Apparently, there’s a football game this weekend? Alabama and LSU are college football’s consensus two best teams, if you’re not using nonsense math. They meet at 8:00 on CBS. The winner will almost undoubtedly play for the BCS Title. There’s a small chance the pure awesomeness on display might cause Gary Danielson to spontaneously combust. Since even the other top ten SEC matchup is an afterthought, we’ll use our weekly preview space to focus on this one game to rule them all.
Coaching Matchup: Les Miles recruits. He assembles effective coaching staffs. He’s self-effacing and excellent with the media. He’s everything you’d want from a football coach at a major SEC program. He’s not Nick Saban. Both coaches assemble impressive arrays of talent, Saban gets the most from it. Miles is deceptively smart, but his reputations for bizarreness and terrible clock management are not unfounded. Saban is blunt, rational and cold. You would want Miles to win an election. You would want Saban to perform your neuro-surgery. Both are successful, that does not mean they are comparable.
When Alabama is on Defense: Let’s acknowledge the Crimson Tide defense for what it is, an NFL defense playing college football. This team is imposing, fast and aggressive while staying disciplined. They are exceedingly well coached. They have one of college footballs’ best secondaries and the best front seven. They start players who will be playing on Sunday at nearly every position.
On an every down basis, Alabama has the most suffocating defense in college football. Alabama has allowed 3.2 yards per play against FBS teams. Michigan State (at 3.9) is the only other team under four. They are first in the nation at rushing defense, allowing just 1.67 yards per carry (1.48 in SEC). They are first in the nation at passing defense, allowing just 4.5 yards per attempt.
The Tigers must hit Alabama early, before they decipher the game-plan and end it. The Crimson Tide can be vulnerable in the first quarter. Once they adjust, they castrate offenses. In five SEC games, Alabama has allowed a combined 10 points from the final three quarters. In the last four games, they have not allowed a second-half point.
LSU must also win this through the air. Jarrett Lee has been efficient, because he’s asked to do very little. The Tigers will struggle running against Alabama. It will be up to Lee to step forward and make plays on obvious passing downs. The Tigers need to stretch Alabama with quick horizontal passes and vertical shots downfield. Lee must execute. Lee’s numbers have dropped this season against teams that mask coverages and blitz packages. Alabama does that as well as any team.
When LSU is on Defense: The Tigers – a mere top five or ten at any statistical category – aren’t quite the numerical dynamo Alabama is (though some of that might be down to the schedule). However, they swear with ridiculous speed and make plays. It starts with their secondary, the nation’s best man to man coverage unit. Morris Claibourne is college football’s best cover corner. He might not be the best player in his own unit. The security at the back offers John Chavis the freedom to dial up the pressure and inflict havoc up front.
The secondary will be crucial here. Alabama has serviceable receivers. Maze is having a nice year. They don’t, however, have an explosive deep threat to bust through LSU’s coverage. Confident about their coverage, LSU will pressure McCarron and load the box with eight or nine men to slow down Trent Richardson.
Alabama does not need to run over LSU, but they need to run. Their line kept the ball moving against two excellent run defenses, Penn State and Florida. They must do so here as well. Look for Alabama to use misdirection, screens, whatever it takes to get Trent Richardson the ball in space. Having the ability to go both by people and through them, he’s lethal with a head of steam. If Richardson wants to pass Luck in the Heisman race, this is his opportunity.
Dark Side: Show me the steak. Don’t show me the slaughterhouse. Everything brilliant comes at a cost. The WSJ points out that this is The Super Bowl of Oversigning. Alabama has signed 137 players over the past five years and LSU 126. LSU grad Jere Longman brings up the fact that his alma-mater is struggling after losing $50 million in state funding and has dropped 1/10 of its faculty. But, hey, how bout that Tiger recruiting lounge!
Turnovers: Turnovers might be pivotal in this game. Not committing them has been pivotal for both teams. LSU leads the nation, having committed just three all season. The teams combined committed one turnover the entire month of October.
Prediction: Finding a flaw with either is splitting hairs. It’s difficult to justify either losing. Alabama’s defense deadens explosive offenses. LSU’s is anything but. Alabama is better equipped to challenge LSU’s defense with an overpowering line and Trent Richardson, the best player on the field. The Tigers will be exceptionally well prepared, but Saban has the edge making and executing mid-game adjustments. Alabama wins in front of the home faithful and covers, 21-13.
Previously: A Q&A With Former Tigers’ Quarterback Josh Booty
[Photos via Getty]