Defensive Struggle Looming?

How much do statistics mean? A case can be made for "Not much" or even "Nothing." But late in the season, an examination of a team's statistics can provide some indication of how that team is playing. A look at this week's Southeastern Conference and national statistics indicate both Alabama and LSU are strong defensively.

Although Alabama has only a 6-3 record, with the victories coming against relatively weak teams and no real powerhouses having been on the schedule, the Tide's accomplishment of being first in the nation in three defensive categories is nevertheless impressive. And LSU is just a few spots behind Bama in those categories and leads the Crimson Tide in rushing defense.

That leads to the conclusion that Saturday's game in Baton Rouge could be a defensive struggle. Alabama and LSU will kickoff at 6:45 p.m. CST with television coverage by ESPN.

It comes down to scoring, and Alabama is ranked fifth in the SEC and 40th in the nation at 28.4 points per game. LSU is fourth in the SEC and 15th nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 15.9 points per game. The Bengal Tigers score 27.9 points per game, sixth in the league and 44th in the nation, while Bama prevents scoring to the tune of 13.6 points per game, second in the conference and sixth in the nation.

Alabama leads the SEC in rushing offense, 229.8 yards per game (which is 13th in the nation), but will go up against the league's second best (and nation's 15th best) rushing defense as LSU allows only 102.1 yards per game. The Bengal Tigers rush for 170.1 yards per game, which is sixth in the SEC and 46th in the nation. Alabama's defense is fourth in the conference and 23rd nationally against the run, giving up 116.3 yards per game.

Although Alabama leads the nation in pass defense, the Tigers are second in the league and fourth nationally and have an opportunity to improve dramatically against Bama's poor pass offense. Alabama is dead last in the SEC and 113th of 117 teams in the nation in passing offense, picking up only 124.0 yards per game. LSU is allowing 154.4 yards per game. The Tigers are fourth in the SEC and 41st in the nation in passing offense, 231.0 yards per game, while the Tide's pass defense allows only 107.4 yards per game.

Alabama is a little better in the passing efficiency compilation, ranking ninth in the league and 83rd nationally. LSU is third in the SEC and 18th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Alabama is also first in the nation in pass efficiency defense, while LSU is sixth in the SEC and 31st in the nation offensively.

Alabama's best in the nation total defense gives up 223.8 yards per game, and LSU is fifth in the conference and 36th nationally in total offense, averaging 401.1 yards per game. Alabama is ninth in total offense, 74th nationally, at 321.0 yards per game, and will be going up against an LSU defense that is second in the conference and fourth in the nation, permitting 256.5 yards per game.

Alabama is first (or tied for first) in the SEC in 12 of the 30 categories kept by league statisticians.

Ordinarily, turnover margin is considered a primary barometer of team success. However, in the SEC the leader in turnover margin this year is Vanderbilt with a 2-7 record, which brings that statistic into question. Alabama is third in turnover margin at plus five. Bama has recovered 11 fumbles and turned in nine interceptions, lost six fumbles and nine interceptions. LSU is a surprisingly last in the SEC and 102nd in the nation at minus seven. the Tigers eight fumble recoveries and six pass interceptions are offset by having lost 13 fumbles and had eight passes intercepted.

Third down success is another statistic usually cited by coaches are important to success. Neither LSU, eighth in the league at 40.6 per cent, or Alabama, 10th in the SEC at 37.5 per cent, is impressive on offense, but Alabama leads the conference in third down defense, allowing only 24.8 per cent success, while LSU is fourth, permitting only 31.6 per cent of opponents' third down plays to succeed.

LSU is sixth in the SEC in first downs with 172 (80 rushing, 85 passing, seven penalty) in eight games, while Bama is 10th with 158 (92 rushing, 56 passing, 10 by penalty) in nine games. LSU is first in preventing first downs, giving up 106 in eight games (38 rushing, 59 passing, nine by penalty), with Alabama second having allowed 111 in nine games (53 rushing, 46 passing, 12 by penalty).

LSU is fourth in the league in sacks with at least one in every game and a total of 22 for 168 yards, while Alabama is best in the conference in preventing sacks, having given up only nine for 73 yards. Alabama has turned in 20 sacks for 131 yards, fifth in the SEC, and LSU has allowed 17 sacks for 116 yards, ranking ninth in the league.

Alabama has been very good in the Red Zone, leading the league offensively in scoring when inside the 20 and first in the SEC in defense against the opponent inside the 20. Bama has scored 32 of 35 trips, 91.4 per cent, while LSU has scored 25 of 31, 80.6 per cent. Alabama has 21 touchdowns (14 rushing, seven passing) and has made 11 of 12 field goals. Bama has fumbled once and allowed the clock to expire once. LSU has 19 touchdowns (11 rushing, eight passing) and has made six of nine field goals. The Tigers have lost two fumbles and failed on fourth down once. Bama has held opponents to 12 scores in 18 Red Zone opportunities (66.7 per cent), allowing nine touchdowns (six rushing, three passing) and three of four field goals. Bama has turned in three fumble recoveries and an interception and one trip time expired. LSU is 11th in preventing Red Zone scores, having given up 18 scores in 21 trips. Tigers' opponents have 13 touchdowns (four rushing, nine passing) and have made five of six field goals. LSU has one interception and has held on fourth down once.

Alabama is third in the SEC and 13th in the nation in net punting at 39.4 yards, while LSU is sixth in the league and 81st in the nation in punt returns at 7.9 yards per runback. The Tigers are seventh in the conference and 40th nationally in net punting at 37.0 yards, and Alabama is ninth in the league and 95th in the nation in returns, 6.8 yards.

Alabama leads the league and the nation in kickoff returns with 18 runbacks for 564 yards, an average of 31.3 yards per return. LSU is second in the conference in kickoff coverage, allowing only 16.1 yards per return. The Tigers are fourth in the league in kickoff returns at 19.1 yards average, while Alabama is seventh in the league in coverage, allowing 19.6 yards per return.

Alabama is first in the SEC in field goals with Brian Bostick having made 13 of 16. LSU is ninth, eight of 13. Bama is tied for first in extra point kicks with Bostick perfect on 31 tries, while LSU has made only 23 of 28, last in the conference.

Alabama leads the SEC in time of possession, 33:39, while LSU is fourth, 30:42.

LSU has been penalized 46 times for an average of 45.8 yards per game, fourth in the SEC, and Alabama has been flagged 56 times for an average of 57.1 yards per game, eighth in the SEC.

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