There’s a good chance that the winner of this game is also the winner of the battle in the trenches.
For Alabama, the outlook is bright.
The Crimson Tide has made big progress since the start of the season, and the group has paved the way for Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy to run wild. Through eight weeks, Alabama leads the SEC in rushing with an average of 229 yards per game.
And it’s not often that quarterback A.J. McCarron finds himself running for his life.
With pass protection and run protection on point, where are the weaknesses? After studying film for the better part of the past two weeks, the LSU defensive players can’t find many.
“We didn’t really see any weakness,” LSU sophomore defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. “It’s a good offensive line that has played together a couple of years now. They have a veteran group. They are probably the best (line) we have faced so far.”
Sophomore defensive end Barkevious Mingo added: “When you play a team that is this good, there are little weaknesses that they show. I think it will come down to game day before we can actually see any of those weaknesses and get to exploit them.”
Former five-star prospect Cyrus Kouandjio is done with a knee injury, keeping the freshman from contributing at the tackle spot if other injuries occurred during the back end of the season.
Beyond Kouandjio, skies are blue as the Tide heads into the weekend with five healthy, well-rested offensive linemen – one of the biggest advantages of the extra week to prepare.
The man in the middle, fifth-year senior William Vlachos, is the most experienced. Vlachos has started for three seasons at center, meaning that the calls and adjustments have become second nature to the 6-foot-1, 294-pounder.
Add in a 6-3, 303-pounder like Anthony Steen, who was a backup as a redshirt freshman last season but has started seven games at right guard this season, and it’s no wonder that the Tide are tough to penetrate up front.
For LSU, expect defensive line coach Brick Haley to drain as many reps as he can out of Logan and fellow sophomore defensive tackle Michael Brockers – the chief run-stoppers on LSU’s defensive line.
With the interior combination of Chance Warmack, Vlachos and Steen, Alabama will attempt to run Richardson right at the middle of the LSU defense, which many analysts pegged as undersized and unproven before the season began.
The Tigers know what to expect. Now they just have to stop it.
“You know where they are running the ball and how it is going to happen, they don’t trick you,” Mingo said. “They come off at you and dare you to stop them.
“I kind of like that.”
But not many teams have been able to stop the Tide, or even slow its run game, for that matter.
“We know the hype, we just have to stay focused on what our job is,” Brockers said. “We have to play LSU football.”
Logan added: “We just have to work on technique and fundamentals. If we do those things, we should have an advantage on them.”
LSU defensive line vs. Alabama offensive line
LT Barrett Jones (6-5, 311, Jr.)
LG Chance Warmack (6-3, 320, Jr.)
C William Vlachos (6-1, 294, Sr.)
RG Anthony Steen (6-3, 303, So.)
RT D.J. Fluker (6-6, 335, So.)
DE Ken Adams (6-5, 255, Sr.)
DT Bennie Logan (6-3, 287, So.)
DT Michael Brockers (6-6, 306, So.)
DE Sam Montgomery (6-4, 245, So.)
Brockers vs. Vlachos
LSU center P.J. Lonergan’s battle with Alabama nose guard Josh Chapman will weigh heavy in whether LSU finds success on the ground, and the Tide’s center – Vlachos – will be under the same microscope when he takes on Brockers. If Brockers can stuff the lanes with his 6-6, 306-pound frame and keep Vlachos from getting a consistent push, then the Tide might not be able to run between the tackles as routinely as normal. That means Alabama might have to turn to its passing game, which is just what LSU is hoping for.