Every snap will present a battle within a battle Saturday when No. 1-ranked LSU and No. 2 Alabama lock horns at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Which team – which player – can win those smaller subplots more consistently will create the mosaic for the first regular-season showdown of 1 vs. 2 in SEC history.
As is usually the case, that battle begins up front.
And for the LSU offense, that’s not a bad scenario with a veteran offensive line that has gelled this season and is playing as well it has all season heading into the battle with the Crimson Tide.
The Tigers are also healthy again up front, with center P.J. Lonergan expected to return to action after missing two games with a high ankle sprain, and fifth-year senior T-Bob Hebert slated to shift back to left guard, allowing Will Blackwell to move back to right guard.
The timing of a healthy o-line couldn’t better for LSU with the challenge of Alabama looming.
Up front, the Tide features a three-man front anchored by nose guard Josh Chapman. Jesse Williams and Damion Square flank him, and together that trio has played a key role for an Alabama rush defense that leads the country with only 44.9 rushing yards a game – 1.7 yards per carry.
None of the three primary Tide linemen has produced huge numbers, nor do they generate a ferocious pass rush alone. In Nick Saban’s scheme, the idea is for the linemen to disrupt and occupy their combatants long enough to allow an impressive set of linebackers to make big plays.
That also frees up Alabama’s athletic secondary for blitzing from anywhere on the field and at any time – another staple of Saban’s philosophy.
“They’re good because they’re big and strong and physical and it’s hard to move them around,” LSU left tackle Chris Faulk said. “With that three-man front, they can get a good pass rush, but they also drop and then they bring a linebacker. We always have to be aware of which guy is coming from where. We have to stay prepared for anything.”
As good as Bama is up front, don’t expect LSU to completely stray from what has been its bread-and-butter. It just might look a little different than usual.
The Tigers still want to run the ball and will pound away behind an o-line that has paved the way to 174.4 rushing yards a game. They might be more likely to throw on early downs to set up second- or third-and-short situations, but there will still be a commitment to grinding away on the ground.
|Center P.J. Lonergan and guard Will Blackwell are two of the battle-tested veterans up front for LSU.|
“The challenge of any team that’s physical like they are is being able to run the ball and that’s always what we want to do,” Blackwell said.
So where does the edge lie along the line of scrimmage when LSU has the ball?
As much as any other game the Tigers have played this season or will the rest of the way, this is as close to a standoff as imaginable.
But LSU, with veterans at every spot and with a season full of tests it has passed already, gets a slight nod.
The veteran offensive line should win more battles than it loses, and the experience of players like Blackwell, Lonergan and Blackwell will have a huge impact when it comes to identifying where blitzes are coming from and how best to handle them.
Bottom line: There won’t be anything that surprises LSU up front, nor are the Tigers likely to get frazzled if they have to swim upstream early in the game against the strong current Alabama’s d-line will present.
LSU offensive line vs. Alabama defensive line
LT Chris Faulk (6-6, 325, So.)
LG T-Bob Hebert (6-3, 304, Sr.)
C P.J. Lonergan (6-4, 305, Jr.)
RG Will Blackwell (6-4, 303, Sr.)
RT Alex Hurst (6-6, 340, Jr.)
DE Jesse Williams (6-4, 319, Sr.)
NG Josh Chapman (6-1, 310, Sr.)
DE Damion Square (6-3, 285, Jr.)
Lonergan vs. Chapman
LSU’s center is back at work after missing the last two games with a high ankle sprain and he’ll have his hands full with the Crimson Tide’s powerful middle man. Chapman leads the Alabama from with 2½ sacks and has been very effective at clogging up the middle and forcing backs to the outside where the Tide’s voracious linebackers operate. If Lonergan can consistently get leverage against Chapman and move him enough for Spencer Ware and the other LSU backs to punch through the middle, the Tigers could find a comfort level. If Chapman wins most of the one-on-one battles, LSU will have to try the edges, and perhaps adjust the game plan on the fly.