But before the annual SEC West rivalry showdown begins, TSD is providing scouting reports on both sides of the ball for Nick Saban’s troops.
Below is an examination of the Crimson Tide offense under first-year coordinator Lane Kiffin. Included is a projected starting lineup, injury updates and other statistical/schematic tidbits.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
RB: T.J. Yeldon (Jr., 6-2, 221)
WR (X): Amari Cooper (Jr., 6-1, 210)
WR (Z): DeAndrew White (Sr., 6-0, 192)
H-back: Christion Jones (Sr., 5-11, 187)
TE: Brian Vogler (Sr., 6-7, 263)
LT: Cameron Robinson (Fr., 6-6, 323)
LG: Arie Kouandjio (Sr., 6-5, 315)
C: Ryan Kelly (Jr., 6-5, 296)
RG: Leon Brown (Sr., 6-6, 320)
RT: Austin Shepherd (Sr., 6-5, 320)
Key Backups: RB Derrick Henry (So., 6-3, 241), TE O.J. Howard (So., 6-6, 240), FB Jalston Fowler (Sr., 6-1, 248), OL Bradley Bozeman (R-Fr., 6-5, 325)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- The most important thing to note about this Alabama offense is that they move the chains better than just about anybody in the country. It’s been pretty amazing but, despite losing long-term starter A.J. McCarron at quarterback, the Tide has converted 55.7% of the time on third down this season, ranking second in the nation and not far behind national leader Georgia Tech. And they’re largely doing it through the air. Blake Sims and that ‘Bama offense have picked up 102 first downs through the air to only 87 on the ground. Alabama may be known as a running team first traditionally, but this 2014 unit is getting it done through the air when it matters most – on third down.
- Running back T.J. Yeldon (foot) is probable to play in the ballgame, and he’s been a massive thorn in LSU’s side already in his two years on campus in Tuscaloosa. In 2012, his true freshman season, Yeldon went for 76 rushing yards and caught the game-winning 28-yard swing pass in Tiger Stadium. In 2013 Yeldon gashed LSU for 133 yards and two touchdowns rushing in Bryant-Denny Stadium. This season he is the Tide’s leading rusher with 618 yards and five touchdowns, but sophomore Derrick Henry is equally capable (and bigger), with 530 yards and four scores. Both average just north of five yards per carry.
- Left tackle Cam Robinson (high ankle sprain) is less likely to play but, as Nick Saban said Wednesday, he is improving in practice and Robinson hasn’t yet been ruled out. The West Monroe product has delivered on all the recruiting hype, starting on the blindside from day one. If he does go, expect LSU to throw a heavy dose of speed merchant Danielle Hunter at Robinson to test that ankle to the maximum. If he doesn’t, the Tide have multiple options, including sliding right tackle Austin Shepherd over to the left side. Either way it’s shaping up to be a big game for the LSU bookend tandem of Hunter and Jermauria Rasco.
- Little embarrassed it took four bullet points to get here, but let’s talk Amari Cooper. The junior is almost certainly the best receiver in the country. He’s hauled in 71 balls this season (through eight games) for 1,132 yards and nine touchdowns. Cooper also averages 15.9 yards per catch, having tested defenses vertically and with runs after the catch from quick screens. Tre’Davious White may draw the assignment for LSU, but the Tigers are almost certainly going to provide safety help over the top and occasionally throw a little Rashard Robinson, a few inches taller than White, on Cooper.
- Finally, it’s been widely discussed that Sims is a “running quarterback.” Well, he certainly doesn’t fit that description in my book . . . or by the numbers. Sims has tossed 15 touchdowns to only three interceptions and has gone over 225 yards passing in six of Alabama’s eight games. The Tide’s last two games, he’s thrown for a combined 554 yards and five scores against no picks. The point: Sims is a pass-first guy in the pocket and this will be one of the better tests yet of LSU’s secondary, even if the majority of the targets go to one guy (Cooper).