1. Alabama's been a little banged up with Eddie Jackson, Kenyan Drake, Dominick Jackson, etc...all a little gimpy. What's the status on those guys?
Drake took a shot in the Georgia game, but was back the next week versus Arkansas. His issue has been much more of trying to do too much rather than working within the framework of this offensive scheme. Safeties Eddie Jackson and Ronnie Harrison are still a little gimpy, I'd imagine - both sustained strain-type injuries versus Tennessee. But, they have been practicing and expect to see both this Saturday. Ryan Kelly got a mild concussion against Texas A&M, but went through the protocols and saw action the next week against Tennessee. The only injury of note is right tackle Dominick Jackson. Jackson is a vicious run-blocker, but his pass-blocking has been suspect. Brandon Greene has been at right tackle the past 9-10 days in practice, and I would almost certainly expect him to get the start. No one will officially say it, but I suspect (as do many) that left tackle Cam Robinson is actually the one who's been quietly hurt all year. He's a different, slower player this season and has really struggled to contain the edge rush - even whiffing on some blocks without so much as laying a finger on a defender.
2. On offense, Alabama seems to have shifted away from a power-based attack to more of a West Coast style. Lane Kiffin's ultimate vision, or the best fit for this offensive line?
This makes me die a little bit inside, but this is the best offense for the limitations that this team has, beginning with the offensive line. The Tide were breaking in a right tackle, a left guard, and had a months-long competition at right guard. The interior push just isn't there, nor is the pass-blocking on the edges. That said, this is probably the most versatile and athletic bunch Alabama has had under Saban. They can seal the edges very well on outside runs, play the counter and pulling guards well, and they can keep usually keep a clean pocket on play-action attempts. The line does many things fairly well, just not any one thing very well.
3. Derrick Henry has been fantastic, but he's carrying a huge load for the Tide. Does he have to have a big game here?
LSU's defense is 6th against the rush; it would be silly to expect that Henry is going to put up monster numbers like he did against Georgia or Texas A&M. "Big game" in this context would be getting 25+ touches, a score or two, and most importantly occupying the attention of LSU linebackers and safeties for Coker's bootlegs and play-action passes to be effective. Henry doesn't need to be the best player on the field, or out-duel Fournette for Alabama to win, but he has to have quality carries to open up the passing game.
4. How confident are you in Jacob Coker, if this game is put on his shoulders?
I have, at times, been Jacob Coker's biggest critic - from mechanics to mastering the offense to making smart decisions with the ball. But, he's had moments where he's absolutely shined. While battling the flu, he almost led a double-digit comeback versus Ole Miss. He was clinical dissecting Wisconsin's elite defense. He lit up Georgia with his limited pass attempts in a hurricane. And, most importantly, two weeks ago with Third Saturday on the line and 4:36 remaining, he led a comeback against Tennessee: he put the ball on a rope, was confident, his arm speed was much improved, his reads were on the money, and he was finally the leader Alabama needs him to be. I can honestly say that I am not worried - he's a different quarterback than in September or early October.
5. Who else on offense has to show up big for Alabama to win this?
Two players must get plenty of touches, and must make LSU pay for Steele's aggressive scheming. Calvin Ridley, the emerging superstar WR, is the first guy Alabama has to get off the ground. Did you know that through 8 games Ridley's first year is comparable to both Julio Jones and Amari Cooper's fantastic freshmen campaigns? That's elite company. The second player is TBD: Alabama needs to get a secondary receiving target going. Two weeks ago ArDarius Stewart had his best game in crimson, and it would be wonderful to see that performance carry over. However, if he does not step it up, then TE OJ Howard is the obvious choice. He can do serious damage in the open field, and LSU's linebacking corps isn't perhaps as good as been in the past (don't hurt me, Kendell Beckwith.) I, for one, am glad Kwon Alexander is making money on Sundays now.
6. On defense, what's worked for this run defense so far, and how have teams been able to have limited success against it?
The run defense for Alabama is actually very simple. The Tide line up three guys, occasionally four, blow up fronts, get penetration, and then the linebacking corps clean up plays if needed - especially All-American Reggie Ragland who is as good as it gets reading the ballcarrier and seeing the play develop in front of him. Alabama has had some truly excellent inside linebackers in its history (and especially under Saban), including three Butkus winners in 10 years, but Ragland may be the most instinctual run-stuffer of the bunch, and he is far more punishing. Of course, it helps that the Tide go a legitimate nine-deep on the defensive line, with practically all of those guys tabbed to be drafted by the end of 2017 or sooner.
7. 'Bama's secondary seemed vulnerable to some big plays at times early on. Do you think that's cleaned up, or could it be something LSU can exploit?
If LSU is counting on big hunks of yards a la 2012-2014, that is a fool's errand - those days are over (thank goodness.) Adjusted for opponent efficiency, Alabama has the number one defense in the nation: It has the number one pass defense in the country. It has generated the fifteenth most sacks in the nation. It is tied for fifth in number of takeaways. The Tide are third against the run. So, I think it's mostly cleaned up (although, mental errors and exhaustion definitely showed in three plays against Tennessee.)
LSU can (and I think will) have a few explosive plays, but will those plays come consistently enough to move the ball if or when the LSU offense sputters? I don't believe so. Most of the explosive plays allowed this season by Alabama have come against the Tide's special teams, in the 4th quarter with the game out of reach, or two plays in the memorably weird Ole Miss game with helmet bounces and ineligible receivers everywhere (Besides, LSU used its miracle tip-pass touchdown against South Carolina. SEC Football Gods only let you have one per year.)
That said, I don't think the bulk of the Tigers' explosive plays will come from Fournette. He is a great player, the best in the SEC in all probability. But, I think Alabama can contain him to a mere "good game" instead of a ridiculous one. The greater concern isn't even Malachi Dupre - which doesn't mean he does not pose a problem. I think anyone who has paid attention knows that he is a player to genuinely respect and fear. No, Dupre will make a play or two, but by far the greatest probability for big plays is that while Dupre is occupying two defenders in bracket coverage, it leaves other Tiger receivers, like the little-heralded Travin Dural (who is excellent in his own right) singled up on the outside. Let's just say this is not the week I want to see that vaunted freshmen receiving class turn on the light bulb either.