Slowing down Trent Richardson

Part 4: LSU's linebackers vs. Alabama's running backs

LSU fans are familiar with Eddie Lacy, Alabama’s backup running back.

Lacy was born in the Bayou State, and he went to school right down right down the block in Dutchtown. His average of 66.4 yards rushing per game ranks eighth in the SEC, and he’s twice been named Alabama’s Offensive Player of the Week by the Crimson Tide coaching staff.

But when LSU defensive players were made available to the media this week, there was only one name that came up when the conversation shifted to Alabama’s run game: Junior Trent Richardson.

The Heisman Trophy hopeful averages 123.6 yards rushing per game, which ranks first in the conference and seventh nationally.

Mark Ingram recently won a Heisman for Alabama with a 17-touchdown season. In eight games this season, Richardson has already hit that mark.

LSU senior linebacker Ryan Baker, who suits up alongside Spencer Ware and has played against the likes of Michael Dyer, didn’t hesitate when asked how good Richardson really was.

“In my opinion, he is hands down the best running back in the conference right now,” Baker said. “He is a powerful guy and he doesn’t go down on first contact.”

Every week, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis drills his linebackers about tackling in numbers.

See ball, get to ball -- no matter how many Tigers are already in on the play.

“Coach has stressed that from week one,” Baker said.

“They are going to come in the beginning of the game with the running attack … we all have to get to the ball and make the play.”

The biggest question on the LSU side is how the linebackers will stack up once Alabama’s No. 3 comes barreling through.

Baker, who has started 19 games in his career, doesn’t figure in as a liability, but the Tigers are still doing some soul searching at the other two linebacker positions.

In the middle, sophomore Kevin Minter has emerged as a preferred option to senior Karnell Hatcher – a safety turned linebacker who doesn’t quite fit the mold of a run-stopper, meaning Minter will likely see more action at the position when the Tigers line up against a power run team like the Tide.

An even bigger mystery is Stefoin Francois. In seven games played, the senior strongside linebacker – who has started in five games – has recorded only five stops.

In large part, Francois’ disappearing act is because of LSU’s affinity for the nickel package, where defensive coordinator John Chavis is able to drop a linebacker – Francois – in favor of an extra defensive back – Tyrann Mathieu.

Mathieu has launched himself into the national spotlight with his efforts across the first half of the season, and LSU – ranked second in the SEC in rush defense with 76.6 yards allowed per game -- has found plenty of success with the package even when teams are sticking to the ground.

That’s why Les Miles isn’t hesitant to keep players like Mathieu and Ron Brooks on call in a game where three linebackers might be the first choice by other college coaches.

“There is a point in time where the fast guys are more difficult for the bigger guys to block,” Miles said. “We will play that nickel package, that sub package, in some marginal down and distances.”

Which way Chavis decides to go this weekend remains to be seen, but the mission is clear: Stop Richardson.

“They are going to come right at us with Richardson, and they are going to keep coming,” Baker said. “All the linebackers are going to have to step up this weekend. We know that.”


Alabama running backs vs. LSU linebackers

Projected starters


TB Trent Richardson (5-11, 224, Jr.)

- or -

TB Eddie Lacy – (6-0, 220, So.)


WLB Ryan Baker (6-0, 236, Sr.)

MLB Kevin Minter (6-2, 242, So.)

-      or -

MLB Karnell Hatcher (6-2, 223, Sr.)

SLB Stefoin Francois (6-1, 223, Sr.)

Key Matchup

Richardson vs. Minter

LSU fans have been calling for more Minter, and this week they will likely get it. But the task, slowing down Richardson and forcing Alabama to throw the football, is as tall as ever. Minter said he feels most comfortable playing in the 4-3, a natural fit as a run-stopper who can be effective close to the line of scrimmage. If he is on point this weekend, the Tigers will be able to use the nickel package even more, leaving Minter and Baker on the field as the two linebackers roaming the middle.

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