It is pretty obvious what LSU’s defensive plan should be for its game against Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night (7 p.m. Central/CBS).
Wide receiver Calvin Ridley is the only Crimson Tide player who has caught more than 12 passes in the first eight games. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has done more damage as a runner than as a passer during his one-plus seasons.
So, the Tigers need to shut down the Alabama running game – forcing the Tide to go to the air. Undoubtedly, such an accomplishment is easier said than done.
Alabama’s top two backs – Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough – have combined for nearly 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing. Then, there is Hurts, who has run for almost 600 yards and six touchdowns.
“We need to be gap sound and know where are fits are supposed to be against Alabama,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “You have to stay at home and the linebackers must diagnose the play. The biggest thing is to make tackles.”
Hurts is the wild card when it comes to the Crimson Tide ground game. He was the difference in last season’s 10-0 Alabama victory against LSU in Tiger Stadium.
“Jalen Hurts is a running back who can throw the ball,” sophomore linebacker Devin White said. “If a play breaks down, he is athletic and can make a play. Our athletes have to be better. You just have to be physical and play in the trenches with them. It’s the same offense with some new people in there.”
As is normally the case, the Crimson Tide offensive line is a strong point. There are two veterans in fifth-year senior center Bradley Bozeman and fourth-year junior left guard Ross Pierschbacher. Then, there is the one outstanding underclassman in sophomore left tackle Jonah Williams.
“Their offensive line is very well coached,” senior defensive end Christian LaCouture said. “They are big up and down the line. They don’t usually make a lot of errors. They understand what they are supposed to do and their technique is superb.”
Fast facts about LSU
1. The Tigers are playing the No.1-ranked team in the country for the 16th time. LSU has a 2-12-1 record in those games with victories against Florida in 1997 and against Ohio State in the 2007 national title contest. The Tigers are 0-5 against top-ranked Alabama teams – losing in 1979, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2016. The first three games were all one-possession defeats.
2. For the 14th time in school history, LSU will be facing one of its former head coaches. All those games have been against two coaches – Paul Dietzel at South Carolina and Nick Saban at Alabama. The Tigers beat Dietzel’s teams in 1966 and 1973. LSU has a 3-8 record against Saban since he took over the Crimson Tide program.
3. Danny Etling passed for 200 yards and Derrius Guice ran for 276 yards against Ole Miss two weeks. There were only four other occasions where the Tigers had a quarterback throw for 200 yards and a running back rush for 200 yards – Herb Tyler (214) and Kevin Faulk (201) against Alabama in 1998, Brandon Harris (261) and Leonard Fournette (212) against Texas Tech in 2015, Etling (204) and Fournette (284) against Ole Miss in 2016 and Etling (324) and Guice (285) against Texas A&M in 2016.
4. Both Guice and Darrel Williams had 100-yard rushing games against Ole Miss. Guice had 276 yards and Williams picked up 103 yards. Those two backs also broke the 100-yard mark against Missouri last season – 163 yards for Guice and 130 yards for Williams. Guice and Williams are the only two LSU backs who had 100-yard rushing games against two Southeastern Conference opponents.
5. Etling has made 18 consecutive starts at quarterback. Since 1986, only three Tigers quarterbacks have made more straight starts – Tyler (39), Tommy Hodson (26), Zach Mettenberger (25) and Hodson (20). Etling is averaging 188 passing yards per game in his LSU career – surpassed only by Hodson (203.1) and Josh Booty (197.5).
6. Guice needs 43 yards to move ahead of Joe Addai into sixth place on the school’s all-time rushing list. Guice is 226 yards behind Harvey Williams, who has the fifth most rushing yardage. With his next sack, Arden Key will move into third place on LSU’s all-time rankings. Key, who has 20½ sacks, is one-half sack behind Gabe Northern.
Fast facts about Alabama
1. The Crimson Tide has forced a turnover in 35 consecutive games. Mack Wilson’s fourth-quarter interception against Tennessee kept the streak alive two weeks ago. During this stretch, Alabama has come up with 66 takeaways – 44 interceptions and 22 fumble recoveries. The Tide scored touchdowns on 16 of those turnovers. The last time Alabama didn’t force a turnover occurred in its 43-37 loss to Ole Miss in 2015.
2. The Crimson Tide’s margin of victory has been less than 17 points in just one game this season. Alabama beat Texas A&M 27-19 in College Station last month. Only the Aggies and Colorado State (23) have scored more than ten points against the Tide this year. Alabama has scored fewer than 40 points on only two occasions – 24 against Florida State and 27 against Texas A&M.
3. For the 99th week, the Crimson Tide is the No. 1 team in the country in the Associated Press poll. Only two other schools have been the No. 1 team for more weeks – Ohio State (105) and Oklahoma (101). Alabama has played 82 games as the No. 1 team with a record of 71-11. Saban has been the coach for 58 of those 82 games. Under Saban, the Tide has a 52-6 record as the top-ranked team.
4. After scoring 25 non-offensive touchdowns in the past two seasons, Alabama has one such score in 2017 – a pass interception return by Levi Wallace against Ole Miss. Since Saban became coach in 2007, the Crimson Tide has 60 non-offensive touchdowns.
5. Although just a sophomore, Hurts is fourth on the school rankings for touchdown responsibility. Hurts has accounted for 51 touchdowns – 32 passing and 19 rushing. Harry Gilmer is third on the list with 52 touchdowns. The school leader is AJ McCarron, who was responsible for 80 touchdowns in his career. Hurts is No. 7 on the school rankings for passing touchdowns (32) and total offense (5,529 yards).
6. Damien Harris is averaging 6.9 yards per carry during his career – 273 attempts for 1,891 yards. Among Alabama backs with at least 200 carries, only Wilbur Jackson has a higher yards-per-carry average. Jackson, who played from 1971-73, averaged 7.2 yards per carry – 212 attempts for 1,529 yards.
Since LSU is a three-touchdown underdog, the atmosphere surrounding this game against Alabama does not seem to be similar to others in recent years. The situation is the same for the Tigers – a victory against the Tide will put them on the path to the SEC West championship. LSU will need some help to pull the upset. First, the Tigers defense must find a way to prevent Alabama from scoring touchdowns – limit the Tide offense to field goals. Then, the defense and special teams must create short fields for the LSU offense. So, the Tigers must force a significant number of turnovers to get an unexpected victory. Being No. 2 in the first CFP standings will provide extra motivation along with a partisan crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Score: Alabama 30, LSU 12
Here are the statistical comparisons between LSU and Alabama.
LSU points per game: 27.4
Alabama points allowed per game: 9.8
LSU rushing yards per game: 216.2
Alabama rushing yards allowed per game: 66.4
LSU passing yards per game: 201.5
Alabama passing yards allowed per game: 169.6
LSU pass completion rate: 59 percent
Alabama pass completion rate allowed: 55 percent
LSU total yards per game: 417.8
Alabama total yards allowed per game: 236.0
LSU turnovers per game: 0.8
Alabama turnovers forced per game: 1.9
LSU sacks allowed per game: 1.9
Alabama sacks per game: 2.9
LSU third-down conversion rate: 36 percent
Alabama third-down conversion rate allowed: 25 percent
Alabama points per game: 43.0
LSU points allowed per game: 20.0
Alabama rushing yards per game: 298.8
LSU rushing yards allowed per game: 145.8
Alabama passing yards per game: 201.0
LSU passing yards allowed per game: 173.5
Alabama pass completion rate: 64 percent
LSU pass completion rate allowed: 54 percent
Alabama total yards per game: 499.8
LSU total yards allowed per game: 319.2
Alabama turnovers per game: 0.6
LSU turnovers forced per game: 1.1
Alabama sacks allowed per game: 1.4
LSU sacks per game: 3.3
Alabama third-down conversion rate: 43 percent
LSU third-down conversion rate allowed: 35 percent
Here are the individual statistical leaders for LSU and Alabama.
LSU: Derrius Guice – 124 carries, 711 yards, 6 touchdowns
Alabama: Damien Harris – 81 carries, 697 yards, 10 touchdowns
LSU: Danny Etling: 155 attempts, 93 completions, 60 percent, 1,452 yards, 9 touchdowns, 1 interception
Alabama: Jalen Hurts: 151 attempts, 95 completions, 63 percent, 1,223 yards, 9 touchdowns, 1 interception
LSU: DJ Chark: 22 catches, 535 yards
Alabama: Calvin Ridley: 41 catches, 523 yards, 2 touchdowns
LSU: Devin White – 80
Alabama: Ronnie Harrison – 44
LSU: Devin White – 7½
Alabama: Raekwon Davis, Rashaan Evans – 6
LSU: Greg Gilmore, Christian LaCouture – 4½
Alabama: Raekwon Davis – 5½
LSU: Christian LaCouture, Corey Thompson – 3
Alabama: Isaiah Buggs – 6
LSU: Greedy Williams – 3
Alabama: Levi Wallace, Mack Wilson – 3
LSU: Greedy Williams – 7
Alabama: Levi Wallace – 9
LSU: DJ Chark – 11 punt returns, 186 yards, 2 touchdowns; Clyde Edwards-Helaire – 9 kickoff returns, 186 yards
Alabama: Henry Ruggs – 8 kickoff returns, 155 yards; 8 punt returns, 46 yards
LSU: Zach Von Rosenberg – 17 punts, 41.9-yard average
Alabama: JK Scott – 24 punts, 39.4-yard average
LSU: Connor Culp – 8-of-9 on field goals, 13-of-13 on extra points
Alabama: Andy Pappanastos – 13-of-16 on field goals, 42-of-42 on extra points