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Alabama vs LSU Preview: When the Tide has the ball

When an unmoving force hits an already broken wall, who wins?

Lead picture is of Harold Perkins, since I’m not sure there is anyone else of note on this defense
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With all of the talk around LSU’s top-ranked offense, the team is one of dichotomies, as their defense has been one of the worst in the country to this point. They’ve given up 45, 31, 55, and 39 points to Florida State, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Missouri, respectively, though they did shut out Army to help their season average.

They’re giving up 240 passing yards and 160 rushing yards per game, which don’t look too bad, but things get really rough once you start factoring out the garbage time from the Army, Auburn, and Grambling State games. Some stats for you:

Defensive success rate: 44% - 100th

Power success rate: 86% - 127th

Standard downs EPA: 0.175 - 99th

Passing downs EPA: 0.55 - 130th

There’s plenty more. Pretty much every metric (outside of two, which we’ll get to later) are very down on the Tigers. They just haven’t been a good defense by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, they have, for the most part, been a flaming disaster.

Defensive coordinator Matt House is in his second year, and if there isn’t dramatic improvement in the final chunk of the season, I imagine it will be his final year.

For all of the bad, the LSU defensive line has been decent. They’re actually in the upper half of the FBS in stuff rate (stopping runs at or behind the LOS) at 16.9%, and their line yards aren’t too bad.

Where things fall apart, in the run game, at least, is once players get to the second level, LSU’s linebacker/secondary groupings have been next to useless.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, a big part of their success on the defensive line has been DT Mekhi Wingo, who has 3 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks while playing as a space eater... And he’s now injured and out for the season.

Beside him, former 5-star Maason Smith still seems to be limited from his season-ending knee injury last year. West Virginia transfer Jordan Jefferson does have a nice 4.5 tackles for loss as a rotational guy, and will now have to step up in Wingo’s place. Past that? The DL is going to be playing guys with no on-field experience yet.

At linebacker, Harold Perkins is the superstar. Perkins became a CBS darling as a true freshman last year with 7.5 sacks (half against Arkansas) as a speedy edge rusher. This season, LSU has moved him more off-ball to help make him more well-rounded and versatile, to mixed fan reactions. He’s still an insanely twitchy athlete, but is a bit undersized and now out of position. I wouldn’t be surprised if the experiment ends this week and LSU puts him right on Alabama’s left tackle every single passing down. He leads the team with 8 tackles for loss and 3 sacks.

Greg Penn and Omar Speights round out the off-ball linebacker group, and Bradyn Swinson has 4.5 tackles for loss as the primary edge.

The secondary, though, is where things get really bad. Sage Ryan, a former safety, is now playing outside corner because there is nobody else left. Seriously. LSU brought in 4 new transfers at corner, and now they’re all gone in some form or fashion. The best of the bunch, Zy Alexander, had been playing ok, and is now injured and out for this game.

Ryan will be bookended by freshman Ashton Stamps. And who even knows who will play the slot. Some dude from the stands, maybe?

The safeties are a little more stable. Major Burns returns as a functional player with the actual worst possible name for a defensive back. And Andre Sam has transferred in for his 6th season after already playing at McNeese State and Marshall. He’s a little undersized and under-speed, but he plays hard, I guess.

According to the Draftkings Sportsbook, Alabama is favored by 3 points in this game, with an OU of 61.5. Essentially, a 32-29 victory for the Tide.

Personally, I think LSU gets over 30 points on Alabama’s defense in this one. So the question is: how much will Alabama score? Is 32 enough to win it?

The Tide has been very consistent at scoring 3 offensive touchdowns and a handful of field goals every game this season with Jalen Milroe at QB. Even against a really strong Tennessee defense, that scoring output was consistent.

Is a broken LSU defense enough for Alabama’s offense to finally score more? Or will they continue to be unable to get out of their own way for an entire half at a time? On paper, the absolute broken mess of a secondary should give Alabama a huge advantage. But can the Tide actually take advantage of it? Or will the passes just turn into 2 yard scrambles, or the team decide to run inside zones for 3 yards at a time?

In this case, I’m going to side more that Alabama’s offense limits itself, and the Tide scores about 30 points, plus or minus a couple. Three touchdowns, three field goals.

The game will be in Tuscaloosa, if that counts for anything, though. It is on CBS’s double-header this year, sitting at a 6:45 pm CT time slot that will have all eyes in the country on this matchup. The winner most likely wraps up the SEC West, so it has national and playoff ramifications.