As is almost always the case on the first weekend in November, the big game in the Southeastern Conference (and often time biggest in the nation) is Alabama vs. LSU. It’s big again this year when the Crimson Tide goes to Baton Rouge for a Saturday night game (7 p.m. CDT on CBS) in Tiger Stadium.
Billy Embody, publisher of Tiger Blitz (http://www.scout.com/college/lsu) asked us to answer a few questions about Alabama. We said we’d do it, but we wanted Embody to answer some questions about LSU, too.
Here are our answers to his questions, and we’ll give his answers to our questions later.
1. News came out that Eddie Jackson is out for the rest of the year. Big leader back there in the secondary and a great football player. How much does this hurt the Tide and how can they replace that production on the backend?
The loss of Eddie Jackson as an All-America safety candidate and also an outstanding punt return man (2 TDs this season) may expose the myth that “Alabama just plugs in another 5-star.” Alabama Coach Nick Saban has said the replacement policy will be to get the best combination of 11 players on the field. Alabama’s normal defense includes a nickel back, and two-year starter at that position Minkah Fitzpatrick is expected to move back to Jackson’s safety spot. That would probably move speedy cornerback Tony Brown into nickel. It’s also possible that Hootie Jones takes the safety position, leaving Fitzpatrick at nickel. Look for freshman Trevon Diggs to handle punt returns.
2. Jalen Hurts has really brought a dual-threat capability that Bama hasn't seen since maybe Blake Sims, but Hurts is on another level. Where is he at development wise and do you think Lane Kiffin gives him a little more of the playbook in this game?
Jalen Hurts broke into major college football in a big way, coming on in relief in Alabama’s season-opener against Southern Cal in Arlington. He passed for two touchdowns and rushed for two to ignite Bama to a 52-6 win and has owned the QB job ever since. Unquestionably, the few extra practices the Tide had with last week’s bye were used to try to expand what Hurts can do. Many believe Lane Kiffin has rehabilitated his coaching reputation by developing three first-year starters (Blake Sims, Jake Coker, and now Hurts), and there seems little doubt that Hurts has the most talent, but is still a work in progress on deep passes.
3. For the first time in quite some time, Bama didn't return that running back to take over for the previous lead. Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris appear to be the ones leading the way. How is the rotation and what can we expect from them against this LSU defense?
Alabama not only lost its top two tailbacks from last season, one of them was the Heisman Trophy winner and all-time SEC season rushing and touchdown record-setter Derrick Henry. Most expected Henry lookalike Bo Scarbrough to ascend to No.1, but Damien Harris started in the opener and has been No. 1 this year. While Scarbrough is still in the picture, the real surprise has been freshman Josh Jacobs, who was barely recruited, Bama getting in on him only a week or so before signing day. Both Harris and Jacobs have an ability to find the hole and both have surprising power. Not a surprise is that Alabama will first try to establish the run.
4. We've seen that Bama has more speed defensively this season, but they also don't have the depth of huge players that last year's team had in the trenches. Could that hurt them against a team that wants to pound the rock the way LSU will? How do you see the war in the trenches playing out?
Fallout from Saban’s plan for those pesky spread offenses is that he doesn’t have quite the team as the ones he built to play against teams like LSU. Along with recruiting more “quick twitch” guys, the Tide’s bigger players were encouraged to lose some pounds. The good news is that guys like Jonathan Allen (6-3, 291), Dalvin Tomlinson (6-3, 305), and DaRon Payne (6-2, 319) are still big enough, and they are in better condition to play more downs. This looks like the toughest test for the Alabama defensive front, which has been up to the task so far.
5. What's your feeling on this game? How does it play out?
Alabama vs. LSU almost always means big boy SEC football at its best, games that go deep into the fourth quarter – and sometimes beyond – before the issue is decided. Working for LSU is that Leonard Fournette almost certainly has incentive to make amends for his 2015 performance against Alabama and that all Tigers seem to have a new energy under Coach Ed Orgeron. If both teams play their best, I expect Alabama to win a close one. If either is not at its best, it can’t win.