Tomorrow I'll take a look at the Alabama defense under Kirby Smart, but today it's time to turn our attention to Doug Nussmeier's offense, spearheaded by senior signal caller A.J. McCarron.
Publisher's Note: In addition to TSD's standard ‘Scouting Report' format for LSU's conference opponents, the editions for Alabama week will also include quotes from the Tiger players on the sides of the ball they'll be facing.
PROJECTED ALABAMA STARTING OFFENSE
QB: AJ McCarron (6-4, 214, Sr.)
HB: T.J. Yeldon (6-2, 218, So.)
H-back: Christion Jones (5-11, 185, Jr.)
TE: Brian Vogler (6-7, 260, Jr.)
WR (X): DeAndrew White (6-0, 190, Jr.)
WR (Z): Kevin Norwood (6-2, 195, Sr.)
LT: Cyrus Kouandjio (6-6, 310, Jr.)
LG: Arie Kouandjio (6-5, 315, Jr.)
C: Ryan Kelly (6-5, 290, So.)
RG: Anthony Steen (6-3, 309, Sr.)
RT: Austin Shepherd (6-5, 315, Jr.)
Notable Backups: WR Amari Cooper (6-1, 202, So.); TE/H-back Jalston Fowler (6-1, 250, Jr.); RB Kenyon Drake (6-1, 201, So.); TE O.J. Howard (6-6, 237, Fr.); LG Kellen Williams (6-3, 302, Sr.)
In year two under offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, Alabama has been solid but not spectacular, operating efficiently and answering the bell in the only game where they were tested – Texas A&M.
The Crimson Tide have rushed the ball for 210.8 yards per game and 19 touchdowns (26th in the NCAA, fifth in the SEC) while passing for an average of 252.0 yards and 18 total touchdowns (51st, eighth). At 462.8 total yards per game, ‘Bama ranks 35th overall and sixth in the conference. None of these numbers, in the high-powered SEC of 2013, will turn many heads, but Alabama has gotten it done with consistency. Removing the Virginia Tech opener and a sleepy game versus Colorado State, here are the crimson and cream total yardage numbers this season: 568 (at Texas A&M), 434 (Ole Miss), 477 (Georgia State), 668 (at Kentucky), 532 (Arkansas) and 479 (Tennessee).
Alabama's offense also excels on third down. Though the Tide aren't quite in LSU territory – the Tigers rank second in the country, converting 57.6% of the time, ‘Bama is among the nation's best with a 50.5% conversion mark. That's good enough for 15th in the NCAA, third in the SEC. Given the success both offenses have had thus far on third down, it would be surprising if either defense is able to get off the field more than half the time on Saturday.
Nussmeier's troops have taken care of the ball, by and large, as Alabama sports a plus-five turnover margin (with 12 takeaways to seven giveaways, including four fumbles lost and three picks) and found the end zone frequently in the red zone, with 27 scores (22 touchdowns) on 32 trips inside the opposing 20.
Quarterback AJ McCarron is the engine that makes the Alabama offense go. In the past the Tide have been able to lean on talented backs and allow the man under center to merely manage the game. McCarron still manages the game, but, as he's shown repeatedly in big contests, he's capable of winning the game with his arm and sound decision-making.
He's completing 69.4% of his passes for a total of 1,862 yards, 16 touchdowns and three interceptions. McCarron, 12.52 yards per completion, doesn't attack down the field quite as regularly as Zach Mettenberger, 16.44 yards per completion, but he does complete balls at a higher clip, making him a dangerous passer on short-to-intermediate routes.
Surrounding McCarron are a plethora of talented skill players, including running backs T.J. Yeldon (729 yards, 10 TDs, 6.3 yards per carry) and Kenyan Drake (491 yards, 7 TDs, 7.8 yards per carry) as well as pass-catchers Christion Jones (27 grabs for 281 yards, 2 TDs), Kevin Norwood (23 catches for 348 yards, 3 TDs), DeAndrew White (22 catches for 329 yards, 3 TDs) and Amari Cooper (20 grabs for 304 yards, 2 TDs). True freshman tight end O.J. Howard (10 catches for 173 yards, 1 TD) can also be a factor in the passing game.
Up front the Tide are again big, though they haven't been quite as dominant as recent Alabama O-Line editions. The Kouandjio brothers have started a combined 30 straight games, but that's about where the experience ends, at least when looking at who played prior to this season. Next in line is right tackle Austin Shepherd, who has eight career starts (all in 2013).
Alabama has the ability to post points and keep the ball away from LSU in Saturday night's SEC West showdown, but this isn't the most explosive version of the Tide offense the Tigers have seen recently. Still, McCarron makes up for a lot of small areas of concern and will test greatly an LSU secondary that is still trying to gel.
WHAT LSU DEFENDERS ARE SAYING
"Their offensive line is always big and physical, and I feel like it's the same this year and hasn't changed much. We're definitely ready for a physical fight, and we're looking forward to it, especially the defensive line and linebackers. The front seven is ready to roll."
Welter on the preferred ‘Bama run scheme …
"I guess you can say, when people have like seven in the box, they're going to run the zone play because they get man on a man, and their back's good enough to make anybody miss then they're off to the races. I think it's man on man for them. I feel like their offensive line is big and physical, and they can double-up to the next level and get the running back on a safety. I think they do a good job of that."
Welter on game-planning for McCarron …
"He's definitely good at hitting spots. He's got some big-time receivers and targets to hit. Pretty much every time they need a play on third-and-long, he seems to follow through. We definitely have to be ready for him. You know he's going to bring his A-game. He's been tested in big games, year after year. This will just be another one for him, so we might have to bring some pressure and do something to keep him off-balance. It'll definitely be a challenge."
Welter on similarities to Georgia's offense …
"Yeah, with the big running back. I feel like Georgia ran a good bit of zone also. Their offensive lines may be pretty similar, but ‘Bama's always had a little bit bigger offensive line, I feel … (When asked a follow-up about how LSU is more ready to stop that type of attack) We've played in a lot more games. We just have a lot more experience under our belt as this defense, this year playing with each other. I feel like in that big game we had against Florida, if we can carry that over then we'll be all right."
CB Jalen Mills on playing smart, loose …
"The game is going to come down until the fourth quarter. We know that. Once you try to press or something, you end up making a mistake most of the time. We just need to play our technique, put our bodies in the right position and plays are going to come."
Mills on what makes McCarron great …
"That guy, he's great in their system. You can tell he knows the playbook in and out. He knows our checks. Everything he does is timely, and he puts the ball in the right place. We just have to go in and try to disrupt him from that timing or maybe get him a bit uneasy or unbalanced in his play-calling."
Mills on if it'll be a shootout …
"You never know. Things happen in football games. I mean weird, crazy things. This is a big rivalry. I think this is probably one of the biggest rivalries in college football. It's going to get crazy in Tuscaloosa."
Give us your take on Alabama's offense