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Alabama Football vs LSU Preview: Q&A with And The Valley Shook

Once again, friend of the blog Zach Junda keeps things real with us ahead of “Game of the Century”

Alabama v LSU Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

While we’ve had our feuds with ATVS in the past, Zach Junda has been kind enough to do this annual Q&A piece with me for 5 straight years now, and is, for an LSU fan, a generally ok guy and a one of my favorite #online friends in sports twitter.

In case you haven’t already hopped on over there to troll the corndogs drive up their engagement, here’s the other half of our Q&A where I went full doom and predicted Alabama’s demise.

Anyway, on to the #content!

1- It will have been nearly a month since LSU last played a football game vs a legitimate opponent (Missouri on Oct 7th... Yes, this is 100% Auburn shade). Whatever happens in this one will be a good measuring stick on how much the Tigers have grown since their last real test. What improvements from the last couple of games are you most excited about seeing validated... Or on the flip side, the most nervous about seeing it exposed?

I want to see if the improvements defensively are legit or not. I don’t pretend to understand the finer machinations of analytics but LSU’s defense is currently ranked 47th in S&P+. Huh? I’ve watched every snap of LSU football this fall and brother they’re nowhere close to a top-50 defense. Top150 maybe, but not 50th. I’ll elaborate later on but LSU is F U C K E D in the secondary health wise and I just know that if anyone can make Jalen Milroe look competent, it’s this group.

2- Florida State is the only team to hold the Tigers under 30 points. Did the Noles do something that could be repeatable by Alabama’s defense, or was it just a case of an offense not gelling in the season opener?

Florida State’s great but LSU shot themselves in the foot numerous times that night in Orlando. LSU chased points twice in the first quarter on a pair of 4th and goals and came away with zero points. Then on the last play of the third quarter, Jayden Daniels hit Brian Thomas for what would have been a wide open touchdown, but Thomas dropped the ball. What happened on the very next snap? Daniels threw a pick that was meant for Malik Nabers, and Nabers slipped on the play. Now LSU’s defense wasn’t good enough to stop Florida State’s offense, but the Noles aren’t three-touchdowns better than LSU, and the Tiger offense had to have everything go wrong and still ended up scoring a respectable 24 points.

3- So, just what is it about Baton Rouge that can take a mediocre transfer QB, have them continue to be mostly mediocre in year 1, and then explode as the best QB in college football as a 5th year senior? It’s transcending two coaches at this point.

It’s funny isn’t it? For about an entire decade LSU was where quarterbacks went to die, but now they’re being reborn like a phoenix. Is it as simple as “Joe and Jayden were fifth year seniors entering year two with the program?” Maybe, but remember Burrow was going into his second year as a starter at the collegiate level; Daniels started for three years at Arizona State before transferring in. But I think the real reason Daniels is having a Burrow-like jump is, he’s got a pair of first round receivers to throw the ball to, just like Joe did in ‘19. Brian Thomas and Malik Nabers aren’t Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, but I don’t think there’s a single team at any level of college football that would keep their top two receivers over them if they became available.

4- On a related note, don’t you find it funny that just one decade after the infamous 2011 Game of the Century featuring all defense and no QBs, Alabama and LSU have now spend the better part of the last 5 seasons with Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow, Mac Jones, and now Jayden Daniels one-upping each other for the best QB season in NCAA history.

It gives me whiplash. It’s like going from black and white TV to color TV; basketball before and after the three-point line; phones with cords versus iPhones. I don’t recognize either of these two programs anymore.

5- Let’s talk Logan Diggs. When Alabama hired Tommy Rees, I went back and watched all of Notre Dame’s games last year, and I remember thinking that Diggs was a decent enough back, but his backup, Estime, should have been getting more carries. What has Diggs been doing so well to take pretty much the entire workload away from last year’s trio of rushers in Josh Williams, John Emery, and Noah Cain?

First of all, sick brag about watching the tape, man. I knew I liked you! I think the Diggs emergence is two-fold. First of all, LSU’s got a good offensive line. Like...dare I say “Bama at their peak” good. Second, I think Williams, Emery, and Cain are all role players. Williams is the best pass blocker; Emery can pop off for a big play or two and has decent enough hands catching the ball out of the backfield; Cain’s a bruiser and can get you that goal line score. While those three guys are really good at one specific skill, Diggs is by far and away the most complete back on LSU’s roster. At 215 he can pound inside like Cain, he can pop like Emery and he does the dirty work like Williams. I’d highly recommend you guys check out a pass protection piece about Diggs that Max Toscano, our Xs and Os guy, did. But to wrap up my thoughts here’s how I’d describe Logan Diggs in five words: a legit NFL running back.

6- We’ve avoided the topic long enough at this point... Defense. What happened?? Last year, LSU’s defense was a top-30 ish unit, and I would have expected an improvement in Brian Kelly’s second year with more of his own roster, not *guestures around futily* this. Harold Perkins isn’t an edge rusher now? Sage Ryan a cornerback, and Denver Harris his backup? These are all names that Alabama fans know, but none seem to be in the right place. Is this all related? And do you have any confidence LSU’s unit can be enough of a roadblock to make sure Alabama continues to trip over itself?

Dawg it’s grim. S&P+ 47th ranked defense my ass, this group is giving Bo Pelini’s 2020 defense a run for its money for the worst defense in program history. Let’s go level by level. Up front the defensive line is actually pretty okay except we just found out Monday Mekhi Wingo, LSU’s best lineman, is going to be out either from anywhere to six weeks to the remainder of the season. I guess it just depends on if LSU makes the CFP, good thing it’s expanding to 12 te—oh wait. Anyway, Wingo’s down but that opens the door for Jordan Jefferson. No, not that one. The other one. From West Virginia. He’s actually been a really good addition. Lastly Maason Smith hasn’t had the bounceback season we were all hoping for after tearing his ACL minutes into the 2022 season opener against Florida State. He was also battling an ankle injury in fall camp this year, so he just hasn’t been healthy. Hopefully he got healed up over the bye week. Oh they’ve also had four defensive line coaches since March for a variety of reasons. It got so bad they had to drag 82-year-old Pete Jenkins out of retirement to help coach the boys up.

Linebacker is complicated, especially as it pertains to Harold Perkins. The coaching staff tried making him a more well-rounded linebacker. An on-ball, three-down type of linebacker that you see at the next level. The rationale we got was essentially “we’re trying to get him NFL ready.” It’s a good idea in theory, and I get wanting to develop your guys for the next level. But if it’s clear to my untrained eye he’s not comfortable doing this job, why are the guys paid the big bucks trying to fit that square peg into a round hole? I’m gonna shout Max out again: Perkins can be a Von Miller/Hasson Reddick type of disruptor off the edge. Let him be that.

Now for the secondary. God I need a drink. Brent there’s actually a chance that I’ll be playing corner Saturday night. Come say hi if you’re at the game! LSU brought in four corners through the portal this past offseason and zero (0) of them will be available. JK Johnson fractured his leg during fall camp. Folks he’s called JK because Just Kidding he’s unavailable for the season amirite??? Anyway, Johnson’s been out since before the season started, Duce Chestnut up and left the team a few weeks ago, Zy Alexander hurt his ankle making an interception in the Army game and it’s feared to be season-ending. As for Denver Harris I guess he’s making the same bad choices that got him run out of Texas A&M because he’s ”unavailable” as well. So Saturday night LSU’s gonna have to roll with Sage Ryan, who’s more of a nickel/safety tweener instead of a boundary corner, and some redshirt/true freshmen.

Do I have confidence they can be a roadblock? Umm...yes? I guess so? And I only say that because I watched this group give up 700 yards to Ole Miss and they can’t POSSIBLY be that bad again right?...RIGHT???

7- After beating Alabama last year, it seemed like Brian Kelly was on track to be the Best Hire Ever (TM), but back to back losses at the end of last year and two this year have pretty much put an end to any playoff hopes. Are you starting to feel any concerns that Kelly is just a high-floor, low-ceiling guy? Or am I just projecting?

If you’re asking me personally I’m starting to get concerned. And it’s funny because when Kelly was hired I would have gladly taken consistent 9-3/10-2 type seasons because LSU hasn’t had the consistency that the elite programs have. But I’m worried that LSU won’t hit the same highs that Les Miles and Ed Orgeron reached. I think it comes down to recruiting, or rather LSU’s lack of recruiting. For whatever reason, Jay Johnson and Kim Mulkey can pull in elite classes, but Kelly’s only been able to get good ones. And for what they’re paying Kelly, high-floor, low-ceiling, with good recruiting classes just isn’t good enough.

8- I’m going to really turn some tables on you on this question: Alabama fans have devolved into a broken wreck lately and need some help. Can you confidently make any argument for us that Alabama can actually win this game?

Now why would I do that? Just kidding, anything for my guy, Brent. Let’s see...Alabama wins this game the same way Ole Miss does: abusing a totally hapless LSU defense. With this defense, LSU’s offense has to be perfect, I mean no flags, no drops, and score touchdowns each and every time they get the ball. They waste one possession and you’re down a touchdown; waste two and you’re not coming back. That’s not sustainable and this will be the best defense LSU faces all season. I’m confident that Alabama’s defense can get a stop or two that they need; I don’t feel the same way about LSU’s.

9- And okay, okay. I won’t make you end with a bad taste in your mouth. If LSU pulls off the win, what does the game look like?

LSU winning this game looks like a track meet that Alabama thinks they want to run in, but realizes they can’t keep up. It looks like Jayden Daniels continuing to play like the best quarterback in the country and vaulting to the top of the Heisman conversation. I’m telling you, don’t try and make this game a shootout because that’s not a game Alabama can win. It’s funny, in all of LSU’s most memorable seasons, there’s always a road win in Tuscaloosa. JaMarcus Russell to Dwayne Bowe in 2005, the 2007 game, the 2011 Game of the Century, Burrow and company finally breaking the streak in 2019. Alabama has been the standard of college football for the past 15 years or so and beating Big Bad Bama in Tuscaloosa carries a ton of weight. You want the Heisman, Jayden Daniels? You want to be the first ever two-loss CFP team? Go beat Alabama for the second year in a row and watch what happens.