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Alabama Football vs LSU Preview: When the Tigers have the Ball

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Despite all the losses, the Tigers still have considerable young talent at quite a few skill positions.

LSU vs Texas A&M Photo by Chris Parent/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

This LSU team has been the butt of a whole lot of jokes this season, particularly from Alabama fans. And while their 3-4 record has been a major flop only one season removed from an undefeated national championship team, their offense is still averaging 30 points per game and has been decently average or better in all but two games.

That said, three of their four highest scoring games this year came with QB Myles Brennan, who has since gone out with injury. In his place, freshman T.J. Finley has been decidedly... Freshman. While he’s had a couple of very nice games against Arkansas and South Carolina, he’s also had some really rough outings against Auburn and Texas A&M. He’s a huge dude at 6’6” 245, and is really tough to bring down in the pocket. He’s not very mobile, but has a good feel for sidestepping free rushers. He’s prone to some random misfires, but has a good arm. Overall, though, 58% completion, 7.1 yards per attempt, and 5 interceptions to only 4 TDs are not the kind of numbers you see from a winning football team.

Freshman Max Johnson has subbed in for a few drives here and there, and while the lefty and son of former NFL QB Brad Johnson has a bit better speed than Finley, he’s been no more effective.

The passing game, predicated mostly on quick slants, outs, and crossers, has tended to run primarily through Terrace Marshall, Jr, the do-it-all man who’s done a huge chunk of his damage out of the slot. He’s accounted for nearly 40% of the team’s passing production... And he just opted out for the season.

In his place, receivers Jaray Jenkins, Keyshon Boutte, and Racey McMath have combined for 50 catches and 700 yards. Boutte, a true freshman that Alabama recruited heavily, has been used fairly regularly catching screen passes, and there’s a lot riding on him stepping up to his potential earlier than expected with Marshall now out.

TE Arik Gilbert is now the team’s leading receiver. The 5-star TE freshman is an athletic freak in the mold of O.J. Howard, and is absolutely the most dangerous weapon on the LSU offense now. Again, the talent is there, but nearly every skill position group for the Tiger offense is depending on true freshmen.

The running game has been largely ineffective for LSU this year. 230-lb bowling ball sophomore Tyrion Davis-Prince is a tough runner, but has limited speed and is only averaging 4.2 yards per carry and is a non-factor as a receiver. Sophomore John Emery, Jr. was a 5-star recruit two years ago. He’s shown flashes and is significantly more explosive than Davis-Prince, but has also been less consistent with his vision. The two split carries in about a 60-40 ratio.

Schematically, this is a generally unimaginative offense that is largely similar to that of Texas A&M with significantly less offensive line ability. There a LOT of quick passes short of the first down line that depends strongly on wide receivers getting yards after the catch. Even on third downs, that tends to continue to be the strategy. They do script in the occasional deep shot, but that usually seems to be a pre-planned play rather than taking advantage of a coverage.

I think Alabama will likely give up a few big plays to Arik Gilbert over the middle, as the Tide defense has really struggled with not leaving tight ends wide open at least a few times per game. However, the rest of the LSU offense seems unlikely to be able to make much of a dent on an ever improving Alabama defense. I expect the Tigers to score no more than 14 points.