I feel like I write about something like this every year. I would hope that it would start to sink in with the masses sooner or later, but for a number of reasons, there are still a lot of misperceptions about the LSU-Alabama rivalry, and both programs. I blame a lot of things, from the mental laziness of the message board culture, to some members of the local and national sports media.
But let's address some of them here.
Fiction: Alabama has "owned" LSU in this series under Nick Saban.
Fact: Since hiring the Short Lord of the Sith in 2007, this series is 4-3 in the Tide's favor by an average score of22-18. And that's including the 21-0 BCS title game result. Anybody without a hound's tooth tribal armband tat would have concede that the match-ups in this rivalry have been about as even as possible in recent seasons, with the winner typically being the team that finds a way to make a couple of key plays in the fourth quarter. And that's included the two worst teams of the Miles era in 2008 and 2009. There's been just a single double-digit margin, and even that game, lopsided as it was, was a two-score game until the fourth quarter.
If there's any game on the Tide's schedule that's going to be a dogfight, it's this one. This is to say it is the only dogfight on their schedule most years.
And by the way -- two of LSU's wins have come in Tuscaloosa.
Fiction: Alabama and Nick Saban's brings pressure and plays man-to-man coverage. None of that pussy "read & react" or zone coverage bullshit.
Fact: From the man's own playbook, Alabama's defense thrives on creating confusion with its 3-4 front and playing zone coverage. It's still an incredibly aggressive style that preaches gap responsibility and pursuit, but it's not the damn-the-torpedoes Buddy Ryan 46 that so many people think it is. In fact, cover-one robber, with a deep and underneath zone safety, is the Tide's favorite style of man coverage.
Alabama has all of 36 tackles for loss on the season, including 11 sacks (and the only other strong defense in the league, Florida has just 39). Good defense isn't about sacking the quarterback and making plays behind the line of scrimmage all the time. It's about keeping an offense off of schedule and making tackles. And that is what Alabama has excelled at in Saban's time there. Once it's third and long, then Alabama will send something more complex, like a zone-blitz or a combination man/zone look.
Likewise, the Tide corners haven't been shutdown man-to-man guys like Patrick Peterson or Morris Claiborne. They've been bigger, physical zone specialists. Think Ty Law as opposed to Deion Sanders. Saban teaches a "shuffle" technique for corners, as opposed to the usual backpedalling. That's significant, because quarterbacks from high school on are basically taught to read corners as playing zone if they see hips and shoulders open up quickly off of the line. So that means every quarterback's instinct will scream "zone" off the line regardless of what the defense is doing.
That deception is a big reason why so few of the Bama defensive backs have yet to really make a big impact in the pros. Scheme, and the way they've executed it so well in recent years, can cover a lot of flaws.
Fiction: LSU's defense is TERRIBLE!
Fact: This is a constant refrain in multiple outlets on the Tiger defense. Now, make no mistake -- this is not a very good unit. In fact, as of now it's probably the worst defense of the Les Miles era, at least statistically. So don't take this as anything other than an attempted to offer perspective.
LSU's defensive rankings are as follows in the SEC and nationally:
Scoring defense: 4th/30th
Total defense: 4th/24th
Yards per play: 3rd/30th
Run defense: 8th/ 51st
Pass defense: 3rd/21st
Pass defense efficiency: 3rd/ 31st
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying those are numbers to brag about. Especially when the breakdown of total/rushing/passing yards averages (351.7/148.4/203.2) are some of the highest they've been with John Chavis at the helm (although not by large margins), as are the 22 points a game this unit is allowing. But there are 125 teams in the FBS. If your defense is in the top 40, even if you're used to top 10 or top 20, it's only down by your own ridiculous standards. That doesn't make this unit terrible. It may make it mediocre, but if you want terrible, take a look at the 473 yards and 33 points a game that Texas A&M is giving up.
And there are still some things this unit can actually hang its hat on a bit. The 2.2 sacks a game that the Tigers are averaging is just a half a sack behind the average of the dominant 2011 defense. LSU actually leads the SEC in passes defended with 52, and has allowed the league's lowest percentage of touchdowns in the redzone (42.8 percent). The problems have been big plays -- both an inability to get them (just 5.4 tackles for loss a game, a six-year low) and a propensity to give them up (121 plays of 10 yards or more allowed, tied for last in the SEC) -- an inability to get off the field on third down (38.3 percent converted) and bad tackling.
Fiction: Alabama will just pound you with power running all day long.
Fact: This isn't the Alabama offense of 2011. Or even of 2012 really. The Tide are at about a 55/45 percent run-pass ratio right now, and you can really see the Doug Nussmeier's fingerprints over this offense compared to last season. Gone are the heavy personnel, power-blocking and 230-pound wrecking balls like Trent Richardson or Eddie Lacy. This team is much more of a wide zone/stretch team, relying on three-wide and other spread formations to help create more gaps for one-cut runners like T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake.
Likewise, the passing game is featured a bit more, though in a relatively low-risk fashion. Heavy on stick, or option routes, along with shallow crosses, flat and screen passes. It looks much more like the spread/west-coast style of offense that Washington has run under Steve Sarkisian. The running game is remarkably similar to Oregon's, albeit at a slower pace and without the zone-read.
The Tide still want to manage risk and control the ball, but they've adjusted to less of a sledgehammer-style of attack to fit their personnel: speedy slasher-type backs like Yeldon and Drake, a veteran receiving corps and a senior quarterback that's very accurate in the short passing game.