The Alabamapocylpse is upon us again. For the eighth straight year, the game will air on CBS in primetime. For the 14th consecutive season, both teams will be ranked at kickoff. Like four times in the past ten years, both teams are in the top ten. And for the third time in that same span, both teams are in the top five.
This is the biggest game on the college football calendar until the postseason with stunning regularity. The problem, of course, for LSU fans is that Alabama has won the last seven meetings, including the last three in Tiger Stadium.
But each of those three games in Tiger Stadium came down to the slimmest of margins. Alabama broke a scoreless draw in the fourth quarter to win 10-0 in 2016. Bama needed overtime in 2014, forced by a field goal which came 47 seconds after LSU’s apparent game winner with 50 seconds left. Bama scored in the final minute to win 21-17 in 2012.
That’s a series of kicks to the nuts right there. The difference in those games has not been that Bama has been the better team, it’s that Bama has consistently gotten that lucky break which decides close football games. The football gods are evil bastards, and they have smiled on Bama.
The bad news is, that results in the maximum amount of pain. LSU hasn’t just lost to Alabama in Tiger Stadium, they have lost in agonizing fashion, so close to victory you could practically touch it, only to go hurtling to the ground like Charlie Brown as Lucy pulls away the football.
The good news? Well, it means that Alabama hasn’t been nearly as dominant against LSU as you’ve been lead to believe. There’s no reason to fear this game, and it’s time LSU fans stopped showing their bellies at the mere mention of the Tide. That’s loser talk. We go into this game not just thinking we can win, but knowing it. We’ve been at the threshold, its time to just walk right in. Stop making excuses and let’s go do it.
Before you can move past the mental block, you’ve got to admit it’s there. The first thing LSU has to do is confront the big, scary monster. And it also means walking on to that field on Saturday night knowing you can play with these guys. You’ve done it before. And hell, you didn’t even have a quarterback then.
Now, this edition of the Tide is an especially big, scary monster. Alabama is outscoring teams by an average score of 54.1 to 15.9. They opened up the season with a 37-point blowout win over Louisville, and that’s one of the closer games they have played this season.
Bama has cleared the half-century mark in six of their eight games this season, and their lowest scoring output was 39 against Missouri. Bama has only trailed once this season, giving up the opening touchdown to Ole Miss. They won 62-7.
OK, that’s the bad news. The good news is, Bama’s schedule sucks harder than a black hole. You haven’t seen any of their games because light cannot escape. Looking at their Power 5 opponents, Bama has shredded some of the worst defenses in college football. The highest ranked defense in the S&P+ Bama has faced is #30 Texas A&M. #2 is #51 Mizzou. Literally, the third strongest defense Bama has played is #84 Arkansas.
By contrast, LSU has played #5 Auburn, #7 Mississippi St, #13 Miami, #22 Georgia, and #26 Florida. Simply put, Bama has not faced a defense remotely as good as LSU’s, and LSU has faced defense as good or better than Bama.
Bama has faced offenses roughly equivalent to what LSU has faced, but Bama ranks 20th in the S&P+ in defense, compared to LSU at #8. Bama’s Power 5 opponents have ranked #3, #21, #35, #46, #64, and #99 in offense. That averages out 44.7. LSU has faced #3, #6, #36, #65, #66, and #85 S&P+ offenses, for an average of 43.5. Pretty much even.
Of course, Bama is really good, regardless of schedule. They are the defending national champion and stocked to the gills with blue chip recruits. But if you think there isn’t a difference in playing the assorted practice cones Bama has faced and a top ten defense like LSU has, then I don’t know what to tell you. Georgia looked like an unstoppable machine until they had to play a top tier defense, too.
But we’ve made it to November and Alabama is yet to play a team that was even theoretically capable of beating them. This is a team that’s been routinely spent the second half letting the scout team take snaps while the starters flirt with co-eds. We have no idea how this team will react when they have to play a full 60 minutes in a hostile environment against a good team.
Right now, LSU averages 30.4 points per game, remarkable for a team that kicks so many field goals. LSU has kicked five more field goals than anyone else in the SEC. That’s because LSU has 38 red zone trips and just 18 touchdowns, a TD conversion rate of 47.37%, worst in the SEC. Bama has scored 33 touchdowns on 47 red zone trips, good for a rate of 70.21%.
It really is as simple as this. LSU needs to turn those red zone chances into touchdowns, not field goals. Cole Tracy has been a huge reason for LSU’s success so far. But we need him kicking extra points on Saturday. Bama’s not going to give LSU too many chances to score. LSU needs to not only cash in, but cash in the jackpot.
This is a tall challenge. Alabama is a heavy favorite for a reason, and they have absolutely been killing teams. However, they haven’t faced anyone nearly as good as LSU. The opportunity is there, but LSU is going to have to take full advantage of those opportunities.