Time for the hype to end and to start takin' care o'bidness. As such, Kleph of Roll Bama Roll was good enough to answer a couple of questions for a little mid-week snack. We'll return the favor over there sometime later this week.
1. For a long time, Alabama played some of its biggest games in Birmingham at Legion Field - is this the biggest game Bryant-Denny Stadium has ever hosted?
The fact that so many of Alabama's premier games have taken place in Birmingham certainly matters. Until the 1998 expansion of that boosted capacity at Bryant-Denny Stadium to 83,818, Legion Field was the larger venue and, by default, hosted bigger games. In fact the first Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa didn't come to pass until 2000.
In fact, Saturday's game will be the ninth time in the history of Bryant-Denny Stadium between teams ranked in the top 10. On two occasions, in 2009 and 2005, that other team was LSU. This year's Tigers are the second No. 1 team to play Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The first was Oklahoma in 2003 (the Sooners won, 20-13).
Yet, qualifying this game due to its location is gilding the lily a little bit. It is certainly arguable that this is one of the biggest regular season games Alabama has ever played. The Crimson Tide has played in six No. 1 vs. No. 2 games, although never during the regular season much less at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
2. These two teams are near mirror-images of one another, with dominant defenses and offenses that specialize in pounding the other team into submission. What are the matchups you see as leaning one way or the other?
Both defenses are justifiably lauded and both offenses are probably unfairly overlooked to a certain extent. The quality of play on both sides of the ball is as likely as good as either team has produced in the past five years and that's no mean statement when you start counting the crystal footballs between them.
Alabama has the edge in just about all the major statistical categories but that slim advantage may be offset by the parity of the two. Games between teams this close tend to be determined by things such as turnovers and special teams. LSU has a slight edge in the former and probably a substantial one in the latter (particularly in terms of punting).
That leave the last big intangible, coaching. And while I know LSU fans embrace the chaotic insanity that can be a Les Miles-coached contest, I have to believe the nothing-is-too-small-to-be-overlooked approach is the right one to pull out a win in a game like this.
3. The Tide have had a few slow starts this season. While they've proven to ultimately be minor hiccups, what has been the culprit behind them?
One big reason is most teams seem to be betting their best chance is to try get a haymaker punch right from the start. The logic being that by jumping out ahead on the scoreboard will force the offense to play catch-up instead of grind-it-out ball. The problem with that has been that nobody's been able to put up enough points to make it a real challenge. The defense clamps down and the offense just keeps on doing what it does.
But certainly some of it is a matter of is intensity. This Tide team is functioning at a level far above most of the competition and has occasionally played down to its opponent at the start. Last season, there were problems breaking out of that lethargy and it proved costly. We got away with it against Arkansas put paid the price versus South Carolina. Down the stretch, it proved to be brutal. We haven't seen anything like that this season.
4. Alabama's defense has been nigh-invulnerable this season. Is there any Kryptonite out there that you can see?
Is there a magic bullet to beat this defense? No. The hallmark of this squad has been playing error-free assignment football.
This isn't to say there aren't strategies that could prove effective. Running up the middle ain't a pretty option but a team with speed in the backfield could move the chains with some regularity if they can make it to the outside.
Deep passes - especially on third down - are the kiss of death against any Saban secondary. And the speed of the pass rush is downright terrifying. Sacks aren't as much as you might expect but they've got an MO of putting QBs out of the game. Short pass routes to eat up the field five yards at the time have shown promise, but you can't run a whole drive on slants alone.
If there is a key to beating this defense it has to be having your offensive line to win the battle in the trenches. And nobody's found a way to do that against Alabama this year.
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