Regardless of what either team’s record was heading into Saturday’s showdown, an overwhelming majority of the LSU fan base pegged this as the game of the year.
And why? Simply because “Little Nicky” was making his return to Baton Rouge.
The fact that Alabama is No. 1 in the country and that a win by the Tigers gives them at least a slim chance to defend their league title does not carry nearly as much significance for the purple and gold nation as it should.
After all, this game is about LSU and Alabama right? It’s not about Nick Saban versus Les Miles.
The storylines are there and people will be more fired up for a day game in Tiger Stadium than ever before.
But instead of turning all of their energy and emotion towards Saban it would be wise to focus on the 11 players that will be playing between the lines.
Alabama is a good football team. Is it the best team in the country though? Not from this vantage point.
Still, the Crimson Tide is very sound on both sides of the ball and is playing much better and more consistent than LSU is at this stage of the game.
After two disturbing losses where Florida and Georgia both tacked on 50-plus points on the scoreboard, LSU can redeem itself with a win over top-ranked Alabama or Nick Saban if that’s the more popular theme.
The Tigers would be favored in their next three contests and if they took care of business would finish the season at 10-2, which would be better than most predicted considering that 9-3 seemed to be the most popular call when everyone looked into their crystal ball back at the start of fall camp.
This game is huge and it may make or break the season for the Tigers, but not because of the Saban factor.
A win gets them going in the right direction whereas a loss will it make difficult for this team to defeat both Ole Miss and Arkansas.
A win and the Tigers could find themselves still in the hunt for the Sugar Bowl or one of the Florida bowls.
While a loss would have the Tigers staring at a Cotton Bowl berth at best with a trip to the Peach Bowl also in the picture.
A win would silence those critics that have been waiting for the program to slide since Saban left just so they could say ‘I told you so’.
However, a loss and then the talk would be as loud as ever.
Any way you slice it, this game is huge!
A Look at Bama’s Offense
A Nick Saban team is always going to place an emphasis on the ground game and this year is no exception.
The Crimson Tide leads the league at 205 yards a game and averages 5 yards a pop led by Glen Coffee (136-894-7), Mark Ingram (94-533-8) and Roy Upchurch (56-335-4).
Ingram has a slightly bruised knee but Saban said he expected him to play.
Bama’s offensive line has remained healthy most of the season and is one of the best in the conference led by All-America candidate Andre Smith at left tackle.
The line has given up 13 sacks which puts Bama at the middle of the pack in the SEC, and putting pressure on John Parker Wilson will be essential if LSU is going to win.
Wilson has come up big on the road this year and is completing 69 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions in four contests away from Bryant-Denny Stadium.
If LSU can stop the running game and force Bama into predictable passing situations then Wilson (129-204-1,412-4, 8 TDs) is not nearly as effective. The Crimson Tide is 11th in the conference with 163 yards passing a game, but no team has been able to take away the run yet.
When the Bulldogs loaded up the box Wilson made them pay by completing 13-of-16 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown.
Wilson’s top target is Julio Jones, who leads the team and is seventh in the league in several categories.
Jones has 33 catches for 506 yards and four touchdowns, but just as important is his blocking on the perimeter. Nick Walker (23-232-2) causes all kind of problems for linebackers trying to cover the big tight end and that has been an issue for LSU this season.
A Look at Bama’s Defense
While Bama’s offense starts and ends with the running game the same can be said of the Bama “D”.
Alabama is second in the nation, giving up only 65 yards a game, and has allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns in the country. Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno had a 2-yard scoring run and that is the only rushing touchdown the Crimson Tide has allowed over the last 40 quarters.
In addition to its run defense, Bama is ranked in the top 20 nationally in three other defensive categories checking in at No. 4 in total defense (251.4), No. 6 at scoring defense (12.22), and No. 14 at pass efficiency defense (101.40).
Saban’s troops are also tied for No. 1 in the land in non-offensive touchdowns as they’ve returned three interceptions for scores, and returned a punt, a blocked punt and a fumble for six points.
The Tigers may catch a break if gigantic nose guard Terrance Cody can’t go. Although Saban says he will be ready there is a lot of talk that the headman is merely sending up a smokescreen.
Bama’s odd-man front will be something that LSU hasn’t dealt with a lot and stopping Brandon Deaderick (21 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4.5 TFLs) and Bobby Greenwood (20 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3.5 TFLs) will be a chore for LSU’s o-line.
The linebackers are fast and physical in Rolando McClain (58 tackles, 5.5 TFLs) and Brandon Fanney (40 tackles, 7 TFLs).
Strong safety Justin Woodall (30 tackles) leads the club and is second in the SEC with four picks, while Rashad Johnson (2 INTs) is tied for the team lead with 58 tackles from his free safety spot.
A Look at Bama’s Special Teams
The Tiffin name is not quite as common at Alabama as the Colquitt name is at Tennessee, but it’s still a household name. Leigh is the newest kid on the block and he’s one of the best kickers in the SEC (13-18 FGs).
Directional punting should be the theme of the day for LSU because Javier Arenas has already returned one punt 87 yards for a score.
Tiger Stadium will be electric on Saturday but the key is how long do the fans maintain that level of excitement? Alabama is a quick starter but if LSU can somehow get on the scoreboard first then that place would go crazy.
LSU must get something going early or the crowd will take that ‘here we go again approach’. Some said that the Georgia atmosphere was electric but I didn’t feel it. This time there is no excuse.
There are a lot of things that LSU needs to do to win this one, but three in particular stand out on offense.
First and foremost, LSU can’t give Alabama an easy touchdown off a turnover.
Second, The Tigers must run the ball with the same kind of authority they showed against Georgia.
Finally, it would be easy to say that Jarrett Lee can’t throw a pick-six, but that is already covered. The redshirt freshman needs to just stay calm and not force the issue. Take what the defense gives you and move the chains.
Defensively, the Tigers better blitz JPW and hit him hard and often.
Playing the gaps and making tackles with the front seven is crucial and maybe just maybe we’ll see the corners play some press-coverage where they bump the receivers off the line.
LSU should be able to run the ball and Lee will play better in the big game.
The Tigers will also blitz more and play better in the front seven.
But Bama will score an easy touchdown on the defensive side of the ball and Julio Jones will torch the corners for at least one long one.
Alabama 30, LSU 17