In the sea of opinions out there on tv and the internet, I’m not sure anyone really cares about mine, but I’ll give it to you anyhow.
I love how both fan bases are so confident their team will win. That’s exactly how it should be. The shit-talking before the game is half the fun.
I have been posting about this game on Blankets since January when I did a fairly detailed preview of both Alabama and LSU. I said back then that Alabama and LSU would be the best two teams in college football. I said this game would pretty much be the “Game of the Year,” and that it would decide the SEC & national championship. I reiterated that in my Alabama pre-season write-up. Thus, the magnitude of this game has not taken me by surprise in the least. I’ve also been consistent in saying that I think with this game being played at Bryant-Denny Stadium, you have to give the edge to the Crimson Tide here.
I will not delve into statistics because stats are like bikinis; what they reveal is interesting, but what they conceal is vital. Once you jump into the stats rabbit hole, you can never get out. It provokes endless and pointless debates about how this team has faced better defenses and that team has face better offenses yada, yada, yada. I think we all know that the stats are very even across the board coming into this game, so I don’t think the stats are very probative in analyzing this matchup. I think the most misleading stat I’ve seen thus far is that LSU ranks 117th in the nation in red zone offense. Honestly, if you are betting Alabama off of that stat, you deserve to pay off your bookie.
There is so much I could write about this game, but I’ll try to keep it relatively short, by focusing on what I see are the three biggest differences between these two teams - the QBs, the defensive front 7s and coaching.
I’ve read and heard many times over the past two weeks how Alabama and LSU are pretty much mirror images of one other. That is not really the case. While it is true that both teams have a smash-mouth, establish-the-run type of mentality on offense, the defenses are quite different. One is a quick penetrating defense (LSU), and the other focuses on eating up blockers and gap control (Alabama). I have said several times that the matchup between Alabama’s offense and LSU’s defense reminds me very much of the Alabama/Texas national championship game. The make-up of LSU’s defense is very, very similar to that Texas defense.
The heart and soul of both offenses is the offensive line. Both are talented, experienced and deep. Both offenses attack you with a power running game. LSU features Spencer Ware who loves to mix it up between the tackles. . Michael Ford comes in to spell Ware. He is also is also a big back but is a little bit more explosive, and more of a home run threat. LSU also features FB James Stampley. This guy won’t get many carries, but he is a road-grader. OC Greg Studrawa likes to use him like as a sledgehammer by pounding on opposing defenses until they break.
Alabama, of course, features the strongest and most powerful RB in college football in Trent Richardson. When OC Jim McElwain is giving him a blow, Alabama will bring in another bruiser in Eddie Lacy. Alabama’s third backfield bruiser is Jalston Fowler who could also see a few touches. The three of them do a great job of breaking the will of opposing defenses by relentlessly pounding on them.
Defensively the biggest difference I see is that one defense is built from the ground up to stop the run, especially power running teams like LSU. Saban’s entire defensive philosophy is centered around stopping the run, and he specifically recruits players for that purpose. First and foremost, to play for Saban you must be physical in the run game regardless of what position you play.
All defenses want to stop the run, and LSU’s defense is no exception. They just approach it in a different manner. LSU features a small but very fast and athletic front 7 with elite pass rushers coming off the edge. They try to disrupt the running and passing games by getting penetration.
Because Alabama (3-4) and LSU (4-3) run different defensive schemes, a player-by-player comparison of the front 7s is really apples and oranges. Therefore, to give you an idea of how these two front 7s measure up, I will compare the size of both to the NFL average for each defensive scheme.
Avg NFL DL
4-3 Defense - 6-3, 291 (LSU - 6-5, 274)
3-4 Defense - 6-4, 307 (Bama - 6-3, 305)
Avg NFL LB
4-3 Defense - 6-2, 244 (LSU - 6-1, 218)
3-4 Defense - 6-2, 252 (Bama - 6-3, 253)
Avg NFL Front 7
4-3 Defense - 6-3, 271 (LSU - 6-3, 250)
3-4 Defense - 6-3, 276 (Bama - 6-3, 275)
I have said many times, Alabama’s defense is the closest thing to a NFL defense you will find in college football in terms of size, scheme, talent and coaching. From the comparison of the measurables above you can see that what I’m talking about. The measurables of Alabama’s defense is a virtual mirror image of a NFL 3-4 defense. Conversely, you can also see that LSU’s defense is a good 20 lbs lighter than a typical NFL 4-3 defense. See also:
The Defense That Went to Fat Camp
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203476804576615132832620902.html?grcc=88888&mod=WSJ_hpp_sections_sportsLSU will primarily run power out of a pro set, but they’ll also try to counter Alabama’s size advantage by slipping in a few zone reads, jet sweeps, and mis-direction plays from the spread.Alabama will basically do what they always do which is bring the hammer. That is the best way to attack a small, fast defense. LSU is determined to not let Trent Richardson win a Heisman Trophy on their watch so I expect to see them sellout to stop the run. They’ll play bump-and-run coverage against Alabama’s wide receivers; something LSU’s coaching staff feels very comfortable doing. They believe they have the advantage with their outstanding corners going mano-e-mono with Alabama’s receivers. LSU wants to the impetus of this game on AJ McCarron’s shoulders. Alabama will do several things to counter that, one of which will be to go to a 5-wide formation with RBs and TEs split out wide so they can get WRs Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks, Kenny Bell and DeAndrew White matched-up on LBers. In fact I’ll make a prediction now. I’ll say that Alabama will run their first offensive play out of a 5-wide set.The quarterbacks have been a topic of much discussion, and for good reason. This is the position that scares Alabama backers the most, and is the source of much optimism for LSU backers, and for good reason. If LSU is going to win this game, I think they’ll need to pressure McCarron and force him into some mistakes.LSU features two elite pass rushers coming off the edges in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Also watch out for true freshman Anthony Johnson. That guy is going to be a monster!!! Mingo will be lined up across from Alabama RT DJ Fluker. Fluker is an absolute road grader in the run game, but is very susceptible to the speed rush, and that’s not good when you’re going against Mingo. I think Alabama will try to counter that by having a back or TE chip on him. That, however, pulls one of McCarron’s targets out of the passing game. McCarron also rarely makes plays when he’s flushed from the pocket. When defenses can get him on the move, good things rarely happen for Alabama. That’s one of the reasons I’ve consistently supported QB Phillip Sims over McCarron. Sims is a tremendous playmaker on the move, and is deadly accurate.McCarron is the most talented QB of all the QBs that will see playing time in this game. He has a huge arm, can make all the NFL throws, and is very accurate. McCarron prefers to chuck the ball downfield, but OC Jim McElwain has pulled the reins in on him and has force him to throw more to check-downs so far this season.The biggest question about McCarron is how he’s going to handle the pressure of this game. Yes, he’s played in a couple of high-pressure road games at Penn State and Florida, but he’s never played in a game approaching this magnitude. Word is he has been climbing the walls all week in anticipation of showing the world what he can do, and the coaching staff has been trying to calm him down a bit. Personally I believe McCarron will pass his test on Saturday, but only because this game is being played at Bryant-Denny Stadium. If this game were being played at Death Valley, I would really like LSU here.LSU will feature the 2-headed monster of Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson under center. Normally a two quarterback system is a big red flag, but LSU has made it work for them so far. Lee is the personification of a game-manager. He’s not going to scare you with his talent, but he’s the perfect quarterback for this offense. He makes good reads, puts the team in the right plays, and doesn't turn the ball over. Lee has only one interception this season to go with his 13 touchdowns, and leads the conference in passing efficiency. Jefferson has provided a nice compliment, primarily with his mobility and ability to run the zone read. Working Jefferson into the mix forces teams to spend time preparing for both, and has given the offense another dimension. Both of LSU’s QBs are experienced and have big-game experience. That said, they will have a very rowdy crowd to deal with on Saturday. Neither will hear a thing the entire game while under center.I’ve heard and read where many have said that this game will come down to turnovers. I tend to disagree. Alabama and LSU are two of the very best teams in the nation at protecting the football, so I expect to see few, if any, turnovers. If there are turnovers, I think Alabama will get the better of it.I have said many times that Alabama is the most powerful team in college football at the point of attack, and that I don’t think any team can play smash-mouth football with them for 4 quarters and come out on top. Alabama is the biggest, strongest and most physical team in the country, and much like the game 2 years ago at Bryant-Denny stadium, LSU will simply not be able to match Alabama’s physicality for 4 quarters. I think that will translate into Alabama’s offense being able to establish a balanced attack and move the ball rather effectively against LSU’s vaunted defense. Conversely I think Alabama’s defense will use their size, strength and physicality to take away LSU’s power running attack, and make LSU’s offense somewhat one-dimensional. I really don’t think LSU will be able to consistently drive the length of the field against Alabama’s defense.Lastly, I think coaching will be a huge factor in this game, and there is no better big-game coach than Nick Saban IMO, especially with revenge. See:Nick Saban does revenge like The Godfatherhttp://blog.al.com/kevin-scarbinsky/2009/12/hard_to_fool_saban_two_straigh.htmlNo one handles rematches like Nick Sabanhttp://www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2011/10/no_one_handles_rematches_like.htmlMy prediction is that as the final minutes of the 4th quarter tick off the clock I expect a frenzied Bryant-Denny crowd to break into the familiar “OVER-RATED” chant as Alabama puts the exclamation mark on a double digit win. I believe the final score of this game will look similar to the to the game they played two years ago in Tuscaloosa. I’ll call it . . .The Crimson Tide 24The Swamp Kittens 13