Every year, our Q&A with ATVS is one of the best, and we’ve had a few times where the comment sections on both sides of the fences devolved into total flame wars. So, I totally encourage cross-commenting, and will absolutely link to the piece on their site when it posts. But, play nice. You know the rules.
Anyway, big thanks to Zachary Junda for the detailed answers. Enjoy.
1) Seriously, how big of a deal is it that Michael Divinity is gone from the team? We know he was a big name recruit and played a lot last year, so the initial reaction for Alabama fans was that it was a huge loss. But it looks like he already hasn’t played for a good chunk of the season anyway. You think you guys are really too much worse off without him?
It’s a huge deal. Coming into the year, Divinity was expected to be the guy to replace Devin White as the inside linebacker LSU could count on to fly around and rack up 100+ tackles. Divinity’s not the linebacker White is, few are, but he has a high football IQ and communicated well. He was even a favorite to wear LSU’s prestigious No. 18 jersey, given to the player who best represents what it means to be a Tiger. Oh and he’s arguably the best pass rusher depending on how you feel about K’Lavon Chaisson.
All that’s gone now. Sure, Divinity might have lost his starting spot to Patrick Queen and Jacob Phillips, but he was a regular contributor when he was on the field. Even if he wasn’t on the field for every snap, he’s a senior and a guy you wanted on your sideline. If you were to ask me will LSU miss him more on the field or off of it, the only answer I could give you would be “Yes.”
2) We all know Joe Burrow. But can you talk about his receivers? I did a breakdown piece on the three main guys at RBR last week, but I’d like to get an insider’s opinion (as opposed to my watching 1.5 games of film on them) on the unique strengths of each guy and how LSU likes to use them.
For starters, they all compliment each other really well. And I think they all have a role: Jefferson is Burrow’s most trusted target; in last year’s 29-0 debacle, Jefferson was the only one who had anything close to resembling a “good” game: six catches, 81 yards. If LSU’s in a third-and-long, expect Burrow to be looking for No. 2.
While Jefferson may be Burrow’s most reliable target, Ja’Marr Chase is the best of the three. Chase is second to Jefferson in receptions, but he’s averaging 17 yards a reception. Chase has speed. Lots and lots of speed. And he’s also bigger than I think people realize, standing at 6’1” and 200 pounds. He’s got enough size to go across the middle and make a catch. And, like former Tiger Odell Beckham Jr., if he catches a quick slant with some space, he can go 80 yards in a blink.
Now Marshall? He’s the red zone threat at receiver that I can’t remember LSU ever having. Marshall came into college still feeling the effects of a fractured fibula suffered his senior year. He started off 2019 feeling healthy and he reminded everyone from the start why he was the No. 1 receiver recruit in high school. In the first three games of the season, Marshall caught 16 passes and six touchdowns. But a foot injury suffered against Vanderbilt sidelined Marshall for a few weeks and the LSU offense didn’t look quite as formidable. Marshall’s huge frame provides Burrow a go-to target in the red zone and his absence was notable. Now he’s back and the new-look offense finally feels whole again.
3) You’re a passing team this year, no doubt. Alabama is too. However, the Crimson Tide has climbed its way into the #2 rushing offense in the country in success rate (though definitely not volume). What has the LSU rushing attack looked like this season? Is it still as dangerous as ever, or just one of those things where Joe Brady has to call some runs here and there just to keep a defense from keying in on pass rushes?
It took a few weeks, but the running game is starting to resemble something akin to LSU football. At the start of the year there wasn’t a clear No. 1 back, instead LSU was trying to divvy up carries among four backs. But Lanard Fournette basically called it a career and freshman back John Emery hasn’t quite adjusted to the college level. Meanwhile Clyde Edwards-Helaire has thrived in recent weeks and LSU’s other freshman back Tyrion Davis-Price has surprised many with his ability to pound the ball between the tackles. Edwards-Helaire and Davis-Price’s abilities differ but compliment each other. I’d liken them to when the Saints had Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, where Clyde’s the do everything, catch the ball out of the backfield guy and Tyrion is the between the tackles, keep the chains moving type.
4) If I set a line at 5 sacks, do you think Alabama gets more or less of them on Burrow, and why?
I’d go under and I’m actually surprised that I didn’t have to think about it. Now to be clear, I think Alabama will get to Burrow a time or two. LSU’s offensive line has gotten better as the season’s progressed, but I’m still waiting on the shoe to drop. To their credit, however, Florida wasn’t able to get to Burrow once, though they did lose two of its best pass rushers in the game; meanwhile Auburn “only” got to Burrow three times. Again, I do expect Alabama to get to Burrow, but five seems a bit on the high side. I’d expect it to be something similar to Auburn.
5) We already talked about Divinity being gone earlier. Does LSU have the pass rush to really affect a less-than-100%-Tua or a skittish Mac Jones before they can flip the ball to the dangerous Alabama wide receivers?
Does LSU have a single player that can provide a pass rush all by himself? No, probably not. Chaisson’s supposed to be the guy and, to his credit he plays the run extremely well, but the pass rushing numbers aren’t quite there. But this is Dave Aranda we’re talking about and Aranda can scheme ways for guys to get after Tua or Jones. It’s going to start with defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin, a truly massive human being. If Shelvin can command a double team, that’s going to open up lanes for guys like Phillips, Queen, Rashard Lawrence, Grant Delpit, Jacoby Stevens and maybe Marcel Brooks to get after the quarterback.
6) Speaking of, you think your secondary is equipped to deal with the Alabama receivers? Which of your guys is most likely to get a pick? And which of our guys are you most nervous about racking up a whole bunch of yards?
I’m a little concerned because I don’t think LSU has the corner depth to match up with Alabama’s receiving corp. I feel good about Kristian Fulton and Derek Stingley’s the best corner back in the country. But after those two? It gets a little dicey. I believe this is the week LSU will finally feel the effect of Kelvin Joseph transferring from the program. I’ve got this bad feeling that Kary Vincent Jr. and true freshman Cordale Flott are going to be targeted all afternoon long.
Maybe Aranda can help out Vincent and Flott by having Delpit and Stevens provide some help over the top, but those two are better playing near the box. I’m very curious (read scared) to see how Aranda tries to guard three awesome Alabama receivers with two awesome corner backs.
7) Give me one under-the-radar name on both offense and defense that we need to watch out for making a big play.
On offense I’d go with Thad Moss. Not only does LSU have a passing game they have, and I swear I’m not making this up, a tight end! Moss has 21 catches in six games which is a huge number when you consider last year’s tight end Foster Moreau caught 22 passes in 2018. Moss, son of NFL great Randy, has emerged as a classic check down tight end for Burrow. Moss may not be an Irv Smith or an OJ Howard potential game breaking type of mismatch, but if you throw him the ball, he’ll catch it. It’s as simple as that.
On defense let’s go with sophomore linebacker Damone Clark. Coach O singled out Clark in the preseason as a guy to watch and he’s lived up to those expectations. He notched his first career start in the season opener against Georgia Southern and on the year he has 30 tackles, 3 TFLs, and 2.5 sacks. Clark took Divinity’s starting spot in the Georgia Southern game and now he might very well take his place moving forward.
8) Is there any specific match-up that you think LSU has the greatest advantage?
You’ll have to excuse the ignorance if I’m totally off base here, but I really like LSU’s receivers going up against the Alabama secondary. I know, I know I read your piece about the Bama corners being the strength of the defense but I still like that group a lot. They all do different things well, and I trust passing game coordinator Joe Brady to come up with ways to get any one of them behind the Tide secondary. Plus, LSU will have Joe Burrow making the throws and his accuracy has been insane this season. How many times have we heard that phrase there’s no defense for a perfectly thrown ball? I think Burrow can make those throws and it helps he’s got an outstanding trio to throw to.
9) How does the game play out, and what’s your score prediction?
I just can’t bring myself to picking LSU. I have to see it before I ever believe it. Maybe the game plays out as the polar opposite of that 9-6 game in 2011, I can totally see some epic shootout happening between Tua and Burrow. But you won’t catch me picking LSU to beat Alabama, not while this losing streak is still going.
10) Following your prediction on the last question, how do you predict LSU to end the season?
Even if Saturday doesn’t go their way, LSU should still finish 11-1 and have a legitimate case for the College Football Playoff. One of the damning things about Les Miles last few seasons in Baton Rouge was how the team would nosedive after losing the Alabama game. Think about 2015, LSU loses 30-16 in Tuscaloosa then drops consecutive games to terrible Arkansas and Ole Miss teams. Now, I’m not worried about LSU laying an egg in Oxford, not as long as Coach O’s the coach. He still takes being fired by Ole Miss personally and always tries to beat the Rebels brains in every season. And the only way THIS Arkansas team beats LSU is if the Tigers get trapped in their own locker room. And as for the Texas A&M Aggies? You really think after the nonsense that happened last year and all the yapping the Aggies did afterward, that LSU’s not planning on beating them by 50 points minimum? LSU could open as a 90-point favorite and I’d bet my future children’s college tuition on LSU covering. So LSU should go 11-1 and be able to get into the playoff despite not winning its division let alone the conference. Where have I seen that before?