We all know what’s at stake Saturday night. I’m going to cut right to the chase and get to this week’s interview. If you’d like to follow our pal Brent, he’s on Twitter @Btbama22.
1) We have to start with the most highly scrutinized ankle in the country. Nobody’s fool enough to think Tua won’t play Saturday night, but how hobbled might he be? Is there any chance at all we see Mac Jones?
If I never have to hear another Twitter “doctor” weigh in on his expertise on the timeframe of healing a sprained ankle, it will be too soon. Nick Saban has obviously played everything as close to vest as possible, but he has shown the media glimpses of Tua Tagovailoa going through 5-step drops a few times this week. I have no doubt he’ll play, but I am worried that it’s going to be like the final few games he played last year on a bad knee. One of Tua’s biggest (and most underrated) strengths as a QB is his ability to sidestep rushers in the pocket with so little obvious effort that people often think he never gets pressured. But, that last stretch of the 2018 season saw him lose that ability to avoid rushers in the pocket, and, in turn, LSU, Miss State, and Auburn all blitzed him on nearly every play, and he was unable to make them pay for it very often.
I have a very, very big fear that happens again. If the Tigers get home on too many blitzes early, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we have to see Mac Jones play the second half.
2) Some people think that Alabama needs this game more than LSU. With LSU owning wins over Texas, Florida and Auburn there’s a belief that LSU is a playoff team even with a loss to Alabama. Is there some semblance of fear that Alabama could be on the outside looking in if they don’t make it to Atlanta?
If Alabama loses, then it’s going to require a lot of help and upsets around college football to get the Tide into the playoffs. Of course, we said the same thing in 2011... (Is that too soon?).
Though your win over Texas is looking to be nearly equally as impressive as Alabama’s win over Duke at this point, there’s no denying that LSU easily has the best schedule of the playoff contenders. If they lose a close one to Alabama, they’ll have a very good shot at being ahead of any other 1-loss team. Alabama, on the other hand, has no such luxury. If we lose to LSU and then win out, Auburn will be the only truly good win on the resume. I expect Ohio State and Clemson to win out (though OSU has a tendency for one unexpected choke per year), so that would leave Alabama vying with Oklahoma, Georgia, Penn State, and either Oregon or Utah for the final spot. And all will be just as, if not moreso qualified.
3) Part of the reason why Alabama’s owned this game in recent years in trench play. The Tigers have barely gotten a pass rush while the offensive line couldn’t block for *deep breath* Zach Mettenberger, Anthony Jennings, Brandon Harris, Danny Etling and Joe Burrow. But hey who’s counting? Anyway, is line play a significant advantage yet again for Alabama?
I think Alabama’s edge rushers have a solid, even significant, advantage over the Tigers’ offensive tackles. Anfernee Jennings has been a consistent pass rusher for what feels like 7 years now (actually only 3 as a starter), and Terrell Lewis is FINALLY healthy and using his 6’6” wing span and freakish athleticism to destroy opposing tackles 5-6 times per game. On the interior, though, I think LSU’s guards and center are going to get a good bit of push against a mushy Alabama line. Senior Raekwon Davis has reverse-improved every season since his breakout sophomore year, and the other two starters are true freshmen, backed up by a true freshman and a couple of redshirt freshmen. Add in both middle linebackers also being-- wait for it-- true freshmen, and you’re going to have open gaps on top of open gaps for your run game.
On the other side of things, the Alabama offensive line struggled a lot at the start of the season with a bunch of stunts from undersized Duke defensive linemen, but they eventually got healthy, got everyone settled into one position, and have been absolutely stellar over the last month. The two tackles, Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills, Jr. are probably the best duo we’ve had under Nick Saban. Wills in particular is a pleasure to watch. Glance over to the right side at any given time, and you’re more than likely to see him tossing some hapless defender a few yards in the air.
On the interior, the trio of Deonte Brown, Landon Dickerson, and Evan Neal are quite possibly the biggest people you’ll ever see lined up side by side, and it shows in the run game. While Alabama hasn’t had a whole lot of success busting big runs, they’re the #2 offense in rushing efficiency because nearly every run play for the last month has gone for at least 5 yards. The weakest link is Neal, though. The true freshman was a top 15-recruit, but weights over 350 pounds and has his fair share of whiffs when he’s pulling around or has to deal with a cross-up blitz.
So that was a long answer, but to recap: I think Alabama’s pass rush has the advantage over LSU’s line, but LSU will be able to run the ball on our line. And on the other side, I think our offensive line and your front seven are a fairly even match, though I’m sure Aranda is going to scheme up some pressure up the middle to get Alabama’s three giants off balance.
4) Never thought I’d see the day where the match up to watch in this game is the wide outs vs. the defensive backs. Sure we had Patrick Peterson vs. Julio Jones and Tre’ White vs. Calvin Ridley back in the day, but we’ve never had *this* many future NFL receivers going up against *this* many NFL-caliber defensive backs. Does Bama have the DBs to stop a talented LSU receiving corps? And do you think Bama’s excellent group of receivers can win match ups against DBU?
Alabama’s two outside corners, Trevon Diggs and Pat Surtain II, are more than capable of keeping the LSU receivers contained. Both are 6’2” and have excellent ball skills. They’re both elite at keeping shots down the field limited, and have also both spent time in the past at slot corner, so they can handle short routes as well. Past that, though, Justin Jefferson is likely going to have a frustratingly nice day against Alabama’s slot defenders. Shyheim Carter is a senior with quick feet, but he’s MAYBE 5’10”, doesn’t have great speed, and isn’t the best tackler. I can see Jefferson running away from him (or safety Jared Mayden) on a drag route about 7 different times for 12 yard gains on 3rd down.
On the other side of the ball, LSU’s corners, Stingley and Fulton, will do their job at eliminating the deeper shots that Tua like to take. But, much like what I said about LSU’s receivers, I think that Alabama has a good shot at busting some big plays on quick slants and drags that put pressure on the Tigers’ nickel backs. The other big question will be the health of Grant Delpit. If he’s found to be hampered more than Coach O is letting on, then don’t think that Alabama will hesitate to run some Post-Streak concepts to force him to cover a bunch of space while keeping Stingley/Fulton occupied.
5) Does the winning team’s quarterback lock up the Heisman?
Nah, the Tua Tagovailoa story is already two seasons old, which is basically a dinosaur in terms of Heisman hype. Plus, the potential of a nagging bum ankle will likely have Alabama focus more on the run game the next few games. On the other hand, a win over Alabama will absolutely vault Joe Burrow to a commanding lead, and as long as he doesn’t falter over the final few games, the trophy is his.
6) Tua and the receiving corps are, deservedly, getting a lot of love. So much so I think people are forgetting that Najee Harris is an awesome running back. If the game slows down, how confident are you putting the game in Harris’ hands?
I’m very comfortable with him. Harris has an uncanny ability to pick his way through the very center of a defense without taking a hit head on and has the balance and moves to always get more yards than he should. If you need to extend drives and move chains, he’s about as reliable as they come. That said, he doesn’t have great top-end speed. I’m not sure he’s ever broken a run longer than 30 yards. If the Alabama passing game falters, then Harris can convert first down for awhile, but he does not have the ability to score from anywhere on the field. And if you can’t do that, then, eventually, a competent defense is going to key in on a running game.
Harris is at his best when he’s using efficient running to give Tua and his receivers more chances to break off big plays. Even if the passing game is limited, he’ll be able to keep things chugging along until they find their stride.
7) People here are desperate to find any single thing that will make this game different than the past eight. So much so some SWEAR the 2:30 kickoff will work in LSU’s favor. Is there anything about this game that makes you think maybe this will go the other way?
The game itself? No. Not really. Alabama is a consistent team, no matter the kickoff time.
The outcome, though, has a very good chance of going differently. This LSU team is different (they actually have a competent passing offense, for starters). Alabama, too, is different in that the defense (particular the run defense) has dropped off significantly from what we’ve become accustomed to over the last decade. Throw in a gimpy star QB and a gimpy star safety for each team, and we have all the makings of an unpredictable game. And considering the last 7 years of games have all been quite... predictable... that’s a big change.
8) Finally, ever since the clock hit zero on the LSU-Auburn game, people in Baton Rouge, indeed the entire state of Louisiana, have been going on and on about “BAMA HATE WEEK.” The people who partake in “BAMA HATE WEEK” tend to be either your aunt that has no business being on social media, or those people you graduated high school with who always use the hashtag FOREVERLSU despite never even taking a single class there. Anyway the memes are early 2010 quality and the same recycled jokes keep popping up on my feed. I don’t think that people in Louisiana realize that Alabama doesn’t hate LSU nearly as much as Auburn or Tennessee. They don’t listen to me, could you break it to them?
We have Tennessee Hate Week. “They low down, the dirty, and they some snitches. Puke in a pumpkin orange, and I don’t even like pumpkins.” Tennessee deserves nothing less than loathing for everything related to their program, but most especially that god-awful orange. Seriously, give that hyperlink a click. That video is played on repeat around Tuscaloosa for a week straight every year.
Auburn is that annoying little brother that you do your best to ignore, but occasionally manages to luck up and score a layup on you when you turn your ankle playing one-on-one hoops in the street. And then you don’t hear the end of it for the next 5 years.
LSU, is, well, LSU. You’re another football team, and, for the most part, we respect your program and generally use this game as a measuring stick for if our team is good enough to win a championship. Sure, we like to rib you about how much you guys complain about referee conspiracies and that Saban is absolutely renting space in your heads, but, for most of us, it’s mostly in the spirit of competition and trash talk.