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Alabama vs LSU Preview: When the Tigers Have the Ball

Can Alabama slow down the high-flying LSU passing attack?

NCAA Football: Alabama at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, we broke down the positional match-ups for Alabama and LSU, detailing who the starters are and how they might look across from each other on Saturday. Josh gave us a nice breakdown on the somewhat maligned Alabama front seven against LSU’s offensive line, and then that was followed by my piece on detailing how Alabama’s defensive backs would try to match the dynamic LSU receivers.

With all that out of the way, I’ll eschew the usual format of introducing the LSU players and jump straight into the analytics.

As always, credit to Zane Murfitt with our SBNation Analytics crew for the fancy graphics.

In regards to success rates, LSU’s offense has a clear advantage over Alabama in all categories. The Alabama passing defense is a nearly elite squad, but LSU is the #1 ranked team in passing success rate. Expect some lengthy, extended drives for the Tigers all night long. However, a trend in both college and the pros over the last couple of years has been the age-old concept of bend-but-dont-break. More and more, long drives don’t necessarily end in points any more often than short drives do. If a defense can limit explosive plays and long touchdowns and also stiffen up in the redzone, then, theoretically, they can give up all the yards in the world and still be a top scoring defense.

Think of it this way: Every play an offense is on the field is another chance for the defense to end the drive on a sack or turnover. If you’re not scoring now, you’re risking not scoring at all.

And we see here that Alabama’s defense, while only above average-to-good in success rates, has done a great job at limiting explosive plays, minimizing yards per play, stiffening up to an elite unit in the redzone, and making havoc plays as often as any defense out there.

If the stats hold up, I’d expect a lot of LSU’s drives extended by strings of 10-yard passes, but Alabama stopping a few of them with big sacks and limiting touchdowns in the redzone.

The second graphic here gets more into explosive rates and success by downs. This is where the Tide defense outshines the LSU offense. Passing, rushing, and overall, the Alabama defense is better at limiting explosive plays than LSU is at getting them. The Tigers may feel like they move the chains at will at times, but don’t expect any back-breaking big plays.

So, score-wise, what does that look like? Joe Burrow and his crew of receivers are going to rack up yards. Justin Jefferson is going to convert so many 3rd downs on 10 yard drag routes with a smaller Shyheim Carter training just behind him it is going to make us sick. And don’t be surprised to see them manage to scheme ways to get either Anfernee Jennings or Terrell Lewis in coverage against a wide receiver or dynamic tight end, Thaddeus Moss, for a big play just when we don’t want it most.

The LSU run game will move the chains a few times, but, let’s face it, it’s going to be on the afterburners. This is going to be all about Joe Burrow’s arm. Jennings and Lewis have the advantage over the LSU tackles, and I think it’s fair to expect 3-4 sacks with the sheer number of times the Tigers will drop back to throw, and you can assume that by itself ends two drives. I also think that one of either Trevon Diggs or Pat Surtain II will get an interception down the sidelines on an ill-advised deep fade as the Tigers get impatient with so many incremental gains.

So lets call it five out of 12 total drives for LSU ends with a punt or turnover. Of the remaining seven, three go for touchdowns, and the other four are field goal attempts, with one miss. Final score is 30 points.

Tune in tomorrow for our offensive preview, and you can piece together the game prediction.