Being that we have a week off to get ready for the 2019 iteration of The Game of the Century, we decided to do a deeper dive into some of the positional matchups that will decide the game. Today, we’ll open with the relative weakness for both teams: LSU’s offensive line against Alabama’s front “seven.”
As you may surmise, “seven” is in quotes because it’s essentially a misnomer nowadays. LSU runs almost exclusively out of three- or four- wide sets, which means that the Tide will be in nickel or dime all afternoon. It’s no secret that Alabama has dominated this series for the last eight years by completely overwhelming the Bayou Bengals’ offensive line, but this has not been the same Alabama front that we are accustomed to seeing and it certainly isn’t the same style of offense that they will be playing against.
Even still, until LSU fans actually see their squad moving the ball consistently against their Crimson overlords, those previous shortcomings will linger in the backs of their minds. While the line has obviously played well enough for Joe Burrow and company to put up huge numbers, they have allowed 15 sacks. Auburn was able to get home three times last week including two surrendered by right guard Damien Lewis, who drew the unenviable task of blocking massive DT Derrick Brown. On one of those sacks, Brown pushed Lewis into Burrow’s lap, and on the other Lewis ended up on his face after attempting to adjust to a late blitz.
Derek Brown just used his man to sack Burrow. pic.twitter.com/7kwcYunbpj— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) October 26, 2019
Lewis and C Lloyd Cushenberry III are both returning starters, and the interior of the OL is the area that Alabama has had the most success against in recent years. For the first few weeks, Alabama seemed to lack an interior defensive line presence that could complement Raekwon Davis and exploit the Tigers in the same fashion, but the emergence of Christian Barmore offers some hope.
Say hello to Christian Barmore pic.twitter.com/CEwP50THIZ— Brett Hudson (@Brett_Hudson) October 20, 2019
Barmore has been a terror on passing downs in recent games but has also shown a tendency to draw offside flags while trying to jump the snap, something that Burrow will likely try to exploit with a hard count. A raucous Alabama crowd forcing them into using silent counts would likely help in this regard.
The other guard is massive 343-lb. Adrian Magee who has generally been solid, but sometimes gets a little clumsy when climbing to the second level. The front four will need to occupy him in the run game and keep Alabama’s young linebackers, Shane Lee and Christian Harris, clean. As you well know, Alabama’s run fits haven’t always been the best this season, and LSU can hurt you in the run game when that’s the case. They love to run left in particular.
LSU averaged more than 10 yards per carry running between Saahdiq Charles and Adrian Magee vs. Florida.— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) October 14, 2019
Think I could've gotten 10 here. pic.twitter.com/iZVRR8vjx7
The matchup that Alabama fans should probably feel best about is outside, where Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Lewis take on somewhat embattled Austin Deculus and Saahdiq Charles. Charles is a solid road grader as you can see, but these guys are likely to have a hard time holding up consistently against Alabama’s edge players on passing downs. For that reason, look for LSU to focus on running the ball and using RPOs on first down as they did last week with Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who managed 136 yards on 25 carries against a stout Auburn front. As usual, avoiding third and long will be critical to their success against the Tide.
The bottom line is that Alabama was able to shut down LSU in years past by stifling their elite heavy run game without having to commit safeties. This version of the Tigers isn’t going to be shut out by anyone, but the same principle applies. If the Tide is able to control the run game and get after Burrow consistently without having to commit extra resources, you have to like the secondary’s chances to hold up. As shown in that first clip above, Auburn was able to do just that at times last week.
That isn’t to say that Alabama can get it done with a vanilla scheme. Defensive coordinator Pete Golding showed a few wrinkles against Texas A&M that we hadn’t seen this season.
I can see how it would be almost impossible to stop Christian Barmore when you don’t see him coming, like on a stunt pic.twitter.com/eObUgBjDmU— Brett Hudson (@Brett_Hudson) October 13, 2019
Note that only four actually rushed in those clips, but the last one was a slot fire by Shyheim Carter as Jennings dropped into a zone. Hopefully eight games of on the job training plus an extra week to prepare will allow the staff to have confidence in the youngsters to execute some games up front. They will need to grow up some more this week if the Tide are to have any chance at limiting this explosive offense.