GAME DAY: Time to get it on

After 2 weeks of buildup, No. 1-ranked LSU and No. 2 Alabama set to clash in a historic battle

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – For the last 13 days, the sun came up, football was played at some level somewhere on each of those days, and life went on.

Some time back then, the buildup for LSU-Alabama began, never at a slow crawl, instead always in big bold capital letters, and arrives at a crescendo at 7 p.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

No. 1 vs. No. 2. Game of the Century. Clash of the Titans. Any other name indicating the relevance of the first time two SEC teams have ever met in the regular season ranked first and second.

Now it's finally here.

And for players, coaches, fans and even the media, it's time to take deep breaths and get ready because these experiences don't come around a whole lot.

No. 1 LSU (8-0, 5-0 SEC) and No. 2 Alabama (8-0, 5-0) collide with the SEC West lead on the line, and likely a provisional spot in the BCS Championship game at stake.

No breaking news here, but this isn't a normal week.

Turning on the TV, it's impossible to not hear about LSU and Alabama at some point. There's been a palpable edge with both fan bases which have had to wait an extra week for this showdown because both teams had a bye week.

"I don't think coaching normally or playing normally is what we are going to do," Tigers coach Les Miles said. "We will coach our guys with greater skill to teach. The points that we will make will be more pointed to game plan more than ever. This is not necessarily the normal week."

It's one thing for Miles to utter those words.

On the other end of the spectrum, Tide coach Nick Saban – normally so locked down and process-driven – even mentioned several times this week he wants his players to embrace the magnitude of this game.

"It's not possible to not get fired up for a game like this," LSU guard T-Bob Hebert said. "These games are exactly what you play for."

Hard to imagine any player from either team has ever experienced something quite like this.

Not only are the Tigers and Crimson Tide 1-2 in the polls, there seems to be little wiggle room for debate why they stand above the 118 other teams in the Football Bowl Sub-Division.

Defense.

Dre Kirkpatrick
Alabama has a wide lead on the SEC pack in the four major defensive stat categories – allowing only 6.9 points, 49.9 rushing yards, 135.6 passing yards and 180.5 total yards a game.

LSU is right on the Tide's heels in all, allowing 11.5 points (second), 76.6 yard on the ground (second), 174.8 passing yards (fourth) and 251.4 total yards (second).

"We know they have a great defense and great coaches, just like we have over here," said LSU safety Brandon Taylor said. "We'll see who has the best defense at the end of the day."

The almost identical comparisons don't end with the defense.

Both teams' offenses are built around power running games, protecting the football and only taking chances when necessary.

Tide tailback Trent Richardson is a leading Heisman Trophy candidate who comes in with 989 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. His backup is Eddie Lacy, a Dutchtown product who is the heir apparent assuming Richardson departs for the NFL after this season.

Trent Richardson
But the focal point for both teams this week is Richardson.

"When he hits the hole, he's not a side-to-side guy, he's north-to-south," LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. "It's our job to meet him there, not just one guy, but everybody pursuing the ball."

The Tigers counter with a three- and perhaps four-headed backfield, anchored by Spencer Ware (512 yards, 6 TD). Backup quarterback Jordan Jefferson also figures to play a more prominent role if Alabama's defense makes running the ball too much of a chore for the LSU offense.

That thrusts the quarterbacks – LSU's Jarrett Lee and Jefferson and Alabama's A.J. McCarron – squarely into the spotlight.

Lee is the SEC's leader in pass efficiency (157.4), and although the Tigers have attempted fewer passes than any SEC team, they rank second with 16 touchdowns and have thrown the fewest interceptions (1).

With defenses geared toward taking away the run, all three quarterbacks have to be poised to make plays and carry the offense for spurts.

That also means Lee has another chance to add a chapter to his comeback story.

Jarrett Lee
Three years after a redshirt freshman season when he threw 16 picks and had every reason to go into a shell and never come out, Lee has thrown for 1,250 yards and 13 scores. He isn't asked to carry the offense and has personified the term "game manager" for an offensive coaching staff that endured its own tumult before the season began.

Asked if the tag game manager bothered him, Lee – in typical style – said not at all.

"It just means we're winning and that's what we want to do," he said.

Jefferson's season is a comeback in progress. After missing the first four games with a very public suspension, the senior has eased back in and enters this game after rifling his best pass of the season – a 46-yard touchdown bomb to Rueben Randle that helped LSU open up a 21-3 halftime lead against Auburn.

With the two quarterbacks falling a nice rhythm, Randle has emerged as one of the SEC's top receivers with 33 receptions for 638 yards and seven TDs.

Nick Saban
"Their quarterbacks are both playing really well," Saban said. "The big difference is Jarrett Lee is playing a lot more, but Jordan Jefferson has complemented him extremely well with a little bit different style. Having two quarterbacks requires more preparation for them. But they've run the ball well and they've taken advantage when teams have focused on the run because the quarterback is playing so well."

Because LSU's two QBs are so experienced, not even Alabama's tenacious defense will surprise them.

The Tide might blitz and shift around before the snap and put more pressure on Lee and Jefferson than they've seen all season. With small passing windows that will snap shut quicker than usual, the idea will be to get rid of the ball quickly and let playmakers make their plays. And there are certain expectations.

"They're a talented defense and sometimes they're going to get through and you're going to get hit," Lee said with a wan smile. "As a quarterback, you have to be ready for that."

Ready for anything, really.

But also ready to have fun and soak in whatever happens today.

From the time the Tigers started practice early in the week, they've been focused. But you also got the sense that Miles and his coaches were going to make sure there was time to stop and savor this week.

Not with anything forfeited, though, as far as preparation. And Miles vowed the Tigers wouldn't be emotionally spent before they ever took the field.

T-Bob Hebert
"This team commits itself to improving every day at practice and that doesn't change," Hebert said.

"This isn't a young inexperienced team that's going to get so hyped up or overzealous and waste our energy before a game. We've been in big games before. Probably never one this big, but we know how to approach games like this and stay calm and focused and work as hard as we can."

That word – focus – was a common, recurring thread among the Tigers all week long.

With all the hoopla that has engulfed this game, what isn't lost on LSU is what it means in the grand scheme of this season.

"We just focus on one goal," Randle said. "We want to get to the national championship and don't want to let anything get in the way."

The biggest hurdle arrives Saturday. Are you ready?

ANALYSIS: #1 LSU at #2 Alabama

WHO HAS THE EDGE: LSU at Alabama

VIDEO: LSU offense vs. Alabama

VIDEO: LSU defense vs. Alabama

VIDEO: LSU special teams vs. Alabama


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