It’s here — the game that LSU fans have circled on their calendars every year. The matchup with Nick Saban and the hated Alabama Crimson Tide.
This game is always the marquee matchup in the SEC West, but one that has not been kind to LSU, especially the last 8 years.
Alabama has won 7 of the last 9 matchups, dating back to 2008. They have also won the last 5 straight against LSU, including a 21-0 beat down in the 2012 National Title game.
Many LSU fans feel that this year will be different. Most feel that the stale, old offense from the Les Miles / Cam Cameron Era is gone and the new, electric offense under Orgeron and Ensminger will give the Tigers a fighting chance.
Regardless of who is calling the shots for LSU, we know who is calling the shots for Alabama.
Nov 7, 2015; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban walks off the field after the game against the LSU Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama won 30-16. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Saban is undefeated coming off a bye week during his tenure in Alabama. The Tide defense is stellar once again and stacked with NFL talent.
Alabama defense is 4th in the nation in total defense, allowing 70 yards per game on the ground, good for first in the NCAA in that category. They are allowing 204 yards per game through the air with 32 sacks and 9 defensive touchdowns.
Let me say that again…9 defensive touchdowns.
When a defense can score points, it makes beating Alabama almost impossible.
On the other side of the ball, freshman QB Jalen Hurts presents the Tigers with a different challenge. Hurts is extremely athletic and has the ability to make plays with his feet.
He has a Michael Vick style of play as he prefers to take off and run when the opportunity presents itself. Hurts has thrown for 1,549 yards with 11 passing touchdowns and 9 rushing touchdowns.
Hurts averages 193 yards per game through the air and 65 yards per game on the ground. However. Hurts is prone to turn the ball over — as he has thrown 5 interceptions and defenses have been able to get to the young quarterback for 9 sacks.
Oct 15, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) drops back to pass during the first half against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Although it seems like Alabama is invincible, this team has trailed in a few games and came awfully close to losing at the hands of Ole Miss in Week 3.
What other teams like Ole Miss and Texas A&M failed to do was play all four quarters and put this team away when they had the chance.
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Alabama faced their stiffest test of the season 2 weeks ago against an Aggie team ranked in the Top 10, and handily beat them 33-14. LSU poses the greatest threat to end their undefeated season in Death Valley on Saturday night.
The Tigers have been playing outstanding defense as of late, holding opponents to 7, 10 and 21 points over the past three contests.
The Ole Miss score wasn’t an accurate representation of how LSU dominated the game on both sides of the ball, as the Rebels scored more than a few points in “garbage time”.
As for the Tigers offense, we all know how great Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice can be.
Fournette has been made to be a mere mortal when playing against a vaunted Alabama defense. He was held to 31 yards rushing on 19 carries in the contest last year.
He has only rushed for 110 yards on 40 carries against the Tide in two games. That averages out to 2.8 yards per carry, and remarkably he averages 6.7 against everybody else.
Nov 7, 2015; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) is brought down by Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson (86) during the third quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
LSU was very predictable and ‘vanilla’ on offense in the past two matchups with Saban and Alabama, which is largely a reason that Les Miles was shown the door earlier this season.
Simply trying to “sledgehammer” Fournette into the Alabama front 7 over and over again clearly was not effective, yet that is all we saw the past two years in this game.
Coach O and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger have shown a very dynamic and aggressive offense since taking control of the team a month ago. Using Fournette and Guice out of the backfield will also be key in taking the pressure off the offensive line and quarterback Danny Etling.
Speaking of the offensive line, it is reported that right tackle Toby Weathersby will be returning to action after missing the last three contests with an ankle injury.
Having a healthy offensive line will be paramount when dealing with the likes of Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams. The interior of the LSU offensive line has played very well only allowing 3 quarterback hurries on the season.
Giving Etling time in the pocket to create a passing game will be a key factor if LSU is to win this game.
Oct 22, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback Danny Etling (16) throws against the Mississippi Rebels during the first quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
FINAL ANALYSIS AND PREDICTION
Danny Etling must step up and be the difference maker for this offense, bottom line.
Everybody knows what Leonard Fournette can do. Alabama has never faced Etling. Nick Saban has never had to game plan for a Ensminger coached offense. This is a brand new chess match and that might give LSU a slight edge.
LSU as a whole must play a near flawless game on both sides of the ball to beat the well-oiled machine that is the Crimson Tide. That being said, I still think Alabama is so very good with their front seven — while LSU still has some question marks on offense.
Etling and company have shown flashes, but I do not think they are complete enough as a unit to overcome the juggernaut defense they are about to face. I think this game will be close, but Alabama makes it six in a row against the Tigers.