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Playing Nice: Alabama

Our friend Brent Taylor joins us once again to preview LSU-Alabama

NCAA Football: Alabama at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

LSU-Alabama is pretty much our Super Bowl over on And the Valley Shook dot com. I look forward to it every single year because it allows me to talk ball with my good buddy Brent from Roll Bama Roll.

1. First things first, would you care to comment on how Alabama’s baseball team gave up 22 runs in one game to Wake Forest, while LSU only allowed five in 28 innings?

Stickball? We’re talking stickball?? If you didn’t get the memo, we’re a hoops school now. So all questions not related to bouncy hoops will be bounced from the portal

2. Okay first football question. Many are saying (it’s me, I’m many) that this Alabama team stinks (relative to their standards of course). Your response?

I’ve fielded this question in every Q&A since week 2, and my response is getting more and more multi-faceted every week. I’ll try to keep this short-ish. Alabama’s team started stinking in 2021. Bryce Young won a Heisman, sure, but it was a Heisman-by-default kind of thing, and Alabama’s scoring dipped nearly 10 points per game from the preview 3 years... And the entire team, including Bryce, mentally fell apart in every road game. WR drops, penalties, pathetic missed tackles etc. Will Anderson’s existence and late-game heroics from Bryce Young made Alabama’s record better than their team in both seasons.

2023 has been different. Alabama’s defense is playing like an actual unit again, and playing up to their talent level, rather than playing way beneath it and playing soft. And on offense, Jalen Milroe has been an occasionally beautiful disaster, sure, but the wide receivers and TEs are playing their butts off to make some elite catches twisting around through traffic, which has been a nice change from the dropsies the last two seasons, even if it’s not really showing up on the stat sheet. The OL has been a disappointment, but RB Jase McClellan has broken some really key tackles whenever Alabama really needs that 3rd down conversion.

The whole group is playing a lot cleaner, making plays when their backs are against the wall in late-game situations, and playing with more fire.

Essentially, Alabama is worse at QB and OL (mostly center), but the rest of the team has improved, and the vibes are much, much better. Unfortunately, QB and C are the two positions that touch the ball every play, so we can’t just wave that away.

3. Texas has of course already beaten Alabama, but Ole Miss, A&M, and Tennessee all had great shots to take down the Tide as well but failed for various reasons. What did Texas do that the other three couldn’t and what pitfalls does LSU need to avoid if they’re in a similar situation?

Texas really only did one thing that others haven’t: They chucked two deep balls and made the catches in 1v1 situations. One of those was All-Everything Xavier Worthy getting a step on Alabama’s true freshman safety Caleb Downs (in his first P5 college game) on a deep post where Ewers actually threw it to the wrong spot and Downs was no longer in position because the throw was bad, and the other was the 6’4” Adonai Mitchell winning a jump ball over Alabama’s reserve corner Trey Amos.

Just view this as much more like Alabama from 2012-2017 era: You won’t get much on this defense unless you dare them with the deep ball in 1v1 coverage, or your QB can scramble. Unfortunately for Alabama, LSU is probably the only team on the schedule that can do that.

The biggest thing to avoid is to play soft. Alabama’s defense will feast on teams that try to go horizontal or otherwise conservative on offense. Go deep, do it often, and then hit them with backside QB keepers. It won’t always work, but keep doing it. And if you’re ahead? Still keep doing it, because Alabama can and will score quickly and in bunches in between droughts

4. I believe that if this game turns into a track meet that’s playing right into LSU’s hands. I don’t think Alabama has the horses to keep up. Do you concur and how many points do you think LSU will need to win this game?

Yeah I concur. Alabama has been staggeringly consistent with Jalen Milroe: They’ll score three touchdowns and a few field goals, plus whatever else the defense can muster up. I’ll give them 1 extra just because LSU’s defense has been gross.

So if LSU hits over 35, I think they win for sure. Anything over 30 and I don’t like Alabama’s chances.

5. For the first time since we’ve been doing this I think LSU’s got the superior offensive line. Is Alabama just missing on kids?

Man, if I had the answer to this one, I wouldn’t be spending my evenings blogging.

There are about 120 or so offensive lines out there in the FBS performing better than Alabama’s. Left tackle Kadyn Proctor is a true freshman that can’t handle a speed rush, but his backup can’t handle a speed rush OR and inside counter, so here we are, with Milroe getting sacked from the left side about three 3rd downs each game.

Center Seth McLaughlin can’t snap the ball straight. Who even knows why. It’s in his head at this point.

The line as a collective group decided this off-season, for some reason, to bulk up to the largest OL ever. And now they can’t block for screens or get to the second level to spring bigger runs. But HEY! We’re at nearly 90% success rate on short yardage run plays, so that’s a perk.

There’s a lot of recruiting talent playing for Alabama’s line right now, and the 5-star freshman left tackle is showing progress each week. He shouldn’t have HAD to play though. Alabama had a lot of players from the 2020 and 2021 classes all bust and transfer out.

So, yeah. There’s a lot of compounding problems here, and it’s by far been the most disappointing part of this team, since we expected a lot better (and they definitely got hyped up over the off-season).

6. If this LSU secondary was going up against the receivers of Alabama past with Tua or Bryce at the helm I’d be terrified. But Jalen Milroe doesn’t instill that same fear in me, especially with what feels like only one legit receiver (Jermaine Burton) to worry about. Forget Saturday, does Alabama have enough playmakers to get where they want to go come December/January?

Yes. Don’t let the lack of volume stats distract you... Alabama’s receiving group has really stepped up this season. They don’t get many targets, but they make them count. Jermaine Burton was mostly invisible up until a few weeks ago when he really started turning things on with elite hands and body control. Isaiah Bond is a blazing fast deep threat who’s made some catches in traffic while getting flipped upside down, and he’ll use all 180 pounds to truck a defender with the ball in his hands. TE Amari Niblack keeps getting better and better and is fast enough to be a wide receiver - he only gets a few targets each game, but he’s made some big catches in high-leverage situations. Kendrick Law is a do-it-all guy that’s built more like a linebacker than a WR that’s been getting more and more playing time, and he may be Alabama’s best guy after the catch.

Essentially what I’m saying is that if Milroe can ever get to a point where he gets the ball out of his hands more often, Alabama’s offense can get very dangerous, very quickly. It just all comes back to so many called passes turning into “run plays” for a 1 yard gain on a scramble, and that, coupled with Alabama’s actual run game never getting any explosives, leads to the Tide just not getting enough plays in a game.

7. I’m fully prepared to have my feelings hurt on this one: this is the last LSU-Alabama game on CBS. What have been some of your favorites in this series?

Hmmm. I think 2015 was probably my favorite. I was a senior at Bama, so it was one of the last games I went to as a student on a National Championship run. It was a night game, and the Alabama defense just blasted Leonard Fournette. Similarly, 2013 was a lot of fun to see in person, and we all went nuts watching Zach Mettenberger crawl off the field after hearing all week how he, Odell Beckham, and Jarvis Landry were going to tear up our defense.

2020 as a whole wasn’t too memorable, but DeVonta Smith absolutely embarrassing the hyped Derek Stingley and then coming down with that one-handed catch was one of my favorite all-time Alabama plays.

And, of course, the National Championship rematch in 2011. Shutting someone out in the Natty and watching your receiver make multiple great catches over Tyran Matthieu (again, an uber-hyped player... Sensing a theme from me yet?) was soooo cathartic.

Man, and I’m not even counting the overtime wins in 2008 and 2014, the win where Patrick Peterson absolutely stepped out of bounds, or the two shutouts in 2016 and 2018. Turns out Saban’s beat LSU a lot, and it’s generally been fun! Who knew??

8. I haven’t felt this confident about LSU’s chances in an Alabama game in a very long time and I don’t care for it. Be honest with me: do I have misplaced confidence or can the Tigers actually make it two in a row? Who’s winning this thing?

I think your confidence is totally on point. I think Alabama is/should be the underdog in this game until proven otherwise. You can’t win in the modern college football without a good offense, and Alabama doesn’t have one. There’s potential, sure. Flurries of scoring where the Tide’s offense looks like a contender. But for 7-8 drives per game, they’re just not good. The defense is much improved over the previous few years, but, unfortunately, college football has proven many times over that a good offense will put up points on a good defense, but a bad offense can’t get out of its own way even against bad defenses.

LSU wins, 34-27