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Playing Nice: Alabama

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Gulp

Tennessee v Alabama Photo by Marvin Gentry/Getty Images

Oh yeah right football season isn’t over yet.

After having last weekend off, LSU—whatever is left of them— is back on the football to take on Alabama who opened at No. 2 in the first CFP poll of the 2021 season. I don’t want this game to happen, you don’t want this game to happen, let’s just try to get this over with as painless as possible, yeah?

Joining us this week is our friend Brent Taylor from our Alabama sister site Roll Bama Roll.

1. Be honest: you miss us being good right? Bama is a near 30-point favorite (rightly so!) and somehow this game could pass for the end of year SoCon game.

Actually, I kinda do. You guys are going to hate me for this, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Alabama being the team to trounce LSU’s hopes every season from the 2011 championship all the way through 2018. Nobody took their annual beating harder than you guys, and, sadistically, I enjoyed that. People have asked me this same question many times about Tennessee, and in that case, my answer is different. I want that team to be awful forever.

Same with Auburn, I can’t stand when they’re competitive. Just go join the SEC East or the ACC already.

2. You know last time LSU rolled into Tuscaloosa the Tigers won and Ed Orgeron said at midfield that Bryant-Denny Stadium is “our house.” Surely Alabama fans have forgotten all about that and will be super chill about it right?

I’m going to let senior running back Brian Robinson speak for me here: “That’s something that we keep lingering (in our minds),” the veteran running back said. “We make sure people know just the disrespect that was with that, how it made us feel and everything we’ve gotta do to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

To be honest with you, though, 2020’s beatdown was more than enough for me, personally. DeVonta Smith absolutely embarrassing golden child Derek Stingley for the second year in a row paid the debt, and Ed O trying to go back on his words this week has just been kind of pathetic. Like, dude, you said it... Just own it.

3. What’s changed for Alabama since the Texas A&M loss? It seems like they’ve gone up a level since their trip to College Station.

The main difference since then has been better play from the front seven. The defensive line, other than Will Anderson, had been Charmin-soft through the first chunk of the season, and it bit them against A&M when they let the Aggies convert a bunch of runs and couldn’t lay a hand on a horrible QB.

After that, Anderson blew a gasket in what can only be viewed as Nick Saban fashion, and challenged all of his teammates publicly to start practicing and preparing better. Since then, the Tide has 100% eliminated the rushing attacks of Ole Miss, Miss State, and Tennessee (with the Rebels and Vols boasting two of the better rushing games in the country) and significantly increased their pass-rush productivity.

There are still some of the issues we saw in the A&M game (WR/TE drops, an underwhelming right tackle, and coverage busts from the safety and nickel spots), but the front seven picking up their game has made those other areas more annoyances than gamebreakers.

4. Maybe it’s because I haven’t watched a lot of Bama this year but this offense feels different than last year’s. Obviously you don’t just “replace” Mac, Najee, DeVonta, Waddle and Sark but for those who don’t follow the program as closely as you, are the changes offensively noticeable or are they subtle?

It’s a lot different. If you’re interested, here’s a link to a bye-week article I posted on the new offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien. The offense is significantly less explosive than we’ve seen in the past few years. Not having four first-round draft picks at wide receiver, another at running back, and two top-15 QBs will do that to anyone, but it’s also a philosophy change. Bill O’Brien is very much rooted in a pro-style offense built to get to 3rd-and-manageable and convert it over and over until you get to the goal line.

So far, Bryce Young has been phenomenal at navigating the pocket, evading rushers, and hitting those 10-yard routes in the middle of zones, and Alabama is one of the best in the country at converting in passing situations because of it.

The question is, is it sustainable? Because in both the passing and rushing game, Alabama has been much more average on standard downs in both success rates and efficiency, and living on 3rd downs seems to be walking a razor’s edge.

5. What about defensively? Bama’s defense isn’t Georgia good (I mean nobody is) but they’ve surrendered a combined 33 points since giving up 41 to A&M. Is this a championship unit? Who is going to make life miserable for Max Johnson?

I guess I jumped the gun and talked a lot about this one back in question 3. Schematically, Pete Golding is in his 3rd year of running a hybrid 3-3-5/2-4-5 defense that treats the nickel corner more like a box safety, and, for the most part, it’s an experienced unit. There’s still some issues with one safety position (DeMarcco Hellams and Daniel Wright have alternated getting starts, and both have been prone to some bonehead mistakes) and sophomore Malachi Moore at the nickel spot seems to have regressed from his promising freshman year. And for some reason, we’re now at year three of refusing to cover running backs or tight ends actually *GASP* running a route.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad defense or anything. Their tackling is much, much better than the previous two years, and the secondary is usually pretty good. They’re just prone to some headscratchers.

And Will Anderson is, of course, going to make any QB miserable. He’s already the most dominant edge rusher we’ve had in the Nick Saban era, and it’s not even close. Also watch for PhiDarian Mathis- the senior defensive tackle is good for blowing up a guard and wrecking the backfield a couple of times per game.

6. Humor me: if a depleted, injury ridden, coached by a dead man walking LSU team were to beat Alabama how would it look? Why are you laughing? Come on, it could happen!

It would be because Alabama’s receiving group dropped one too many passes on 3rd downs and the LSU front was able to keep Brian Robinson from converting the chains on first/second downs. Both of these things are very real possibilities, and are legitimate weaknesses of the Bama offense that I think LSU is capable of capitalizing on. The other thing, though, would have to be the LSU passing game kicking into gear. If Max Johsnon can avoid a few sacks and hit TE Jack Bech on some big plays down the seam.