Well, LSU took care of Tulane in a fashion that most would have to be satisfied with. How do you feel entering another "biggest game of the year" against Alabama?
You mean "the biggest game of the year of the week"? I feel OK. I think overall the team played pretty well against Tulane, and any deficiencies can be explained by "Hey, it's Tulane." I really hate that, because I don't like to disrespect players on other teams, but it was clear that Tulane just was not close to our level. I am glad we aren't playing them anymore. I am still not sure what we accomplished playing them so much recently.
That said, this was our most dominant performance against Tulane in quite some time. We did not beat them this convincingly the year we won the national championship.
I like that we discovered a power running game. Charles Scott went for 2 touchdowns and over 100 yards. Stevan Ridley had very nice runs in his limited action. Keiland Williams did not get much time in the game, but he averaged 10 yards per carry. Bama is a much different challenge from Tulane, but it will be great if we can get SOMETHING out of our base running set. Thomas Parsons may be the missing piece to that puzzle.
If we're going to beat Alabama, here's how I think we'll do it.
Step 1: Our receivers will be able to beat their secondary. This is the weakness of the Bama defense and the strength of our offense. If our offense is going to work, this is going to be the matchup we will have to exploit often.
Step 2: Our offensive line MUST give Jefferson time, and Jefferson must use that time wisely. This is where Bama killed Ole Miss and Arkansas, and embarrassed two of the most heralded QBs in the conference. Lafell and Toliver will not be able to have an impact on the game if Jefferson can't get th ball out of his hands.
Step 3: Russell Shepard. He's coming on the last 6 quarters, and I think our formula for a win against Bama includes Russell Shepard having an impact.
Step 4: Hold our own with our power running game. I do not expect Charles Scott to go for the century mark, but if he can average 4-5 yards per rush and get about 60 yards, that would be very helpful.
Step 5: Stop Bama's offense inside-out. Bama thrives between the tackles in the running game. We will have to sell out to stop that. Unfortunately, our defense is not exactly built to be stout in the middle. Our linebackers are undersized, and our defensive tackles are not really impact players.
Step 6: Make Bama throw, and make them throw away from the tight end. The tight end over the middle of the field has been their most consistently dangerous weapon in the passing game.
Step 7: We will again see a great matchup with Patrick Peterson. I hope they do with Julio Jones what they did with A.J. Green: let Peterson chase him around the field. Against Georgia, when they would line Green up on the right side of the offense, they could read our defense by finding Peterson. If he was lined against Green, it was man-to-man. If he was on his customary side to the offense's left, it was zone. We should let Peterson go to Jones' side regardless of whether we are in zone or man, just to keep Bama from getting such an easy read. Peterson will spend a lot of the night against Jones, and he has to tie up that matchup the way he tied up Green.
I don't quite want to go through my "how to beat Bama" post yet, so I won't respond too much of Richard's comments. I agree with a lot of it, even if it does boil down to: play well on offense and defense. It's about execution. For the first time all season, this team seems to be executing.
The 2007 team started off great and seemed to regress as the season went on. Not as a knock on that team, but they played their best football in September. This team started off fairly bad and has progressively improved. Hopefully, they are about to play their best football in November, which is when you want your team to be peaking.
Bama seems to be regressing a bit, particularly on offense. Now, regressing is a relative term, as they've regressed from the best team in the country to maybe #3 or #4. So let's not pretend Bama is suddenly mediocre. They are not. They are a terrific team and will be the rightful favorites next week. But I really like how LSU is looking right now. It's like the light bulb has finally turned on for the offense and the defense has become one of the best units in the country (unfortunately, the very best unit calls Tuscaloosa home). We are getting Alabama at the exact right time.
I'm cautiously optimistic about this game. LSU matches up really well with Bama and if the team plays like it has over the past two weeks, LSU will win the game. But Alabama has a way of making teams not play their best. I feel a lot more confident going into this game than I did going into the Florida game. More importantly, I think the teams feels more confident as well.
I feel like this team definitely has some advantages against Alabama, particularly on defense and special teams, but LSU's offense still concerns me.
The first drive against Tulane only crystallized it -- Gary Crowton's still not doing a great job of helping Jordan Jefferson out, especially on third down. In long-yardage situations, LSU goes five receivers and either run take-offs or deep comebacks most of the time - routes that take too long to develop or for Jefferson to recognize - which is what leads to him taking a lot of sacks. They have got to start giving him check downs or calling quicker throws more often - slants, screens and the like. Quick throws have always been the key to slowing down Nick Saban's blitzing defenses and it was how Tennessee was able to move the ball. And as Richard said, LSU's receivers will be able to make plays on the Bama cornerbacks.
I'm also hoping last night's efforts to run the ball will continue. People tend to chicken out of the run against Alabama, but with the right playcalling (read: less option with Jefferson) you can at least be effective enough to avoid bad situations. Crowton has to focus less on being "the Wizard" and just stick to keeping things simple. Of course if the defense can hold the Tide offense in check as well that'll help a lot too.
But at 7-1 with four games to go, you have to like the spot this team is in. Even if the SEC West title isn't in the cards, 10 wins is still a possibility. Do y'all consider this game with Bama a season-maker?
A win here goes a long way towards making our season, but a loss doesn't kill it. Alabama is arguably the #1 team in the country, and I don't care who you are, if you only have 1 loss after Week 10, you are having a fine season.
It's going to be tough. Even with LSU showing signs of improvement, we are still far from perfect, and it is still apparent that Bama has some big advantages over us in the matchup of their defensive front 7 against our offensive line, and their offensive line against our defensive line. Jefferson has made big strides in the last couple weeks. Now the lines have to do the same for this team to get up to the next level. We will need to be at the next level to win this next game.
Either way, the season continues. A win over Bama doesn't mean as much (still means a lot, but not as much) if we don't take care of business against Ole Miss, Arkansas, or La. Tech. Even with a loss, if we finish up the schedule we are a shoe-in for the Cap One, which is a nice season.
Can it make our season? Absolutely. Beating Bama is the most important step towards winning the SEC. Sure, Richard's right that we have to beat those other teams, too, but the Bama game is THE game. We find out after this week if we're playing out the string or playing for the title. I'd rather be playing meaningful football in November.
Can it ruin the season? Nope. After last year, I'll certainly take 10-2 and a trip to Orlando. So this game isn't make or break, but it can certainly make the season. There's no denying that this is a huge game. If nothing else, we find out if the progress the offense has made over the last two weeks is a mirage or not. I said it earlier, but I'll repeat myself. Saturday is graduation day. It's big.
This is the problem with the "statement game" mentality that's infected our fan base. Sure, this game matters - a lot. But beating Bama doesn't matter nearly as much if you turn around and lose to Ole Miss or Arkansas. This make-or-break mind-set led to LSU all but rolling over for the final three games last year. Just as winning doesn't guarantee anything beyond an 8-1 record, losing doesn't mean the end of the world either (for either team). It won't be the ultimate arbiter of superiority between either program (or either coach for that matter), beyond this season.
But just the same, damn it'd be sweet.