ANALYSIS: #1 LSU at #2 Alabama

A closer look at Saturday's historic showdown between the two best teams in the country

No. 1 LSU (8-0, 5-0) at No. 2 Alabama (8-0, 5-0)

7 p.m. at Bryant-Denny Stadium

WDGL-FM 98.1; XM 85; Sirius 81/CBS

 

Series record: Alabama leads 45-24-5 but only holds a 10-8 edge in games played in Tuscaloosa. LSU has won five of the last seven games at Bryant-Denny Stadium and is 8-3 overall against the Crimson Tide since 2000, the year Nick Saban took over in Baton Rouge.

 

LSU

 

In the spotlight: WR Rueben Randle (6-4, 208, Jr.)

Rueben Randle

 

Season stats: 33 receptions for 638 yards, 7 TDs

 

At some point, LSU’s offense is likely to have to try and stretch the field against the best defense the Tigers have faced all season, and Randle will be at the crux of that. The junior has blossomed into one of the SEC’s premier receivers, perhaps the best deep threat in a league where deep throws have become a rarity. For LSU to open up offensively and create some running room, Randle and quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson need to hook up a few times on early downs and early in the game to get Alabama’s defense on its heels. If Randle can get free like he did a handful of times last season, the Tigers’ offense will be clicking.

 

Injuries/suspensions: LG Josh Dworaczyk (knee) out for season, RB Spencer Ware (suspension) probable, CB/Nickel back Tyrann Mathieu (suspension) probable, CB Tharold Simon (suspension) probable, DE Kendrick Adams (knee) probable, S Craig Loston (wrist) probable

 

Schedule (8-0, 5-0)

Sept. 3 LSU 40, #3 Oregon 27

Sept. 10 LSU 49, Northwestern State 3

Sept. 15 LSU 19, #25 Mississippi State 6

Sept. 24 LSU 47, at #16 West Virginia 21

Oct. 1 LSU 35, Kentucky 7

Oct. 8 LSU 41, #17 Florida 11

Oct. 15 LSU 38, Tennessee 7

Oct. 22 LSU 45, Auburn 10

Nov. 5 at Alabama, 7 p.m. (CBS)

Nov. 12 Western Kentucky, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)

Nov. 19 at Ole Miss, TBA

Nov. 25 Arkansas, 1:30 p.m. (CBS)

Dec. 3 SEC Championship Game

 

Alabama

 

In the spotlight: MLB Dont’a Hightower (6-4, 260, Jr.)

Dont'a Hightower

 

Season stats: Team-high 48 tackles , 6 tackles for loss,1½ sacks, 1 INT, 2 pass breakups, 6 QB hurries

 

The middle of the defense is where LSU’s running game wants to operate and grind away, but that’s also exactly where Hightower will be trying to gum up the works. Alabama’s defense is geared to funneling as much activity as possible toward the linebackers and Hightower is the eye of that storm in the middle. If the Tigers try to grind away at the Crimson Tide up the middle and Hightower is piling up tackles and stuffing Spencer Ware for little or no gain, that will force LSU to either try attacking on the edges – in other words get the Tigers out their comfort zone – or throw the ball.

 

Injuries: OL Cyrus Kounadijo (knee) out for season, OL Arie Kounadijo (knee) out for season, LB Alex Watkins (broken arm) doubtful, RB Eddie Lacy (turf toe) probable

 

Schedule (8-0, 5-0)

Sept. 3 Alabama 48, Kent State 7

Sept. 10 Alabama 27, #23 Penn State 11

Sept. 17 Alabama 41, North Texas 0

Sept. 24 Alabama 38, #12 Arkansas 14

Oct. 1 Alabama 38, #12 Florida 10

Oct. 8 Alabama 34, Vanderbilt 0

Oct. 15 Alabama 37, Tennessee 6

Nov. 5 #1 LSU, 7 p.m. (CBS)

Nov. 12 at Mississippi State, TBA

Nov. 19 Georgia Southern, 1 p.m.

Nov. 26 at Auburn, TBA

Dec. 3 SEC Championship Game

 

Three keys to the game

 

1. Stay patient on offense: Neither big plays nor long sustained drives will be easy to come by. In fact the opposite is more likely, which could mean a steady diet of three-and-outs or short drives ending after a first down or two. LSU can’t afford to get antsy with the ball and get out of character and give Alabama a chance to do something it hasn’t done much this season – force turnovers.

 

2. Make them work: Just as it will be difficult for the offense to generate big plays, LSU’s defense needs to make sure that cuts both ways when Alabama has the ball. If the Crimson Tide is going to move the ball, make sure Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy are having to work for what they get – and feel the physical impact of a bruising and aggressive Tigers defense. LSU has to focus on limiting Alabama’s production on early downs and force quarterback A.J. McCarron to show what he can do consistently on third-and-long and other obvious passing downs.

 

3. Get what you can, take what you can: Every inch of field position will be valuable, so it’s key for the special teams to make every kicking-game snap count, whether it’s gaining an edge by pinning the opponent deep or with a returner carving out a free first down with a 10- or 12-yard return. The hidden yardage in a game like this pitting two teams so evenly matched could add up to the points that are the difference between winning and losing.

 

Predictions

RANDY ROSETTA: Picture two muscle-bound wrestlers – the real ones, not the made-for-TV versions – standing toe-to-toe trying to gain any kind of edge they can get and you’ll have an idea what these two teams should look like in the 2011 version of the ‘Game of the Century.’ Expect a defensive struggle for the first half with not much dust knocked off the scoreboard while the offenses trying to figure out what – if anything – will actually work to get the chains moving. A specials teams bolt of lightning or maybe a turnover that results in or leads to a touchdowns pops the cork for a much more productive second half that eventually comes to down to a special teams play late in the game. It might be a Brad Wing punt pinning the Crimson Tide deep in its own territory and giving LSU a short field to drive for the winning points. Or it might be a Drew Alleman field goal in the final minute or in overtime. Somehow, some way, though, the Tigers find a way to stay unbeaten while also keeping the notion of a rematch with the Tide alive and well … LSU 20, Alabama 17


SHEA DIXON: Pay no mind to the celebrities in the stands. “The Game of the Century” has marquee players all over the field – from Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu to Trent “Is that my Heisman?” Richardson. Neither team has a glaring weakness, meaning the more disciplined side will likely be the one that moves to 9-0. Expect great defense from both teams, meaning the two offenses will try to establish the running game before taking any big shots downfield – or pulling out the trick play stored for just this occasion. One name to watch: Brad Wing. LSU’s punter is having a dynamic year, and opponents have a combined 7 punt return yards in eight games. That’s efficiency, which will matter when the Tigers need to win the field position battle on the road … LSU 20, Alabama 13


EMILY VILLERE: LSU might not have home-field advantage, but what the Tigers do have is depth, and a lot of it. Spencer Ware is no Trent Richardson, but the addition of Ware, combined with Michael Ford and Alfred Blue, gives LSU a good crop of guys to move the chains.  Richardson will also face a deep defensive line that is looking close up any gap the speedy back might find.  LSU takes the edge at quarterback with the Jarrett Lee/Jordan Jefferson tandem that will provide a wrinkle for that Alabama defense. (Nick Saban even said it’s like he needs two separate defenses this weekend.) Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron is also going up against arguably the best secondary in the country, complete with Tyrann Mathieu, Mo Claiborne and Brandon Taylor to name a few. Key players for the Tigers this week are punter Brad Wing and receiver Rueben Randle. Going three-and-out won’t be the worst thing for LSU with a guy like Wing who can pin Bama deep and win the field-position battle. Randle had a breakout game against the Tide last year, and although he will be a focal point Saturday, he is a playmaker and will make some big plays … LSU 24, Alabama 21


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