The Alabama head coach pointed out that because the Alabama defense is so strong, Franchione is more inclined to take a chance than he would be if he felt the need to protect the defense. "I believe in our defense," Franchione said in his regular Tuesday press briefing. "And everything I do on offensive is staked on how our defense is doing." He noted that last week Alabama faced fourth down and 11 at the Mississippi State 36-yard line in a game in which Alabama had only a one touchdown lead late in the third quarter. "Last year I would have punted," Franchione said. This year Alabama went for it and quarterback Tyler Watts completed a 36-yard touchdown pass to Triandos Luke.
As for Saturday, Franchione said, "When you are going against a great defense like LSU has, you have to take your shots. If you get too conservative, you won't make any yards."
Alabama and LSU will be playing for more than just statistics Saturday night. Bama is 8-2 overall and 5-1 in Southeastern Conference games and ranked 10th in the nation, while LSU is 7-2 overall and 4-1 in SEC games and ranked 12th in the nation. Kickoff will be at 8 p.m. CST with national television coverage by ESPN.
It's easy to understand why yards and points could be expected to be in short supply Saturday night. LSU is first in the nation in total defense, allowing 246.4 yards per game, while Bama is just behind the Tigers, second in the league and third in the nation, giving up 249.1 yards per game. LSU also leads the league in scoring defense, giving up 15.3 points per game, while Bama is second in that category, allowing 16.7 points per game. Alabama leads the league in rushing defense, giving up 79.4 yards per game, while LSU is best in the league in pass defense, giving up 132.7 yards per game.
Franchione has nothing but praise for the LSU defense. "They have good schemes, they have good size up front on the defensive line and play the run well, they have a good package, they mix things up and keep the offense off-balance, and they are well-coached in all phases." The Tide coach noted that LSU Head Coach Nick Saban has a background as a defensive coach "and his stamp is on this defense."
The Tide coach is also pleased with the performance of the Alabama defense, particularly in that a large number have contributed. "Our defensive coaches have done a great job in every area," Franchione said. "We've had good rotation and we're about two deep everywhere. It's a tribute to the work by the players that the coaches have confidence to play them at any time. And it's a compliment to the coaches for having prepared them."
The Tide secondary, particularly has come a long way since last season. Last year Bama bottomed out, statistically, on defense against LSU. The Tigers racked up record-breaking numbers as Rohan Davey completed 35 passes for 528 yards and Josh Reed had 19 catches for 293 yards. Both Davey and Reed are gone from LSU this season.
This year, Franchione said, the only similarity in Bama's secondary is that "some of the faces are the same." He said that last year Alabama was very inexperienced and learning a new system and it took awhile. This year Bama is fourth in the SEC and 14th in the nation in pass defense and the Tide has given up the fewest passing touchdowns -- seven -- of any SEC team.
Franchione also knows that a night game in Baton Rouge is one of the great experiences and traditions of college football, and few have a greater appreciation for such things than Bama's head coach. He said he experienced it once as an assistant coach at Kansas State.
Perhaps it is something of a surprise that Alabama is 13-2-1 in night games at Baton Rouge. Bama has nine straight night wins in Tiger Stadium. LSU's wins came in 1957 and 1969 and the tie was in 1944 in night games at Baton Rouge. This will be Bama's fifth night game of the season and third SEC road night game of the year. Bama won previously in SEC night games at Arkansas and Tennessee and also won night games against North Texas and Southern Miss.
Alabama has an overall lead of 42-18-5 in the series with LSU. Alabama has lost only once in Baton Rouge since 1969, a 30-28 loss in 2000. LSU defeated Alabama 35-21 in Tuscaloosa last year and has a two-game winning streak in the series. LSU has never won three games in a row against Bama.
This game marks the first time both teams have been ranked since the 1996 game when Alabama, ranked 10th in the nation, shut out LSU, ranked 11th, 26-0, in Baton Rouge.
Franchione noted that Alabama has played well on the road this year. He added, "We'll have to bring our ‘A' game against LSU."
Every college football fan alive has probably seen a video clip of LSU's last-second, 75-yard pass completion to defeat Kentucky last weekend. Franchione said a play like that can give a team a boost. "Sometimes in order to have a great season you have to win one in an odd way," Franchione said. He noted that it was an important win for LSU, which is attempting to repeat as SEC champion.
Alabama cannot be the league champion this year because of NCAA penalties. It is no secret that a pre-season Bama goal was to have the best record of any team in the SEC Western Division. "I think our players are excited about that possibility," Franchione said, acknowledging that "with two games to go [in SEC play] it's realistic to talk about it." He said he thinks the players are excited about being ranked in the nation's top ten, about posting eight wins in 10 games this season, and "about going to the places we've gone and won on the road. I think we're proud of it and looking forward to the last three games."
The Tide coach said, "We have to believe we are going to get one of LSU's best games. We have to have great preparation and focus."
Although the Bengal Tigers are very strong in pass defense, recent Alabama success in the passing game may test LSU. In Bama's current four-game winning streak the Tide has passed for 884 yards, an average of 221 yards per game. Oddly, quarterbacks Tyler Watts and Brodie Croyle have passed for the same number of yards in that period, 442.
Franchione noted that LSU hasn't had the offensive numbers it had last year, but said the Tigers are solid on offense with a strong offensive line, good skill position players, and a quarterback who is getting better each week. The Tide coach noted that LSU has given up the fewest sacks of any SEC team, only nine. Alabama's defense leads the SEC in sacks with 34.
LSU probably has the nation's best kick return game. The Tigers are first in the nation in kickoff returns and fourth in the nation in punt returns. Alabama has been decent on punt coverage, but the Tide ranks 11th in the SEC in kickoff returns. Franchione noted that with both teams having good defensive squads, it will be important that Alabama have good coverage and not give up the "hidden yardage" in the kicking game.