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Alabama Preview

Is it my imagination, or has the look of ATVS changed?

Anyway, a preview of the Alabama Crimson Tide would look awfully funny if it didn't start with Mark Ingram.  I was surprised to find out that he is only 2nd in the conference in total rushing yards, behind Ben Tate of Auburn, but Tate has carried the ball 40 more times and has had an extra game to accumulate those yards.  Ingram is running hard, getting 6.6 yards per attempt.  Only Michael Smith of Arkansas (6.4 yards per carry) is getting close that average per carry among backs with lots of carries.  Not only does he run the ball, but he has also caught 19 passes for 186 yards.  That puts him in a tie for 2nd on the team in receptions and 4th in yards.  

Ingram is a legitimate Heisman contender right now.  He has scored 11 of Alabama's 26 offensive touchdowns, with 8 rushing touchdowns and 3 receiving.  He is also the "quarterback" of Alabama's Wildcat and Bobcat offenses (Wildcat means that Greg McElroy is lined up as a receiver; Bobcat means McElroy is not in the game).  He may yet throw the ball, though they have not tried to sell that yet.  He's Bama's most dangerous player.

After him, things get a little more dicey for the Crimson Tide.

Quarterback Greg McElroy started out the season strong, but he hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in 3 games, throwing 2 interceptions in that time.  His ATVSQBPI in those three games has been 3.6, 1.5, and 4.4.  That 4.4 sitting by itself is not awful, but when that's your best game in 3, there are problems.  Despite this, Bama has won those three games, though they were somewhat fortunate to escape the Tennessee game with a win, as Ingram was contained.  They hit a couple of long field goals and blocked a couple of long field goals to preserve a 12-10 win in that one, as we all remember.

McElroy is a typical college quarterback.  He has decent arm strength and decent mobility, willing to take a few hits to help his team if need be, but more effective throwing the ball.  He has struggled with accuracy and decision-making lately despite not being victimized by a lot of sacks. 

If we want to discuss things like chickens and eggs and their relative temporal proximity, we can also talk about the struggles of Julio Jones, who through 8 games has only 20 receptions for only 229 yards and a touchdown.  Julio Jones was supposed to be an All-American candidate, but you won't find him on any of the leaderboards in receptions or yardage in the conference.  The leading receiver in the SEC is A.J. Green, who has over twice as many catches and over 3 times as many receiving yards.  In Bama's last game against Tennessee, they made a conscious effort to get him more involved, giving him a lot of short and safe throws.  He ended up with 7 catches for 54 yards.

In the Bama passing game, the receiver who scares me the most is Colin Peek, who has been deadly as a tight end over the middle of the field.  He has been hurt though, or he would very likely be Bama's leading receiver both in catches and in yards.  As it is, Julio Jones leads in catches, thanks to his 7 against Tennessee, and Marquis Maze, who is a deep ball specialist, leads in yards.  Mark Ingram leads in touchdown receptions.

Other offensive weapons for Alabama include the true freshman Trent Richardson, who we really recruited hard and hoped to come to us.  He has had a fine freshman campaign, with 377 yards on 74 carries.  He has broken off a couple of very long runs, but he is not as consistently productive as Ingram.

Alabama's biggest advantage over us when they have the ball is the middle of their offensive line against the middle of our defense.  They have been deadly running the ball between the tackles and Florida ran the ball up the middle on us constantly and we couldn't stop it.  I would fully expect, given that LSU's secondary is more than a match for the Bama receivers, that Bama will run the ball and run the ball and run the ball until we show we can stop it.  We may not be able to, and why should Bama get all fancy on us if they can run it effectively whenever they want?  Our linebacker corps has been very good, but is not really built to take on a straight-ahead rushing attack, as our middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard (who has been outstanding this year) is a little undersized to be taking on straight-ahead blockers and rushers.  He's more of an angler.

On defense, it's the same story.  LSU has an advantage when our receivers go against their secondary, but the middle of the defense has a big advantage over the middle of our offense.  The combination of nose tackle Terrance Cody and linebacker Rolando McClain is outstanding, better than any we've faced this year.  I truly do not expect us to get very far running Charles Scott up the middle.  The middle of our offensive line just has not been that good this year and this is the biggest mismatch they will face.

If we're going to have success, it will be to the outside of the hashes, using Russell Shepard, or Keiland Williams, or Trindon Holliday.  This is not to say that the outside of Bama's defense is weak.  It's just not as strong as the inside of Bama's defense, which is extraordinary.

Our real advantage is with our receiver corps, where Terrance Toliver and Brandon Lafell make up the best 1-2 receiver combination in the conference.  Toliver's 38 catches puts him tied for 2nd in the league with Shay Hodge of Ole Miss behind A.J. Green.  Lafell's 37 puts him 4th.  No combination of receivers in the conference has those kinds of numbers.  Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper of Florida combine for 68 receptions, and they are the closest.  Bama's secondary is beatable, and these are just the two receivers to beat it.

The problem is that our offensive line will have to give the receivers time to beat that secondary.  Bama is tied for the conference lead in sacks with 23.  They get a lot of pressure, and protecting against pressure has not been a strong suit of our offensive line, nor has handling pressure been a strength of Jordan Jefferson's game.  This is probably the one area where LSU will have to overperform its history in order for us to have a fighting chance.  We will have to protect Jefferson better than we have before, and Jefferson will have to work quicker than he has in the past.

And lastly, special teams are huge for Alabama.  They've won their last two games on field goals, as they haven't scored a touchdown since the first half of the South Carolina game.  Leigh Tiffin has been the best kicker in the conference.  Then there is that Javier Arenas guy, who is arguably the most dangerous punt returner in the conference.  He will have to be held in check if we are going to win.

It is a tall order beating this Bama team, but we're getting them at our peak and we're as ready as we're ever going to be.  I think we'll give them a tough game.