, which might make it tempting to throw out the numbers when these two teams meet. But with an Alabama offense that might be its best yet under Saban, the Tide should continue to roll, and cover, against LSU.
Pick: Alabama -14.5
“I think that they better run the football in this game because if they don’t, I think the finest secondary in college football, which is the LSU Tigers, will make plays and make Tua uncomfortable,” Miles said before continuing, ”I think this secondary wins against Alabama. I think they have to run the football to beat LSU and I don’t think that’s going to happen. The linebacking corps, the defensive line will match up well against Alabama.”
The Tigers will avoid a first-quarter knockout, and an amped-up crowd will help keep it close after a quarter. Tagovailoa, however, will settle in with a few drives in the second quarter for a 10-point lead at halftime. LSU will keep it within that range in the fourth quarter with a ball-control passing attack led by Burrow, but the Tide will tack on a late fourth-quarter touchdown for the final margin. Alabama covers the large spread — but not by much.
Alabama 34, LSU 17
“I think Alabama has a decisive advantage from a talent standpoint,” said a veteran NFL scout who has studied both teams. “LSU has overachieved this year compared to other teams in the past, especially up front on the defensive line where they don’t have some of the talent of past teams.”
One thing Yahoo Sports gleaned from talking to scouts and coaches is that Alabama should have a distinct advantage both running the ball and protecting star sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. This is not the LSU of 2012, which had four defensive linemen taken in the first five rounds of the next NFL draft.
“There’s individual matchups available against LSU,” said an assistant coach who has studied both carefully. “LSU is not, top-to-bottom, 11-strong like Alabama’s defense.”
Alabama’s been dominating its opponents, but there’s still a lot to watch in this contest. LSU has a win over a top-10 team this season, Alabama does not. The teams are very close when it comes to turnover margin. LSU is fifth in the country in team passing efficiency defense while Alabama is No. 2 in the country in total offense with 564.2 yards per game. Even Nick Saban says LSU is “legitimate.”
This storyline, though, might be the most fun: Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hasn’t thrown an interception this season. He is 0-for-168 when it comes to picks. And which team is No. 1 in the nation when it comes to forcing interceptions? That would be LSU. Will it matter Saturday? We’ll see.
I think this chart sums it up pretty nicely.
LSU fans desperately want a win against Alabama, so they can be forgiven for deluding themselves into believing that somehow, some way they will be able to will the Tigers to overcome the biggest talent gap in the series this decade. Outside of the top two cornerbacks, there is not one position group on the field where Alabama doesn’t hold a decided advantage, and the gap at cornerback is smaller than some other positions. Sorry, Tigers, but a stadium is a stadium and a field is a field, as evidenced by Alabama’s record in Baton Rouge. This Tide team has enough veterans to enjoy the experience of giving it back to a bunch of loud drunk Cajuns, and Tua in particular is as cool as they come.
The two defenses are reasonably comparable. The problem for LSU is on the other side, where they trot out a patchwork offensive line that has statistically performed in the bottom third of the Power FIve. Then you have QB Joe Burrow. He has been asked to throw the ball 30 or more times on exactly three occasions: against Auburn, Florida, and Georgia. He completed exactly 50% of his passes in those games with 1 TD and 2 INT, and his average passer rating was 104, even worse than his season number of 118.3 that ranks 103rd nationally. It isn’t like he’s buoyed by an outstanding rushing game, either. To be frank, this offense is pretty bad overall, and they are tasked with keeping pace with the most explosive one in the country.
Alabama has started fast this season, on both sides of the football. Ole Miss is the only team to score first against the Tide, an opening play bomb that represented their only points of the game. The most likely game script has Alabama carrying a solid lead into the half, something around 21-10, forcing Burrow out of his comfort zone and into some likely mistakes as the Tide return to Saban’s second half boa-constrictor-ball roots.
The Tide will take this one going away, something around 38-16.
Of course, that is simply my prediction. Vote and give us your score in the comments.
Check this guy out.
Tell me he doesn’t sound just like The Waterboy.
Sounds like Devonta Smith may be ready to go.
“Smitty’s practiced,” Saban said, “and I’m hopeful that he’ll be very close to 100 percent by game time.”
If Louisiana native Devonta goes pro after next season, this will be his only chance to play at LSU. He’ll play in this one if they have to amputate that leg.
There are no doubts as to the brightest star on display Saturday.
“I don’t even know if he realizes what they’re doing and why we’re all sitting here saying, ‘Dude, you’re scoring 54 a game and it could be 84 a game,’” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit told Sporting News. “You have to give Nick Saban credit. They’re working hard not to score 100 on people. They could have easily scored 100 points in every game they’ve played to this point.”
His arrival from Hawaii has helped accelerate Saban’s embrace of a more freewheeling offense than he’s ever coached before. The philosophy of pounding, plodding, pro-style attacks that run first and second and throw third is on the shelf at Alabama. The Tide is now the most entertaining — and high-scoring — offense in the country.
McElroy says Alabama fans have an unlikely person to thank for that — former Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze. When his Rebels upset Alabama in both 2014 and ’15, it sparked a change in Saban’s thinking.
“When Saban lost consecutive games to Ole Miss, especially the second, it was like, ‘All right, we’ve got to adjust,’” McElroy said. “They started to implement the RPOs [run-pass options]. Now it’s evolved to where the RPO game is the identity of the offense.”
Herbie has gone Full Gump this season. Tua is awesome, but as much as his own talent and that around him, the RPO revolution is responsible for some of these absurd numbers. You could have a secondary of Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson, Ronnie Lott and Troy Polamalu all in their primes, and still not be able to shut down a perfectly executed RPO scheme. It isn’t about the ability to cover, it’s about being able to play a cat and mouse game with a QB who has put you in conflict, and recovering when he gets you. Saban famously called it “basketball on grass,” and that’s as accurate an assessment as you’ll ever see. The most logical way to defend RPOs is to press every receiver and keep an extra man in the box, but that leaves you susceptible to rubs that can turn into huge plays.
Dave Aranda plays a lot of conservative quarters coverage, and it shows up in the numbers. The Tigers are pedestrian in defensive success rate but have been excellent at preventing explosive plays, ranking #6 in IsoPPP+. They like to mix press and off coverage with a focus on sure tackling and opportunism. Alabama will probably have to do more of its scoring in the red zone than it has been accustomed.
“It’s all the exact same (stuff) we heard 15, 20 years ago,” Hunt said. “There may be some new words here or there, but for the most part it’s the same old stuff.”
Those lessons didn’t just stay with Saban when he left, but also stayed with his former players. Saban’s recruiting pitch was to prepare players not just for the NFL, but for life afterward. Reed played briefly for the Miami Dolphins under Saban and is now a vice president at National Oilwell Varco in Houston4.
“It’s still the same lessons learned now as at the company that I’m an executive at now,” Reed said. “It’s really about accountability and consistency. So it’s really taking that group who might practice hard two days a week and now you practice hard four days a week. You might work hard two days a week in the offseason, now you work hard four days a week in the offseason. Really kind of getting that mindset of ‘How are we going to get better every day?’”
To quote the Bear, “The same things win that always won.”
Last, former LSU fullback Jacob Hester describes the mood around Baton Rouge.
“This week the Bama talk might be a little louder than normal, but the topic of Bama is a 365-day-per-year conversation around here,” explained Jacob Hester, a former LSU running back turned sports talk radio host on the Baton Rouge ESPN Radio affiliate and nationally on Sirius XM’s SEC channel. “I’m not going to call it an obsession, but ... OK, yeah, I’m totally calling it an obsession...
People around here weren’t mad at Nick for leaving, because as he told us, he’d left for his dream job,” Hester said. “But then, two years later, he’s back in college football, and of all the places he could’ve gone, it’s Alabama? Everyone was mad about that. Check that, everyone is mad about that.”
They may not admit it, but seeing Nick Saban in Crimson is something that they will never get over. Deep down they believe that every accolade Alabama is getting should be theirs.
We can empathize Tigers, but we ain’t one bit sorry about it.
That’s about it for today. Have a great weekend.
What will be the result of Alabama at LSU?
This poll is closed
Tua watches Death Valley empty out from the bench, Tide Roll by 21+.
LSU plays hard but Alabama still covers, Tide by 15-20.
Devin White becomes the new Colt McCoy, Tide by 1-14.
LSU pulls off a minor miracle. (FLAGGED!)