Who: Alabama Crimson Tide vs LSU Tigers
Where: Superdome (New Orleans, Louisiana)
When: Monday, Jan 9th at 8:30 PM EST
Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1 overall, 7-1 in SEC)
Most impressive victory: 38-14 vs Arkansas (Sept 24th)
Only loss: 9-6 vs LSU (Nov 5th)
Notable alumni: Bear Bryant, Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Joe Namath, Ozzie Newsome, Bart Starr, Derrick Thomas
As expected, the heart and soul of this Alabama team has been it's defense and Trent Richardson. The defense leads in the Nation in Scoring Defense (8.8 ppg), Rushing Defense (74.92 ypg), Passing Defense (116.3 ypg) and Total Defense (191.3 ypg). Alabama is the only team in the Nation that has held it's opponents under 1000 yards rushing for the entire year (they are at 899 coming into this game). As far as Trent Richardson goes, he was just about everything Bama needed him to be and finished up third in the Heisman voting behind RG3 and Andrew Luck.
When Bama has the ball they want to establish the run and will run around 60% of the time. Richardson has been a workhorse as he's accounted for 56% of Bama's rushes, 60% of their rushing yards and was also tied for second most receptions on the team. When Bama played LSU, Richardson was held to his second lowest ypc of the year but did add 80 yards in receiving. It's clear that somebody besides Richardson needs to step up in this game to take some of the burden off of him and to free him up a little bit.
As the #1 receiver, Marquis Maze had a nice year (56 rec, 627 yds) but actually had two less TDs then he had last year as the #2 receiver option behind Julio Jones. Brad Smelley is a nice option to have a TE (27 rec, 4 TD) but Bama really needs for Darius Hanks, Kenny Bell or one of the other receivers to make some plays against the Tigers defense. When Bama played LSU, Maze had six receptions and the only other receiver to make a catch was Hanks (he only had two).
It will be very interesting to see how close to the vest Alabama plays this game. The last game was a game of field position with Bama missing four FGs (all four were from 40+ yards with two of them being 50+ yard attempts). Does Bama open up the offense more and try to get some shots like Georgia had in the first half of their game (where Georgia dropped two TD passes) or do they play another conservative game and hope to be more effective moving the football inside the red zone. It will be an interesting chess match.
LSU Tigers (13-0 overall, 8-0 in SEC)
Most impressive victory: Take your pick
Worst loss: None
Notable alumni: Dr James Andrews, James Carville, Hubert Humphrey, Pete Maravich, Shaquille O'Neal, Y.A. Tittle
Despite having one of his most talented rosters to date, this has been one of the better coaching jobs Les Miles has done. Of course, having John Chavis as your DC doesn't hurt. Miles has dealt with his starting QB getting suspended and his newly hired OC being diagnosed with Parkinson's and having to move to a lesser position. And both of those things happened right before the season as LSU was game planning for the high powered offense of the Oregon Ducks.
LSU really had the deck stacked against them from a schedule standpoint. They started out with Oregon (a National Championship contender coming off a BCS NCG loss), had to play West Virginia on the road, had to play Alabama on the road and also had a game against Arkansas (who was ranked #3 at time of game) as well as playing the rest of the SEC West. Despite going 12-0 in the regular season they still had to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship to get to the National Championship Game to play a team they have already beaten once this year.
With Jordan Jefferson at QB, the Tigers will be a team that will pound the rock right at you on offense and look for it's play-makers to capitalize on errors in other aspects of the game. In the last three SEC games of the year, LSU gained 846 yards on the ground versus 343 in the air. On defense and Special Teams they've forced 17 fumbles (gaining 12 of those), intercepted 18 passes and scored 9 TDs (3 on kick/punt returns). LSU is an opportunistic team that capitalizes on it's opponents errors and minimizes their own. LSU has only turned the ball over 8 times all year (that's the least in the Nation). Two of those turnovers were interceptions of Jarrett Lee by Alabama. Don't expect LSU to give Alabama that same opportunity in this game. I expect for there to be a steady diet of Jordan Jefferson unless something happens and the game gets out of hand (which I don't see happening).
Look for LSU to lean on their defense and Special Teams to put them in position to win this game. They will be looking at making a big play to turn the tide of this game but not with their offense. On offense they will play it conservatively and play for field position like they did in the previous outing and they will attempt to force Alabama's hand. If you are looking for one guy to make an impact for LSU that didn't in the last game watch for 240 pound Freshman RB Kenny Hilliard. He's had over 60% of his carries for the season in the last three games and has at least one TD in all of the last four games. He only had two carries in the game against Alabama but has really emerged since that game. Another RB to keep an eye on is soph play-maker Alfred Blue. Against Bama, Blue didn't have any carries. In the three games since then (he did not play against Arkansas) he's averaging 13 ypc with 3 TDs. LSU is going to give all of their backs a try, it's going to be strength versus strength in the trenches.
Kevin: Much to the chagrin of some fans this will be another smash mouth defensive oriented field position battle to the death. I really like this Alabama team but I like the play-makers that LSU has better. Where Alabama has Trent Richardson, LSU has more guys who can make plays in different aspects of the game. I look for LSU to win this game but not necessarily because of their offense.
LSU 16 Alabama 10
Jay: Last time around, I picked LSU to win, and then watched in anguish as that prediction came true. But when you revisit that game (as I have a number of times since), you see Alabama outplaying LSU in every facet of the game, except special teams, during regulation. Yet seemingly every break that could have gone one way or the other went with LSU, and that was enough to get the game to overtime, which turned into an unmitigated disaster for Bama. I'll never play the old "the better team lost" card, but I will say that I think the Tide has a better game in them than the one they played on November 5th and I'm not so sure LSU does. It's really hard for me to believe Saban won't have come up with answers for all those self-inflicted wounds in the first game, and while I'm sure Miles will play looser and take a few more risks in the Super Dome than he did in Tuscaloosa, I don't think LSU's offensive ceiling is much higher. Of course, like all the recent Bama/LSU games, this one will really come down to who catches those magical "breaks" late in the game. And after seeing LSU catch them for two games in a row now, I'm just guessing the Tide is due.
Alabama 17, LSU 13