LSU (7-0) vs. Alabama (7-1) 8:00 pm CBS
Alabama leads the series 3-2 since 2010 and has won three straight games by an average margin of 10.6 points per game. Both teams are coming off of a bye week and have an extra week of preparation for this game.
The Tigers will be looking to run the football Saturday night in Tuscaloosa against the Crimson Tide. LSU has the 5th best rushing offense in the country averaging 309 yards per game and will look to pound the football against the Alabama front seven. The Tigers are averaging 38.9 points per game and are led by Heisman Trophy front runner-running back Leonard Fournette (1,352 yards 7.6 yards per carry 15 TD’s). Fournette is a bruising tailback that punishes defenders by his ability of “finishing” off runs. He is a rare combination of size (6’1 230 lbs.) and speed in which the LSU offense is built around. Fournette has great vision and plays the game with an intensity that carries over to his teammates. He is a player that is a leader and can make those around him better due to his leadership qualities. LSU has a blue collar offensive philosophy that wants to pound the football all game long and work off of play action when opposing defenses are putting “eight in the box”. LSU has shown success in three straight victories over South Carolina, Florida and Western Kentucky by the ability for quarterback Brandon Harris to throw over the top of opposing secondaries. In those wins, Harris has thrown for over 200 yards and will need to play his best on the road Saturday night at Alabama. In order for LSU to get the victory, the Tigers will need to make plays in the short to intermediate passing game early on to take the pressure off of Fournette and to keep the Crimson Tide defense “honest”. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron must be able to break tendencies and allow Harris to take some chances down the deep middle and seams of the Crimson Tide defense. If LSU can get wide receivers Travin Dural (24 rec. 426 yards 2 TD’s) and Malachi Dupre (21 rec. 397 yards 5 TD’s) involved early on, this can force Alabama from keying on Fournette which will open up running lanes later in the game. LSU will want to control the line of scrimmage and methodically work down the field in time consuming drives to wear down the Crimson Tide defense. Last year in Death Valley, LSU controlled the tempo and had a great game plan against the Alabama defense. However, the lack of success in the passing game was the main reason the Tigers lost 20-13. It will be very important for LSU to score first in this game to take the pressure off of quarterback Brandon Harris (first “big” road game as quarterback this season) and allow him to gain confidence.
Defensively, the Tigers are allowing 22.6 points per game and are very stingy against the run yielding 93 yards per game to their opponents this season. Linebackers Kendell Beckwith and Deion Jones are players that are the heart of the unit and are utilized in blitz packages for defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. Both players lead the team with 51 total tackles each and can run sideline to sideline to make plays in defending the run. LSU will need to get pressure on Alabama quarterback Jake Coker on Saturday night. Coker has made poor decisions when pressured this season and look for LSU to blitz early on in passing situations this weekend. The Tigers are allowing 222 passing yards per game and have 18 sacks through the first seven games this year. Defensive end Lewis Neal leads the team with 7 sacks and will look to create pressure off of the edge to disrupt the timing of the Crimson Tide offensive line. Turnovers will be critical and the unit is +7 in turnover margin on the year.
The Crimson Tide are averaging 33.5 points per game and are passing for 233 yards per game through the air this season. Led by quarterback Jake Coker, the Alabama offense has utilized a lot of players and has shown the ability to play both an up-tempo along with a ball control attack depending on the opponent. Coker has matured from the start of the season and has completed 63.8% of his passes for 1,623 yards with 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions this year. Coker has been able to gain “big” game experience in wins over Georgia, Texas A&M and Tennessee and that will be a key factor entering this game Saturday night. Alabama will want to attack the LSU secondary early on to put the pressure on the LSU Tigers offense to match them score for score. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley will be a main target for Coker as he leads the team with 45 receptions for 525 yards with 3 touchdowns. Look for Ridley to challenge the Tigers over the middle on dig routes which will loosen up the Tigers front seven. Alabama will pass first to open up the running lanes for running back, Derrick Henry, who leads the team with 1,044 yards averaging 5.8 yards per carry with 14 touchdowns. Alabama is averaging 188 yards per game on the ground and wears down opposing defenses in the fourth quarter because of their “heavy” offensive line. Henry is bruising back that has deceptive speed and is a punishing runner between the tackles. Tight end OJ Howard could be an X factor this weekend and can be utilized in the passing game when LSU is in blitz packages. Howard has 26 receptions for 290 and has averaged 11 yards per reception this season.
Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will look to force LSU quarterback Brandon Harris to beat them over the top on Saturday night. Alabama is solid in run support allowing 78 rushing yards per game and is giving up 16.4 points per game this season. Linebacker Reggie Ragland is the emotional leader of the defense and leads the team with 71 total tackles. Alabama has done an excellent job of creating pressure this year and has 27 sacks through 8 games. Defensive tackle Johnathan Allen leads the team with 6 sacks. Alabama is +3 in turnover margin, but has been able to create and scores off of their turnovers in big games this year (Georgia-1 TD and Texas A&M-3 TD’s). The Crimson Tide have a solid secondary led by safety Eddie Jackson (team leading 5 INT’s) along with cornerback Cyrus Jones that can play man to man coverage against Dupre and Dural. Their pass covering ability allows Smart to utilize blitz schemes which puts pressure on opposing offensive lines. Look for Alabama to be aggressive early on and force Harris to read coverage in the passing game. In Harris’ only road game of the season against Syracuse, Harris struggled and was blitzed constantly by the Orange defense. Look for the same game plan by Alabama on Saturday night.
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Joseph Lisi a former ABC Sports college football researcher, is the owner of www.GOFORTHE2.COM. He is a member if the FWAA (Football Writers Association Of America),Maxwell Football Club and is currently the content editor atwww.2FiveSports.com.He contributes regularly to www.Sid-Rosenberg.com and has been a featured guest every Tuesday night from 10:30-11:30pm EST on Yahoo Sports Radio With Ken Thomson(www.sportsxradio.com).
Joe has been featured on the FNTSY Sports Network and The Sid Rosenberg Sports Radio Show 640AM Sports (South Florida). You can follow him on Twitter: @Goforthe2.
Joe has a weekly radio show on www.blogtalkradio.com with former Georgia Bulldogs WR Corey Allen called: