Although it's been argued that Coach Nick Saban hasn't had as much influence on the Tigers as some originally believed he would, he did take one step last year by defeating the Tide in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1968. This year, he will lead LSU into Tuscaloosa for a match up that could turn either team's season into a step forward, or a blow backward.
Alabama has enjoyed the benefit of an off week, while LSU is coming off a heartbreaking 35-24 home loss to the Ole Miss Rebels. Despite the setback, Saban is still confident of his team's abilities, noting outstanding play from both a true freshman receiver, and a backup tailback turned super punt returner. "Even though we are disappointed in the outcome of what happened in the game Saturday night, I think there were some positive things that came out of the game. Michael Clayton obviously made some outstanding plays in the game. Domanick Davis had probably his best game of the year."
Clayton rushed for one touchdown on a reverse play, and later tacked on another six points with an acrobatic catch in the endzone. Davis, who carried the ball 21 times on offense in the absence of starting tailback LaBrandon Toefield, finished the game with 266 all-purpose yards. That total included 71 yards on a punt return for a touchdown.
Louisiana State,4-3 on the year, will be playing through several key injuries Saturday. Coach Saban is quick to point out how thin the Tigers are now at tailback. "We have a couple guys that are banged up. Unfortunately three of them are at the same position."
Toefield and Davis are both questionable with ankle injuries, and 3rd string tailback Devery Henderson is nicked up as well. LSU is also feeling heat from injuries in their defensive backfield, where strong safety Lionel Thomas is questionable with an ankle sprain. Rounding out the ankle-infirmed is center Rob Sale, who is expected to play.
Although Alabama's record isn't very impressive, Saban is not underestimating the Crimson Tide. "Alabama is an excellent football team. It is an opportunity for us to win a third football game on the road, which one of our goals was to have a winning season on the road. They have excellent football players. Their record does not indicate the quality of team they have. They have lost some very, very close games. They have had some teams come back on them in some close games. But they have some very talented players on the defensive side of the ball and on the offensive side of the ball."
According the LSU coach, to stop the Tide, you must first try to contain its running game. "Their ability to run the football has been a real key for them. Tyler Watts has done very well for them. Their offense has been productive in terms of their point production all year long."
"This is a very good team that we are playing, so we have a tremendous challenge in front of us and hopefully our players will respond to it in the positive proper way and look at it as a challenge."
For Coach Nick Saban's LSU Tigers, it's hard not to call this a must-win game. After being the pre-season favorite to take the SEC West, their recent play has left some fans asking, "Where's the improvement?" However, Saban explains that the team is working hard, and needs only one thing: time.
"This is not necessarily the time to be a naysayer. We're trying to build a program here. Rome wasn't built in a day. We're not pleased with the consistency our team has played with and we're certainly going to try to get them to play with more consistency. But, we're also trying to change the mentality to be able to do that all the time. Sometimes we have responded favorably to it and sometimes we haven't. I think we are just going to have to try to change that over time."
The road to a win in Tuscaloosa won't be an easy one, as SEC games this year have been heavily kind to the home team. However, a victory could be possible if the Tigers can exploit what has proven to be the weakness of this Crimson Tide team: its secondary. If not, the trip back to the Land of the Cajuns will be made with a .500 record, and a sense of that mediocrity that Saban is so desperately trying to destroy.