In the days following LSU’s 24-17 loss at Auburn, the LSU defense was understandably shell shocked.
Auburn rolled up 440 yards on the ground as quarterback Cameron Newton cemented his spot in the race for the Heisman Trophy.
After a week to lick their wounds, LSU’s defense has another tall order: Alabama.
Although defense is typically the calling card of a Nick Saban coached club, the Alabama offense has been rather potent in 2010.
The Tide returned all of their major playmakers from last season’s BCS championship squad, including the two-headed beast of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Both backs rank in the top eight in the SEC in yards per game, Ingram fourth at 90.7 ypg and Richardson eighth at 75.8 ypg.
“It’s no secret, best tandem in college football, maybe ever.” said senior linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. “When you have two guys like that, you can just rotate them in and keep them fresh. That gives them an advantage. We have to come out and we have to tackle.”
Missed tackles plagued LSU in their lone loss on the year, a mistep in fundamentals that wasn’t overlooked by the coaching staff during the off week.
“It looked bad on film,“ said Taylor of the missed tackles. “Last week they had us doing a whole tackling circuit during most of practice, and we really don’t like doing it, so I think we’ll get it right this week. It was like what we do in camp, and we don’t want to bring back camp memories.”
At wide receiver, the playmaking abilities continue with Julio Jones. The junior averages 83.6 yards per game, good for second in the league. His biggest burst this fall came in Knoxville in the Tide’s last outing. Just two weeks removed from surgery on a broken left hand, Jones hauled in 12 balls for a school record 221 yards against the Volunteers.
“He looked like Andre Johnson out there,” said LSU junior cornerback Patrick Peterson. “He was out there diving all over the field, catching the ball deep, running past corners.”
Fortunately for Alabama the Tide have a signal caller that can get Jones the ball. Fifth-year senior Greg McElroy has completed 137 of his 194 pass attempts for 1,781 yards and 11 scores, and he’s tossed only three interceptions. Evidence of his game-manager approach, McElroy is currently tied for third in the SEC in pass efficiency.
“I like how he goes through his progressions,” said junior linebacker Ryan Baker. “He doesn’t really make too many mistakes. He’s a very talented quarterback, and they have a lot of guys for him to get the ball to.”
Although the Tide have options, they won’t have a 6-foot-6, 250-pounder to deal with at quarterback.
“Coming off a week where we prepared for a guy like Cam Newton, I think we’ll look forward to seeing I-back runs and wildcat runs,” said head coach Les Miles.
Junior safety Brandon Taylor is in the same boat.
“It’ll be a whole lot easier,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about a person like that running and throwing. It’ll be a lot less stressful.”
Richardson and Ingram combined for 172 rushing yards against the Tigers a year ago, 145 of which came from Ingram. That being said, there are no secrets about what the Tide plan to do Saturday afternoon in Death Valley.
“Alabama is just going to come downhill and play smash mouth football,” Baker said. “You just have to stop them.”
Very few have been able to.
The Tide run for 186.9 yards per game, fourth best in the SEC. By comparison, LSU allows 128.1 yards per game, sixth out of the 12 SEC teams.
“It’s like a fist fight,” Baker said. “Can we stop them? If you can’t, then you go to the sidelines.”