While the Tigers are sporting a top-25 level offense, their defense is in a very similar spot. They’re a balanced, well-rounded team... Just like every Brian Kelly team, ever. They’re allowing 21 points per game while running a consistent, disciplined defense that Kelly always bludgeoned teams with during his time at Notre Dame.
His defensive coordinator, Matt House, is a guy that’s been around for a while, but has never been a big name. House spent a little time as defensive coordinator for Kentucky a few years back, and has made multiple stops as a position coach in the NFL, most recent the linebackers coach for Kansas City. His 3-3-5 defense is a similar scheme to what Nick Saban and Pete Golding run at Alabama, but with more adherence to a true 3-man front and less blitzy.
In the secondary, they run mostly cover 3 and cover 6 concepts with a lot of off zone coverages intended to bait the QBs into bad throws and break on passes. While the Tigers were an absolute mess in the secondary last year, they pulled in a whole host of transfers from other schools that have stabilized the group and are allowing all of 204 yards per game at a 56% rate.
They aren’t the most talented or athletically gifted group, but they are feisty, opportunistic, and generally assignment sound.
The safety tandem, Greg Brooks and Joe Foucha, were both multi year starters at Arkansas before transferring together to LSU last off season. Brooks is fiend for jumping short routes and getting his hand on the ball, while Foucha is more of missile-style tackler.
The third safety, senior Jay Ward, is an LSU native that has been starting for the Tigers the last two seasons as the nickel corner in a similar role to Alabama’s Brian Branch. He’s a terrific tackler with good height and sticky coverage, though he’s a bit prone to getting called for defensive holdings and pass interference.
Outside corners Colby Richardson and Mekhi Garner are also both graduate transfers with a good bit of size on the outside. They may not be the fastest, but they can both tackle.
At linebacker, Micah Bakersville returns for his 5th season for the Tigers after leading them in tackles last year. He’s a veteran who, like most of the secondary, is just a steady presence and a tackling machine in the middle.
Beside him, Greg Penn is the usual outside linebacker running mate, but he platoons with pass rush specialist Harold Perkins, who’s an extremely explosive former 5-star freshman.
On the other edge is stalwart B.J. Ojulari, who’s been one of the better edge rushers in the SEC the last couple of seasons and has 4 sacks so far this year.
Their grouping of defensive tackles has probably been the most underwhelming group for them, as they’re giving up 142 yards per game on the ground at over 4 yards per carry. They can be pushed around up the middle, and it often shows in short yardage situtations.
For Alabama’s offense, I don’t love this matchup. The Tigers boast a group of edge rushers that can get pressure without blitzing, and the secondary can be beat deep, but are aggressive on shorter routes. Unfortunately, Alabama rarely goes deep and their receivers do most of their damage on short routes - exactly what the LSU secondary squats on.
And while LSU can be run on up the middle, Alabama has yet to prove they can do that consistently, let alone commit to it when it is working. Bakersfield and the safety grouping are hand built to chase Alabama’s ball carriers outside the tackles, so Alabama will need to focus on interior running. If anything, this could be a game we see a lot more Roydell Williams as an interior runner.
I’m expecting this to be a low scoring output for the Tide. Not Texas-game-bad, but definitely a defensive slog. I do think Alabama comes away with the win due to a poor matchup for LSU’s offense too, but it won’t be super pretty. Say 27 points for the Tide.