The Tide rolls into Baton Rouge tomorrow in a game not nearly as big last year's titanic top-10 battle in Tuscaloosa. Blame Alabama as LSU has held up its end of the bargain. Let's break it down.
LSU rushing offense vs. Alabama rushing defense
Alabama's defense isn't near the killer it was last year when it led the nation in scoring defense and was second best in total defense. You don't lose DeMeco Ryans, Freddie Roach, Roman Harper and Mark Anderson and get better. That said, this defense is no slouch. They're in the top third of the SEC and have some big time players. They're missing that one difference maker that would put them over the top. Prince Hall will be special one day, but he's only a freshman right now. Wallace Gilberry is a very good defensive end and the tackles are solid. This group allows just over 100 yards a game.
Meanwhile, LSU continued to roll up nice rushing numbers last week despite its lack of running game. It's quite astonishing that the Tigers are second in the SEC on the ground. Last week, LSU ran for 231 yards, but that's a bit misleading because JaMarcus Russell will never gain 82 yards again. Keiland Williams seemed to take over the starting running back spot with his 17-carry, 63-yard day. That allowed Jacob Hester to move to a role that suits him better as a non-feature back. Trindon Holliday came in as a change of pace back, but only got three carries. If the LSU coaching staff can find the right mix of handing it to Williams, Hester and Holliday, this group could be dangerous. Personally, I think you want Williams with 15-20 rushes, Hester with 5-8 and Holliday close to 10.
But don't expect LSU's offensive line to all of a sudden open up holes against a pretty good front four. Gilberry will probably make a few plays in the backfield that slows the Tigers down.
LSU passing offense vs. Alabama pass defense
As we saw last week, when LSU's timing is right and they give Russell time to throw, the Tigers are virtually unstoppable through the air. The amazing thing about the Tigers passing game is its ability to overcome virtually any down-and-distance situation. Against Tennessee, LSU converted a 3rd-and-20 then on the next set of downs was inches (bad spot) from making a 3rd-and-15. The talent at quarterback and receiver allow that to happen. Only Auburn has really been able to slow the LSU passing game this year, but that was as much bad play calling as anything.
Alabama's pass defense is much like it's run defense: good, not great. However, where the Tide presents the biggest problem for LSU is it's ball-hawking ability. Alabama has forced 24 turnovers this year, including 15 interceptions. Simeon Castille has NFL ability on the corner and leads the team with five picks. The nickel back Lionel Mitchell has four. The one flaw LSU has seems to have against good defenses is throwing the ball to the wrong team. They've proven they can overcome this (see Tennessee win), but never underestimate how a pick-6 can completely change a game.
Erik Ainge lit up Alabama for 302 yards, but threw three interceptions. That could be the story this week, but don't expect Russell to have another three-pick game. One slipped last week and another went through Bowe's hands. Russell should have time to carve up this defense through the air, particularly the way he's played at home.
Alabama rush offense vs. LSU run defense
Kenneth Darby isn't nearly what he was last year. It seems he hasn't gotten past some nagging offseason injuries. He went off against Duke and Ole Miss, but who doesn't. One problem may be that he's not getting enough carries to get in a groove. He's only had more than 15 carries twice in the last six games and more than 20 once in that span. He wasn't bad against Mississippi State (13 rushes, 54 yards), but certainly wasn't a world beater.
LSU has been stout against the run all year, but it is the one area of its defense that isn't absolutely killer. The Tigers give up just 71.4 yards per game, but that's aided by its SEC best 28 sacks. Arian Foster exposed the LSU defense at times last week, but only got 10 carries.
Look for Darby to get around 15 carries for 60 yards and Jimmie Johns to do some damage in limited action. The biggest plays could come from quarterback John Parker Wilson scrambling out of the pocket. But Alabama won't crack 100 yards on the ground, LSU's just too good.
Alabama passing offense vs. LSU pass defense
This is where opponents fall apart against LSU. I like everyone else marveled at Jonathan Crompton's off the bench performance last week against the Tiger secondary. However, if you take away the two big plays made by Robert Meachem, Crompton was bad -- 9-for-22 with 91 yards bad. Alabama has a receiver in DJ Hall that can make plays, but he's not quite as good as Meachem. Wilson is solid at quarterback, but he doesn't scare anyone. He's been up and down all year with only one great game -- at Arkansas.
LSU's pass defense is relentless. The front four creates pressure without needing the blitz. If they decide to blitz, the quarterback is at the least going to get hit. And the secondary is as good as there is in the nation, so the Tigers can afford to send extra rushers if it wants. DJ Hall might make a big play, but other than that, Alabama won't get much through the air against this defense. Nobody has.
LSU special teams vs. Alabama special teams
Alabama has two very good field goal kickers in Jamie Christensen and Leigh Tiffin (yes, depsite his horrific performance against Arkansas). Christensen has taken over the starting job and is 11-13 with one of the misses over 50. "Money" got a lot of pub before last year's LSU game and then promptly missed his first try. That always seems to happen against the Tigers. Colt David has been okay as LSU's kicker, but he doesn't have a great leg.
Neither team is good punting the ball, but LSU has been downright awful with a net average of just over 31 yards. Chris Jackson can't put the ball inside the 20 and the Tigers are allowing more than 14 yards per return. Alabama isn't much better with a 33-yard net average, but P.J. Fitzgerald has dropped 16 inside the 20.
For the first time since the days before Eddie Kennison, LSU doesn't have a return man that strikes fear into opponents. I still don't understand why Holliday isn't back there, because the only excuse is that he can't catch a punt. However, Alabama isn't much better. Javier Arenas broke one punt return for a TD, but that's about it. The Tide's longest kickoff return is a mere 31 yards.
Last week, LSU showed what it's made of. The Tigers overcame four turnover, 100,000 orange-clad fans and a top 10 team to get a massive road win. Russell proved (once again) that he's a big game player. If you give him the chance to make plays, he can win the game for you. Les Miles and Jimbo Fisher did a good job last week, but still need to be less conservative at times.
Alabama has found ways to lose games this year. Besides getting beat by Mississippi State, they lost to Arkansas on an extra point and blew a fourth-quarter lead against Tennessee. The Tide also needed two fourth-quarter interceptions and a later field goal to beat Vandy.
FINAL SCORE: LSU 27, Alabama 6